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Emotions – the amygdala and neocortex

by | Parenting, Print Articles, Spring 2023

Amy is a very nice girl – loving, friendly and kind. She can be compassionate and wonderful fun. No one can be happy or successful without her. Unfortunately she doesn’t always keep her facts up to date, but this is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem for everyone is that she has a raging bull (and a few other wild animals) which she cannot always control. The amygdala is an emotional part of your brain.

She has a friend called Neo. They would like to get married one day. Neo is much younger and smarter than Amy. Unfortunately he is not as fast, powerful or as wise as her. Although he is very clever it can take him a long time to make decisions. The neocortex is the thinking part of your brain. Thinking and feeling should get on very well. When they do everything is wonderful and you get emotional intelligence and intellectual ability.

Amy and Neo do not work well without each other. Life without Amy has no meaning: People get sick, work doesn’t get done, families fall apart, businesses collapse and workers leave their jobs.

Unfortunately the thinking and feeling parts of your brain don’t always speak the same language and Amy’s animals do not understand English or Greek, Hindi or Phonecian. This doesn’t help when the bull of difficult feelings has taken control.

Neo can find things very difficult and life can become depressing. The obvious answer to the problem is:

“If Amy cannot understand Neo’s language, Neo has to learn Amy’s language so that they can talk to each other.”

Understanding the language of EMOTIONS

In all languages one needs a word list – a vocabulary of words that one can talk with. Without words and their meanings one does not have tools to work with.

All emotions are basically messages to act – to do something. In every emotion is the aim to do something. Emotions lead to actions.

The word emotion came from the Latin word motere which means ‘to move’. Each emotion prepares the body for a different kind of response.

When a person becomes angry, blood flows to their hands making it easier to grab something or to hit out. Their heart rate also increases. Signals are sent to the blood (adrenalin) making the body ready for action. With fear blood goes to the large muscles such as the legs – making it easier to run – which makes the face go pale – white or grey as blood is pumped away from it (giving the feeling that your blood runs cold).

Happiness makes the brain cut out depressing feelings and builds energy. It also quietens the part of the brain that makes worrisome thoughts. The facial expression for disgust is the same around the world. The top lip curls to the side as the nose wrinkles slightly. This is to close the nostrils against bad smell and to spit out rotten food.

The main role of sadness and grief is to help accept loss – such as the death of someone – or a great disappointment. Sadness brings a drop in energy and slows the body down.

Words in the vocabulary of emotions are:

Affection, Anger, Angst, Anguish, Annoyance, Anxiety, Apathy Arousal, Awe, Boredom, Confidence, Contempt, Contentment, Courage, Curiosity, Depression, Desire, Despair, Disappointment, Disgust, Distrust, Dread, Ecstasy, Embarrassment, Envy, Euphoria, Excitement, Fear, Frustration, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt, Happiness, Hatred, Hope, Horror, Hostility, Hurt, Hysteria, Indifference, Interest, Jealousy, Joy, Loathing, Loneliness, Love, Lust, Outrage, Panic, Passion, Pity, Pleasure, Pride, Rage, Regret, Relief, Remorse, Revulsion, Sadness, Satisfaction, Self-confidence, Shame, Shock, Shyness, Sorrow, Suffering, Surprise, Terror, Trust, Wonder, Worry, Zeal, Zest.

Some writers say that there are four basic emotions:

Love, Fear, Anger and Revulsion.

Others say that there are more: Anger, Contempt, Fear, Disgust, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise.

Any time Neo denies and blocks Amy, he allows himself to become a victim. (Remember Amy is much stronger than Neo). When we ignore our feelings we end up being ruled by them and can get caught and hooked into reactions that we cannot control. We can’t take responsibility for ourselves when we refuse to look at our feelings. Amy’s dark creatures will drive our behaviour – hidden behind the scenes. Instead of denying our feelings, we need to learn to understand the language of our emotions and get in touch with ourselves.


Anger is a feeling that comes from being hurt, offended or wronged. When you are angry you can get hooked into reacting by hitting back. There are different types of anger. As you start to understand the language of emotions you learn to know the differences.

Anger, is almost never an emotion on its own. Hidden behind it are other feelings. Behind anger are often feelings of being shamed, disregarded, unimportant, afraid, accused, guilty, untrustworthy, not good enough, rejected, powerless and unlovable.


When raw emotions that are not understood spill out because things become too much to handle and cope with, this is called rage. Rage problems are the failure to cope with emotions or life’s experiences. Rage is a whole load of different feelings trying to get out at once. Rage is also the name of one of Amy’s dark creatures.

Why counting to 10 does not work.

On average, it can take 20 minutes for a person who has been angry to become calm; to move from the emotional area to the thinking part of the brain.

When you take time and have interest in your feelings and emotions, life can start to open up and show you extraordinary things. You know that you are connecting with your emotions when you start to see and experience the surprising and amazing things in life. Each day things happen that have the power to alter the way you experience life. Every situation offers an opportunity to grow or remain stuck. You do not have to try and control life through fear and manipulation.

Being in touch with yourself allows you to know what your strengths and limits are: Knowing what you can do and what you can’t do. You have a clear sense of boundaries: What is mine and what is yours. We do not need to steal from each other and can work from a place of ‘I’m OK and you’re OK’. You do not have to act small. You can see the real world and you can achieve what you set your focus and intentions on.

Having emotional intelligence means getting along with others:

  • Knowing how and when to act;
  • Knowing when something is right or wrong;
  • Not letting things unduly bother and upset you; and success qualities, such as:

Always trying your best and not giving up (persistence);

Having will power and drive; get-up-and-go (determination);

and being patient and prepared to wait for satisfaction, enjoyment and rewards (delayed gratification).

Start an emotion diary

Each day choose your strongest emotions or the ones that lasted the longest. Write about your wonderful and joyful feelings. Also write about the most difficult and painful emotions.

Recall what happened to cause the feelings.

What was the purpose of the emotion?

Was it to speak and communicate with others?

Was it to trigger action and make you do something?

Was it to tell you something?

What are your beliefs about the situation that caused you to feel these emotions?

Do you know if these beliefs are true?

Can you change your beliefs about the situation? Does this change the way that you feel? Remember, DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF – Judgements can easily be based on untrue beliefs.

For example: When we believe things like:

There is only one way things should be or be done. (There are no choices or alternative solutions.)

We have to be perfect or we’re a failure.

If we fail at one thing then we will fail at everything.

We are NOT OK and can never do anything right.

In order to be happy, we must be loved by everyone.

Nobody understands or cares about us.

We take our bad experiences and make them important whilst not looking at the good parts.

These are the kind of untrue beliefs which rob both parents and children of strength and happiness. Bad feelings can shift when the beliefs behind them are seen and changed. We then discover that we have great strengths.

When we are feeling ‘sad and low’, it can simply mean that we believe something that is untrue.

It is important to know what our feelings are. If we do not understand our feelings then it is difficult to know why we do the things that we do. Being honest and truthful allows us to look at our feelings and understand them. When we ignore our feelings we end up being ruled by them and say and do things that we cannot control. This is a weakness.

Feelings are real. They are pure energy – in movement.

When we are connected to our feelings we see things differently. We find the courage and strength to do amazing things. Mahatma Gandhi said: “The way to truth lies through Ahimsa” (non-violence). He also said that the most important battle to fight was to overcome one’s own demons and fears. He gave his life to finding truth, or Satya and tried to do this by learning from his own mistakes. He called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth and wrote: “If you wish to know how a man finds Truth which is God; he must first make himself nothing and have perfect control over all his senses – beginning with the mouth or tongue.”

Some of his remarks that are widely quoted are:

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

“There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.”

The meaning of Satyagraha (loyalty to truth) is that it seeks to remove hatred and resentment without hurting people and works to change or ‘purify’ them into something good. Satyagraha is sometimes called a ‘silent force’ or a ‘soul force’ (words also used by Martin Luther King Jr. during his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech).

Aung San Suu Kyi

One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s most famous speeches was ‘Freedom From Fear’, which began:

“It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who use it and fear of power corrupts those who are ruled by it.”

Ray Lacey is a CranioSacral Therapist (CST) and artist. In recent years he has devoted his attention to writing, illustrating and producing books. He graduated from Natal Technikon (DUT) in graphic art and from the Witwatersrand Technikon (JUT) in graphic design. He lectured at the same faculty in illustration and then worked as a freelance illustrator for many years.

In the late 1990s he developed an interest in the interpretation of children’s drawings. This led him to study remedial therapy for children with learning difficulties within the Waldorf School movement. In 2001 he undertook training in CST and qualified in 2002. Much of his work focuses on social upliftment projects and the adverse effects of vaccines, especially in children.

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Website: www.csart.co.za