The design of Shape of Emotion

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Based on recent developments in Neuroscience, Shape of Emotion draws on elements and influences from Energy Psychology, Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), Mindfulness and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Neuroscience and affective science

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system and affective science is the scientific study of emotion or affect.

Affect is a central feature in almost all phenomena that are labelled“mental” and some that are labelled “physical,” including mental illness, health and physical illness, resilience to stress and well-being.1Gross, James J., and Lisa Feldman Barrett. “The Emerging Field of Affective Science.” Emotion 13, no. 6 (2013): 997–98. https://doi.org/10/gf7wkf.

Emotions are made where the mind and body meet. Emotions are a mind-body response to events, thoughts and memories. When we feel something it activates a neural network, simultaneously throughout the brain and body, producing hormones and chemicals that influence behaviour on a conscious and unconscious level.2Pert, Candace B. Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner, 2003.

The Shape of Emotion process is supported by the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett and her theory of constructed emotion which says that emotions are brain-body events understood in context. Emotions are felt in the body while the brain makes meaning of the bodily sensations in relation to what is going on in the world around the person feeling these emotions. This theory dismisses the long held view that there are universal emotions that can be distinguished by reading facial expressions.3Barrett, Lisa Feldman. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Houghton Mifflin, 2017.

Shape of Emotion doesn’t need to know what label you have given this instance of the particular feeling you wish to down-regulate, release and let go of. It works directly with the somatic felt sense and acknowledges that although we all may admit to have experienced an instance (or more) of anxiety, for example, our anxiety will show up differently for each of us in our bodies and will feel different for each of us.

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Energy psychology and Emotional Freedom Techniques

What is energy psychology?

Energy psychology is the branch of psychology that studies the effects of energy systems on emotions and behaviour. These systems include, but are not limited to, the acupuncture meridians and morphic resonance. Energy psychotherapy consists of approaches to psychotherapy that specifically address bioenergy systems in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems.4Gallo, Fred P. Energy Psychology Explorations at the Interface of Energy, Cognition, Behavior, and Health. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2005.

Energy psychology is a collection of mind-body approaches for understanding and improving human functioning. It focuses on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviours, and known bioenergy systems (such as meridians and the biofield). These systems and processes exist, and interact, within individuals and between people. They are also influenced by cultural and environmental factors.5“What Is Energy Psychology?” Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. Accessed October 28, 2019.  https://www.energypsych.org/page/AboutEPv2.

The science behind energy psychology includes over 200 studies, review articles and meta-analyses, published in professional, peer-reviewed journals.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) or “tapping”

Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT is an energy psychology method that rapidly releases the emotional impact of stressful or traumatic life events from the body-mind system. It is a very popular and contemporary approach in the practice of energy therapy.

When 5th Place started the research into Shape of Emotion, Matthew was an EFT practitioner of over 13 years. As a result, Shape of Emotion was specifically influenced by this branch of energy psychology.

The constituent parts of EFT define it as a psychophysiological intervention that combines elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and somatic (relating to the body) stimulation by lightly and gently tapping on various acupuncture points. This is where EFT gets its alternative “tapping” name from.

The original EFT protocol was published in 1995 by Gary Craig and Adrienne Fowlie as a simplified form of Thought Field Therapy, developed by Roger Callahan in 1985.

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Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)

The building blocks of experience

Our outer experience of the world is perceived and filtered through our senses: sight, sound, touch and to a lesser extent smell and taste. We also use the sensory input or information to take the external experience and store it, or represent it, internally. This is known as a representational system or modality.6 OConnor, J., and J. Seymour. Introducing .N.L.P. London: Thorsons, 1995.

For example you might refer to someone’s beard as soft (touch) grey (sight), black (sight) and woolly (touch).

These smaller, more fine-tuned, elements add to the richness of how the experience is represented.

Imagine you are standing at the side of a road and a truck drives past.

  • Is the noise of the truck loud or soft (hearing)?
  • What colour is the truck (sight)?
  • As it drives past, is there a gust of wind (touch) and how does it smell?

These smaller elements are called submodalities or characteristics. They are sub-components of each of the senses and provide more detail for how the experience is stored.

The use of characteristics to explain our experiences is not new. They were first described by Aristotle as common sensibles, that is, the qualities that all the senses share7“On Sense and the Sensible.” On Sense and the Sensible by Aristotle. Accessed December 30, 2017.  http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/sense.html. and later by Richard Bandler as sub-modalities, in the late 1970s, when he and John Grinder were developing NLP.8Bandler, Richard, Steve Andreas, and Connirae Andreas. Using Your Brain--for a Change. Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1985.

Changing the meaning of an experience

If you alter the way an experience is internally represented or stored, the meaning of the experience changes. In other words, when the characteristics are changed, the meaning of the experience is changed.

Thinking versus feeling

In NLP the use of characteristics or sub-modalities, focuses primarily on how we think and structure our thoughts. At 5th Place, we focus on the characteristics of our feelings. This means the way we feel, the experience of an emotion, is changed as the characteristics of that feeling change.

To put it another way, Shape of Emotion focuses on what you feel, not how you feel.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

The most widely known energy therapy practice is acupuncture. As a form of treatment it dates back approximately 2000 years. Shape of Emotion uses 14 touch points on the face, chest, arms and hands. These acupuncture points are derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine and are also known as meridian points.9Focks, Claudia, März Ulrich, and Ingolf Hosbach. Atlas of Acupuncture. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2008.

Stimulation of acupuncture points creates calm

Manually stimulating acupuncture points on the body, whether by needling, rubbing, tapping or touching causes the body to release hormones and chemicals, specifically opioids, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also causes the body to regulate the stress hormone, cortisol. These neurochemical changes reduce pain, slow the heart rate, decrease anxiety, shut off the fight / flight / freeze response, regulate the autonomic nervous system and create a sense of calm.10Lane, James. “The Neurochemistry of Counterconditioning: Acupressure Desensitization in Psychotherapy.” Energy Psychology Journal 1, no. 1 (November 1, 2009): 31–44. https://doi.org/10/gfxh4g.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the human capacity to be fully present, aware of one’s thoughts, feelings and sensory input and to choose a response to what they (thoughts, feelings, sensations) are communicating. Mindfulness allows for choice not automatic reaction. Mindfulness has been around for more than 5000 years, so is not a new concept but it has recently become more accepted and accessible in Western culture.

When you observe children, they engage in the present with their full attention. Mindfulness is core to who we are intrinsically but through education, socialisation and other factors. we have been trained out of it. Our natural state is one of being, not doing. We are, after all, called human beings not human doings. Mindfulness practices endeavour to remind us of who we fundamentally are but have forgotten.

5th Place and Mindfulness

At 5th Place we focus specifically on how our feelings and emotions impact our state of being. With Shape of Emotion, we take mindfulness-based stress reduction to the next level by offering a process that fosters being present to how we feel in the moment.

The process encourages a non-judgmental approach to emotion regulation by providing an alternative way of attending to our feelings and emotions. It occupies and focuses the mind while clearing negative difficult emotions and opening to positive supportive ones.

Other influences

Aspects of the Shape of Emotion process contain elements sourced from the work of the following:

Rudolf Steiner

For explaining how children process and understand emotion differently to adults.

Karl Dawson

For Matrix Reimprinting and insights on how to address past trauma.

Call and response

A widely known and used communication format originating in Africa and used in a variety of forms including music and public gatherings.

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Why not just use EFT?

Numerous scientific research studies show the efficacy of EFT across a wide variety of mental health issues and trauma. Why didn’t we then, as 5th Place, continue using EFT?

Emotional vocabulary and implausible statements

EFT requires a subject to have an emotional vocabulary. The subject is also required to understand what they are feeling and be able to label the emotion being experienced. In addition, EFT also imposes affirmations on the subject that may not ring true for them. An example of a statement that could be used in EFT is shown below:

Even though I'm given to despair when I think of my struggles, I deeply and completely love and accept myself. I choose to remember that something will grow from all that I'm going through, and it will be me.

In the example above, the subject needs to know that what they are actually feeling is despair and not some other emotion or feeling such as sadness or despondency. The subject may also not be convinced that they “deeply and completely love and accept themselves”.

Shape of Emotion dispenses with the need to cognitively label or understand the feeling. In addition Shape of Emotion is content free and stays away from the story of why the subject is feeling a particular way. Going into the story moves the subject away from the bodily experience of feeling and engages the subject with their thinking and intellectual faculties.

The goal of the Shape of Emotion process is freedom from difficult feelings, rather than engaging with thinking and the brain.

References

  1. Gross, James J., and Lisa Feldman Barrett. “The Emerging Field of Affective Science.” Emotion 13, no. 6 (2013): 997–98. https://doi.org/10/gf7wkf.
  2. Pert, Candace B. Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner, 2003.
  3. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Houghton Mifflin, 2017.
  4. Gallo, Fred P. Energy Psychology Explorations at the Interface of Energy, Cognition, Behavior, and Health. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2005.
  5. “What Is Energy Psychology?” Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.energypsych.org/page/AboutEPv2.
  6. OConnor, J., and J. Seymour. Introducing .N.L.P. London: Thorsons, 1995.
  7. “On Sense and the Sensible.” On Sense and the Sensible by Aristotle. Accessed December 30, 2017. http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/sense.html.
  8. Bandler, Richard, Steve Andreas, and Connirae Andreas. Using Your Brain--for a Change. Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1985.
  9. Focks, Claudia, März Ulrich, and Ingolf Hosbach. Atlas of Acupuncture. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2008.
  10. Lane, James. “The Neurochemistry of Counterconditioning: Acupressure Desensitization in Psychotherapy.” Energy Psychology Journal 1, no. 1 (November 1, 2009): 31–44. https://doi.org/10/gfxh4g.

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