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The Experiential Self

It can be difficult to talk yourself out of bad feelings. Why? Because feelings come from a different part of your mind than logic. Emotions come from the experiential mind; logic and rational thoughts come from the logical mind.

How the experiential mind learns

There is a series of steps that takes place between an event and a behavioral response. During these steps, your emotions develop as you interpret the event or events that took place. Your interpretations are a major factor in the response you make:

You interpret the event – Suppose your co-worker, Jane, sits down at her desk and doesn’t speak to you all day, which is unusual. There are many possible interpretations, ranging from, “Jane’s upset about something personal,” to, “Jane’s mad at me.”

You react to the interpretation with an emotional response – You will have an emotional response based on the event. If you think Jane is having personal problems, you may respond with sympathy. If you think Jane’s angry at you, you may begin to feel angry in return.

You may then have follow-up interpretations – If your initial interpretation is, “Jane’s angry at me,” your follow-up might be, “That’s silly; Jane doesn’t have any reason to be angry at me. Maybe she’s just tired because she’s under a lot of pressure right now.”

The follow-up interpretations may produce a change in your emotion – After a follow-up interpretation, your emotions might change. If you decide that Jane is withdrawing because of deadline pressure instead of anger at you, your emotion may change from anger to sympathy.

You may have a reaction – If you feel angry at Jane, you may act cold or snap at her. If you feel sympathy, you may offer to help her or act in another way that might soothe her.

If you’ve interpreted an event in a destructive way, coping reactions are damage control. The emotion still causes stress. The best way to deal with bad emotions is to learn about the interpretations you make and why they may cause problems.

Becoming aware of your experiential mind

It’s important to pay close attention to what goes on in your mind. It’s easiest to notice your thought process when you’re reacting emotionally. You can become aware of your experiential mind using some of the following techniques:

Self-talk – When you’re emotional, tune in to what you’re saying to yourself. You may hear things like, “I’m such an idiot!” or “What a jerk!”

Mental images – You will often see visual images or vague impressions in your mind when you are upset. You might “see red” when you’re angry.

If you become aware of your interpretations, you can start to understand why you feel the way you do.

It’s difficult to apply logical, rational thought to emotions. These feelings are caused by steps that affect your reaction. To understand why you have each emotion, you must know the interpretations you make.

In order to learn more about why you feel the way you do, you must begin listening to your experiential mind.