Current reality: Not being aware of the psycho-evolutionary importance of human emotions.

 In Self-Regulation Institute Blog

In her influential chapter “Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broaden-and-builds” (2004) Barbara Fredrickson developed her ‘Broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.’  Positive emotions she believes promote discovery of novel and creative actions, ideas and social bonds, which in turn build our individual personal resources; ranging from physical and intellectual resources, to social and psychological resources.  A ‘desired reality’ could be enhanced by developing personal skills for:

  • Broadening our ability to pay attention to our daily thoughts.                                                              
  • Learning how to undo lingering negative emotional arousal.
  • Focusing on levels of psychological resilience.
  • Building consequential personal resources.
  • Trigger upward spirals towards greater daily well-being by identifying and valuing human flourishing.
  • Joy sparks the urge to play.
  • Interest sparks the urge to explore.
  • Contentment sparks the urge to enjoy and integrate.
  • Love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe close relationships.
  • These positive resources function as reserves a person can draw on to support and improve their courage and ability to face their daily challenges.    

The broadened mindsets arising from these positive emotions can be contrasted to the narrowed mindsets sparked by many of our negative emotions.  

The Shanker Self-Reg® framework, a method for understanding stress and managing energy and tension, allows for the optimal state for positive emotions to thrive. Stuart Shanker suggests that we need to develop our own balancing mechanism to counteract our negative feelings with our positive feelings; which in turn, will provide us with many opportunities to create safe environments for developing, strengthening, as well as maintaining – our individual strategies for feeling and thinking in a self-regulated way. The reason is, there is a tendency to treat self-regulation as a normative concept. But one doesn’t “learn to self-regulate”; one learns to self-regulate in more adaptive or restorative ways. Avoidance and denial are both modes of self-regulation (i.e., dealing with stress); they’re just not very good ones (and maladaptive when they give rise to even more stress down the road).  It may also be the catalyst to ensure that the environments we create for other people are safe and secure by offering opportunities to acknowledge and contribute to their holistic feelings of positive health, wellbeing and self-efficacy.

How we create ‘a relationship for our mind and body subjective awareness’ according to many researchers could be a key element for both emotional regulation and the development of a sense of self.  The knowledge surrounding this topic has been explored extensively by Stephen Porges, his work highlights the neuro-physiological foundations of our human emotions, our relationships, and how we communicate with each other, together with the importance of personally developing strategies to self-regulate our emotions.  

Opportunities for investigating and exploring a person’s body response to environmental features includes investigating some of the unique sensitivities that individual people may have, together with the opportunities to access the research knowledge and understanding of our neural regulation of our physiological states.  “We may have an advanced level of intellectual smartness, but we are totally ignorant about what our bodies need to feel safe” (Porges, 2010).

Study of the complexities of ‘feelings within our body’ presents us with many questions, the first one – how do we detect when we ‘feel safe or feel unsafe?’ The term used by Stephen Porges is Neuroception when we realise that this feeling we have is our body’s response to our environment’.  As we detect the positive features in others or the environment, these feelings will calm our nervous system, dampen our defensive systems and facilitate trust.  Or, when the features are negative, they promote human defensive strategies of mobilization (fight/flight) or immobilisation (shut down and dissociation).

When we feel safely connected to trustworthy others we can then engage in ways that encourage positive and reciprocal relationships.  A personal sense of belonging to people and places allows our movements and our emotions to become more spontaneous and our innate skills and talents are free to unfold; providing us with the courage to face our daily challenges, and as the catalyst for developing self-compassion.            

This identification of ‘feelings within our body’ acts as a positive skill which can support us to decrease any future feelings of distress that could cause discomfort and in doing so the negative feelings lose their power.  Allowing the positive inner feelings to support personal feelings of empowerment.

This awareness is believed to support ‘a personal sense of harmony and a sense of being fully involved and engaged in physical activities, sensory experiences and positive relationships with others’ (Porges, 2010).   Having compassionate feelings for ourselves allows us to demonstrate compassion for other people. People who practice this awareness are able to learn to regulate the quality of their daily behaviour and discover ways to create positive pathways to a healthier and happier future.

As I strive to create a personal pathway to a healthier, happier future, I know that I will be incorporating the simple and yet profound suggestion I gleaned in a casual lunch time conversation I was so lucky to be part of.  

“You can change your life on the outside by beginning to know and value yourself on the inside.  As you begin to identify your feelings it will help you to become the best version of YOU. Give yourself emotional attention – by having full access to all of your feelings both positive and negative”.                                                                                                                                        


Frederickson, B. L. (2004) Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broaden-and-builds.  In the Psychology of Gratitude (ed. R. A. Emmons & M. E. Mc Cullough), pp.145-166. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Fogel, A., King, B. J., & Shanker, S. G. (Eds.). (2008). Human Development in the Twenty-First Century. New York, NY : Cambridge University Press.

Grotberg, E. H., (1993).  Promoting resilience in children: A new approach.  University of Alabama at Birmingham: Civitan International Research Center.

Plutchik, R. (1980). Emotion: A psychoevolutionary synthesis. New York, NY:  Harper & Row.

Porges, S. W. (2011). The Polyvagel Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication and Self –Regulation. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co.   

Porges, S. W. (2017). The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagel Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. New York, NY:  W. W. Norton & Co.

Shanker, S. G. (2013). Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.

Shanker, S. G., Barker, T. (2016). Self-Reg: How to help your child (and you) Break the Stress Circle and successfully engage with life. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group.

Tantam, D. (2018). The Interbrain: Embodied Connections Versus Common Knowledge. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

UNICEF (2005).  United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).  Wellington: Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Wellington, New Zealand.

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