Emotions as Our Mother Tongue

The primacy of emotion.

Posted Apr 14, 2017

Emotional “thinking” is our true first language.

Yet, it is incomplete.

Each of us strives to become emotionally and socially competent. We want a good—an even better quality of life. To achieve this, our second language—thought—not only needs but demands its first language to be complete. The ideas in this post---our social frame and our picture of the world---apply to each of us.

"Emotion Sensation," Frank John Ninivaggi, oil, 2006
Source: "Emotion Sensation," Frank John Ninivaggi, oil, 2006

Why? Because we are family—the family of humans having a shared biomental heritage. Yes, differences abound, but our common platform is the same. Our universal mental mother tongue is “emotion.”

Thoughts Wrestling with Emotions

Thoughts, often unsettled, may run wild and become unruly. Random thoughts act like mindless chatter. They troll our minds creating confusion, conflict, and above all a climate of negative emotionality. The primacy of emotion thesis asserted here heralds mental integration and mental health.

For a person to feel, think, and become whole—“thinking” or mentation must become an assimilation of both emotion and critical thought that translates into performance utilization, that is, behavior in real time. This completeness as a competent person transforms living into a cooperative rather than competitive enterprise.

The Biomental Perspective

The biomental perspective* understands the psychology of emotions as primary mental processes embedded in the physical body. Emotion sensation is the first phase of emotion’s awakening. It is wordless. Its power consummates in the intimacy of two human beings.Two major biomental realities attest to this: the life of the child and the utmost importance of mothering and fathering. Empathetic caring---often an intimacy beyond words---throughout a child’s growth, maturation, and development are central to healthy parenting.

In my forthcoming book, Making Sense of Emotion: Innovating Emotional Intelligence, I have innovated the idea of “emotion sensation.” It presents the fundamental importance of the primacy of emotion felt in and expressed by the body. Infants and children are “lived by” emotion sensation.

Emotion also moves caregivers. They modulate and steady feelings with the refinements that critical thinking affords and so resonate with kids in affectionately empathetic ways. I term this “transactional sensitivity.”

Transactional sensitivity is a communicational engagement of “empathetic identification.” This empathetic connection transmits emotional awareness and emotional literacy. For me, this awareness and fluency are emotional intelligence.

The “embodied self” experiences emotion. This biomental phraseology means that emotions express and reflect the total bodily experience: brain, beyond the brain, and the biomental self in the actual interpersonal environment.

Emotions are not restricted to the sense organs and brain. Their existence depends on the autonomic nerves, hormones, neurotransmitters, gut (i.e., gastrointestinal system), cardiovascular system, muscles, bones, and skin integral to the entire body---the whole self.

The idea of “biomental” is not a psychophysical parallelism but rather a propinquity—an indivisible, integration of dynamic, communicative simultaneity. It is assimilative.

Never to be forgotten or underestimated are the primal foundations of unconscious impulses driving our feelings. These raw, archaic sensations are the nonconscious, tacit wellsprings breathing life into passion, art, religion, and love. This is their positive dimension. As in all realities, dark matter hides indeterminate, often destructive, pulsions.   

The “embodied self” transacts with others; both come alive inspirationally in the flame of emotions.

The body is part of and resonates with the environment. Our body is essential to our intellectual and emotional knowledge. This “eco-corporeality” encompasses how human cognition and feeling are grounded in the body as part of its extended environment. Emotion denotes motion, and when inner urges arise, the body prepares for an action affordance—deciphering a way to act on and interact with the environment of persons, things, and events.

Emotions are feelings, physiologically felt experiences. To communicate this understandably, one typically uses psychological thought as material language and the written word—again, another example of what I hold to be the mind’s built-in template of “binary processing." It is important that this use of thinking and writing about emotion neither diminishes nor undervalues the primacy of emotion. Emotion starts with sensation and flows through thinking and culminates in action.

Thought and emotion are complementary—integrally harmonizing to human mentation. My position—integral biomental coherence—grounds my experience and writing. This real-time sense of wholeness is life’s trend toward achieving a dynamic self-constancy. It is the integration of emotion with thinking and the coordination of both with how one behaves. Each element operates in a relatively stable yet dynamic way in a complex system in simultaneity.

I define self-stability as a process of linked integration producing meaning. I prefer the term “self-coherence.” All of us start out at birth as disorganized and incoherent beings. We naturally move toward becoming organized and scripting personal meaning. Each achieves this in unique ways with the help of one’s genetics, temperament, parents, social environment, favorable and unfavorable life circumstances, and unexpected events.

Both the real goodness of the environment and its material impoverishments and how each of us perceives and makes use of these tap on our resilience. Help and support from loving caregivers and a facilitating environment guide each of us to develop a personality and structure a character to adapt, cope, and handle challenges both good and bad. Opportunities to learn from and grow are available in all experiences. 

What is the Primacy of Emotion?

Emotion is a complex amalgam of sensation, perception, and conception. All these assimilate in thought, evaluative understanding, and the adaptive management of feeling states, internally and interpersonally in real-time utilization. This solid end product is what I call “emotion performance utilization.”

Foundations of emotional competence rest on each person’s dynamically contextualized emotional updating.

My term for this is “self-signature updating.” This dynamic self-signature comprises reflecting on the meaning of one’s emotions. After that comes the spontaneous nonconscious and then intentional modulation of emotion with thought. This integration adapts one’s comprehension to fit responses to what is “right” at the moment. 

Why is Awareness of the Primacy of Emotions Relevant?

I link self-coherence (being able to pull “it”—thinking, feeling, behavior—altogether successfully) with emotional stability—mental health. Mental health feels like “peace of mind” and shows itself in action that is empathetically responsive, resilient, dynamic, and flexible.

Mental health modulates your inner clock, your sense of time and timing. Learning how to spot "weak links" in your emotional IQ is a must in today's fast pace world of 'on spot' readiness' to succeed. Your capacity to “pause” increases so that impulsivity diminishes, and discernment about choices refines itself. Awareness of the implications of your words and actions becomes your ethical script. 

I trust this appealing, if not compelling, ensemble of propositions is not only interesting but raises questions. I expand these ideas and suggest action strategies in innovative and lucid ways in my forthcoming book, Making Sense of Emotion: Innovating Emotional Intelligence. This book tells you how to prepare yourself and your children for increasing your emotional intelligence.





*Frank John Ninivaggi, "Biomental Child Development: Perspective on Psychology and Parenting," Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, MD, 2013.


Frank John Ninivaggi, "Making Sense of Emotion: Innovating Emotional Intelligence" (2017), amazon.com