Where Do You Think Behavior and Emotion Come From?

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

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Self-Care Tip #229 – See yourself as a friend by including biology in your self-perception.

In clinic, out of the clinic, here, there, if I were to pick one barrier to treatment anywhere, I’d pick the misunderstanding that behaviors and emotions come from somewhere other than the brain, and then from there, the outcropping of understanding why.

I don’t think most of us say it in so many words, but it’s intuitive. Maybe when pressed we’d say, “Where else do they (behaviors and emotions) come from?!” And then agree, the brain. But the connection that allows for self-care is missed. The connection that allows us to choose the freedom to feel good and behave well for our own sakes is lost in the shame of failing to do those very things.   The stance of courage it takes to be our own friend when we don’t even want to be in our own company, takes a lot to maintain.

The marvelous @MarjieKnudsen, tweeted a reference to a wonderful post by Sarah Boesveld, How ‘self-compassion’ trumps ‘self-esteem’. I enjoyed reading it very much as I felt it spoke to me and my generation with great perception… except! that it was without mention of biology, the brain; i.e. where behaviors and emotions come from.

In clinic, Naomi told me about her “failure” when ever she felt anxiety come on.

Why do I feel depressed when I feel the anxiety come?

I’m wondering what you think, reader, about this simply related story and the question.

I mirrored Naomi’s question,

Why do you think you feel depressed when that happens?

Today (similar to Naomi,) girl-crush, alias Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, wrote about feeling like a failure as well.  She asked at the end of her post the pithy questions,

What about you? How have you failed? What kind of wisdom has helped you deal with it (i.e. sense of failure)?

And I thought, how to answer? Here I am again “in the presence” of someone wonderful who in her post didn’t make it apparent that she was considering that this emotion might be a symptom of something biological.   We are willing to look under every rock, be in the space of our emotion and ponder reasons why.  We have the courage not to “run” even when we don’t like ourselves, but haven’t said it out loud to ourselves yet,

I might feel this way because my brain is dishing it out.   I might otherwise have not done anything to set this emotion or these behaviors in motion, other than being alive.

Girl-crush remains despite response.  So readers, don’t be scared to answer what you think.   If you even care, I’ll still admire the socks off you! – even if you think you are hyper every day since conception because you ate too much sugar.

Questions (In case you want me to write them again, which I’m really happy to do – anything you want so I can hear your responses): Where do you think your behaviors and emotions come from? …such as a sense of failure and/or a depressed mood? What has helped you deal with it? Please tell me your story.

30 thoughts on “Where Do You Think Behavior and Emotion Come From?

  1. I love this post! I especially love it tonight because my brain is causing so much anxiety – and, probably depression, too – that I’m not sure I’ll sleep no matter how well I am prepared medically. I’m a worrier. My grandmother was, too, so I could say I was brought up to worry (since she lived with us from the time I was five) and so it was an experiential cause (or something non-biological). However, I don’t believe that now. I believe, because I have taken medications that have helped, that my anxiety is caused by whatever is happening in my brain. I don’t understand it completely, but when I watch newscast after newscast about planes tearing apart, losing all their controls, smoking up the cockpit, my brain sends me into a major anxiety attack…especially when I’m getting on a plane tomorrow to fly across the country. I try to rationalize the fear. I try to swallow, and I can’t. I try to get more air and I get less. It’s not about my grandmother. It’s about my brain. So, I’ll up my nighttime meds and I’ll especially up the morning ones, and I’ll hold onto my husband’s hand until he can’t stand it anymore, and I’ll sleep tomorrow night, having hugged my granddaughter for the first time in nine weeks. A prayer right now wouldn’t hurt….for my brain and the plane.

  2. …and I just read the article about “Getting to the roots of anxiety”. It’s my life!! It WAS my grandmother! But it was more my life as I was growing up. I DO worry about losing loved ones but I’m not so obsessive as to feel I need to do something to avoid that…or am I? This post, with it’s added suggestions, has a LOT more to it than my worrying about flying. Now I’m not sure WHERE the anxiety comes from. Good thing I know, now, what to do about it….I hope. Sorry about the chattiness tonight. Nerves, I think. :-{

      • We’re home. Lots of hugs. Lots of surprises – things our children did here while we were gone. Lots of relief just being here. Bumpy but SAFE flight!! Now to face the stresses on this side of the world. Reality…and responsibility were waiting for us when we landed, almost. Caring for myself now becomes a greater challenge – already! At least I feel better prepared than I have in a long time!! 🙂

  3. I recently came across Obenga’s (2004:220) observation about the ancient Egyptian society in relation to that society’s guiding philosophy known as Ma’at. Ma’at is defined as ‘justice, a way of intelligent, conscious living, a concept at once ethical and speculative, a logos.
    This simple concept, and that of ‘ubuntu’ is forming the framework within which I deal with whatever comes my way.
    Have a good evening, Doc.

  4. The picture of the moving brain makes me think(pun intended) that everything is the product of electrical and chemical interaction. I am beginning to wonder if we have any control over the physical processes that determine everything we do which is merely flavored by our environment governing how we act. This pondering is qualified by the fact that if we take certain little pills our behaviors and emotions are altered in one way or another. If these processes operate afoul illness or dysfunction occurs. But what is the correct level of interaction between chemical and electrical interaction to be normal? It seems since everyone is unique we design a general model or pattern to call normal but that doesn’t make sense either. What does “running afoul ” mean?

    • pun received! 🙂
      “everything” is an extreme word, on the furthest edge of any spectrum or paradigm, all-or-none and other such doubtful thoughts to thunk w your thinker (pun intended but not as good the second time.)
      i did especially enjoy your wording that what ” we do… is… flavored by our environment.” It is a familiar analogy although I’ve never said is so well – people think we are “salting” ourselves with medications to improve the mix.

      • If we are the product of these processes which I will describe as mechanical who are we? What are we ? Now my questions are not from a philosophical discussion but from a purely scientific one. Electrical and chemical processes create a person with a personality? Machines operate using the same processes but they have no personality. At least not yet. Or is who we are an entity of a 4th dimension called the soul which is not definable from the scientific empirical paradigm with a physical body that lasts as long as it lasts?

        • i think my personal answer resembles more of your 4th dimension option. i though of this comment last night going to sleep and wondered how to say it but i shouldn’t because u did already so well w your own answers inside your own questions.

  5. Whao! That is a huge question. You always make me think. Behaviors and emotions are so intricate. But really everything in this physical structure is processed by the brain whether it is spirituality or genetics or? There is something I want to express but my brain is holding me back. I so have to give this much much more thought. My mental exercise for the day?

  6. While many of our traits are bilogical, many of our behaviors are learned. I’ve found that many of my behaviors and perspectives were mimicked until I realized what a pessimist (my mother usually sees the worst in any situation) I was and have trained myself to see things in a different perspective. While I think my anxiety is biological, I have the ability to control it to some degree, and I also have the ability to see things ina positive light. I am from a large family, It is interesting to see the familiarity of traits among the six of us, and to see those of us who have changed for the better and two who are very much negative and want to be taken care of…one must become their own advocate…but for real change not an advocate demanding others help them. I apologize for my rant which probably doesn’t make sense to you but living in the midst of it, I can see where my family members get their behaviors, if they see themselves as others see them, and if they have the desire to change.

    • i hear u suzicate. i think we spend our whole lives figuring out what to make of the behaviors and emotions of the people we love, let alone ourselves! i see your comfort in the space between biology and adjustment/environment, and i appreciate it. rant on lady of much family.

  7. Self compassion is one of the toughest things we must learn to do. Through self compassion we are only then able to fully give ourselves to others. It is easier for many of us to be compassionate to others, but to demonstrate consistent compassion for ourselves is very hard.

    Do you think that by engaging in self compassion, meditation, and “bio-feedback” we can alter how our brains work physically?

    • “to demonstrate consistent compassion for ourselves is very hard” – this resonates w me. i have said my thoughts so similarly – “self-care is the hardest job there is.” thank u.

      to answer your question, yes, to a degree. we can influence the way our genes express themselves. i don’t want to self-advertise 😉 but there are some posts in which we discuss this more. let me know if u have trouble finding them and what you think when u do so we can chat some more. such fun.

  8. Yes, emotions and behaviors come from the brain. First, emotions are ‘feelings’, like love, hate, empathy, frustration. Secondly, behaviors are the responses, actions, or reactions to our feelings. Both emotions and behaviors can be learned through previous experiences. A negative example, when I was 7, I traveled to South America where one day a tarantula landed on my chest… the size of my hand! The learned emotion was fear; the learned behaviors are panic attacks, screams for help, run away, etc. I can’t even look at a spider on a book, movies, TV, etc. that it makes me feel like they are crawling all over me. A positive example, when my kids were little, just looking at each other would bring up big smiles. I had given them unconditional love, empathy when they scrapped their kneed, hugs and kisses. They learned to trust me, and had no reason to fear me. Negative and positive emotions can equally bring negative or positive behaviors. In an automatic behavior, if I am fearful (negative emotion) because someone is going to attack me, I am going to run away (positive behavior). But if I am angry because my neighbor took something that belongs to me, I will engage in positive behavior during the process of recovering my property. I would consider this one to be a premeditated behavior. Positive emotions can also trigger a negative behavior, such as doing something unhealthy because it makes us happy, or feel good.
    For those of use with depression, either as a result of a bad experience we have done or done to us, or depression due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, either one brings negative emotions which often affect our behavior negatively. Many of us use prescription drugs to help with the symptoms. And many of us go through therapy to learn new, positive behaviors (or responses) to deal with, or redirect, the negative emotions. I can’t help it that I daily hear voices telling me to kill myself or others. It is not something that I’ve learned or was done to me. Naturally, this illness affects my depress mood. But I can help myself by consistently practice new learned behaviors to positively control the negative emotions. I believe it is here, amidst the prescription drugs and the therapy, where the connection that allows for self-care resides in me. Some days are better than other. 🙂

  9. The delicate neurochemicals that surge around in our brains…. We are subject to our natures, more than to nurture. I really believe that on an intellectual level, despite nurturing the heck out of my kiddos (a heart, instinct level). I think that environment plays a part in who we turn out to be, even the womb environment, but mainly in the ways that environment stimulates hormones to be produced, or not produced. That any of us are able to function at all with these delicate bodies and balanced dance of chemicals is nothing short of a true miracle.

  10. Because I write paleo-historic fiction, I constantly research where the roots of human characteristics are. Learned behavior (if that is akin to culture) seems to have developed possibly as far back as 800,000 years ago–Homo erectus–but maybe much more recently with Neanderthals. Now you have me wondering about emotions. I suppose it depends upon the definition.

    Thanks for engaging my brain!

    • the work u’ve done to gather this history to my temperament seems incredibly daunting! i’m thinking that for you, it feels, despite the hard work, a pleasure to do?
      the other day my daughter asked me what i was doing, i said work, than i said but i like it, then but it’s hard, and tripped myself up trying to explain that to be excellent, we work hard at what we love most.
      u r inspiring to me. i’m glad my daughters have women like u to look at as well.

  11. i think it is from when we are kids i think we develop as we get older if i think back to when i was really young i liked cooking for my dad when my mam went out becuase i could satisfy him but then i could look at a more negative point when i was really suici*** then nobody was there not my dad or mam or family i had to deal with it as i have grown older i will still if i am pushed enuff will consider suicid$$ as a way out but why does that happen becuase as a kid noboy taught me that that was a bad option where as cooking for my dad i learnt that was good anxiety once again there was no one there for me as a kid so as an adult i still did not realise what it was or how it felt feeling depressed is the same no one was there it was not talked about the idear of are familly home was you lived there but you were a stranger to your own family girls were bad black people were bad friends are bad gay people are bad im just putting these down not to bring on arugment about what is rite or what is wrong but more to how i was taught to think as i am a lot older then when these things were told a lot of bad things have happened to me some of them my own fault also i was borght up aside death and illnesses in diffrent family members so i think that are thoughts and depression and all mental health have a very big part in growing up in a stable home wether with a full family or not a full family now when someone like sa yer a new name taught me as i am older that it doesnt hurt when you burn your self or someone punches me or a girlfirend leaving doesnt hurt that conflicts with what i have been taught as a kid and i get my head in a muddle with does it hurt or doesnt hurt it doesnt hurt but it does but it doesnt how do i deal with this i learn more and never stop learning and i try to deal with what i didnt learn maybee at school insted of dealing with touchy subjects in the last two years of school they should start teaching about these things when you are younger i think if they did this we would help so many people and i think it would of helped me a lot

  12. who are we after we take medicine to control our behaviors and emotions?? Are we the same people? Our emotions and behaviors are changed so we are different. Our brains are different.
    For those of us with depression or anxiety or bipolar or any of the brain disorders, when we take medicine and change the chemicals of our brains then I say we are changed people.
    What do you say?

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