I have written at length in other posts on this site about how a traumatic childhood can impair the control we have over our emotions in adulthood. In this post, I will look at six specific types of emotional style (as recently defined by the latest neuroscientific findings, and, more specifically, by the neuroscientist R.J. Davidson and colleagues) and how they can be negatively influenced by our childhood experiences.
Davidson’s interest in this area was stimulated by the clear fact that different people respond emotionally in very different ways to the same event. For example, some people are very resilient in response to major setbacks in life, while others are utterly defeated by such occurrences. Davidson states that these different reactions are directly connected to the individual’s particular emotional style.
THE SIX FUNDAMENTAL EMOTIONAL STYLES :
Davidson emphasizes that the six emotional styles are predicated upon bona fide neurological research; in other words, each emotion can be mapped onto specific neural circuits in the brain – they are NOT mere abstract concepts :
1) RESILIENCE STYLE
ie how well we cope with major set-backs in life and our ability to ‘bounce back’
2) OUTLOOK STYLE
ie where we fit on the scale that runs from extremely negative to extremely positive in relation to our general outlook upon life
3) SOCIAL INTUITION STYLE
ie the degree to which we are able to ‘pick up’ on other people’s social nuances (such as body language, facial expression, and tone of voice)
4) SELF-AWARENESS STYLE
ie the degree to which we have insight into our emotional responses/understanding why we react to certain people, events, situations, etc as we do
5) SENSITIVITY TO CONTEXT STYLE
ie the degree to which we are able to tailor our behavior according to the particular social context in which we find ourselves
6) ATTENTION STYLE
ie the degree to which we have the ability to avoid becoming too caught up in our emotions and concentrate upon a particular task in hand (this is sometimes referred to as the ability to COMPARTMENTALIZE our feelings).
HOW OUR EMOTIONAL STYLE CONTRIBUTES TO OUR PERSONALITY :
Davidson points out that our emotional style contributes significantly to our personality type. He provides the following examples:
AN ANXIOUS PERSONALITY TYPE is likely to have LOW RESILIENCE, a NEGATIVE OUTLOOK, HIGH SELF-AWARENESS and LOW ATTENTION
A DEPRESSIVE PERSONALITY TYPE is likely to have LOW RESILIENCE and a NEGATIVE OUTLOOK
AN IMPULSIVE PERSONALITY TYPE is likely to have LOW ATTENTION and LOW SELF-AWARENESS
OK, BUT HOW DOES THE ABOVE RELATE TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA?
There is much research demonstrating that severe childhood trauma can play havoc with our adult emotional make-up. In extreme cases, severe childhood trauma can greatly increase the chances of a person developing borderline personality disorder (BPD); a major hallmark of this condition is extreme emotional volatility.
In relation to this, however, Davidson points to research showing that chronic high anxiety and stress in childhood leads to specific genes becoming activated in such a way that our stress-response system becomes EXCEPTIONALLY REACTIVE and SENSITIVE making it far harder for us, as adults, to withstand life’s relentless barrage of difficulties, problems and, not uncommonly either, disasters and catastrophes. Furthermore, there is also a very solid foundation of evidence showing that significant childhood trauma can contribute to us having severe problems relating to others, greatly increasing our risk of clinical depression (and suicide), having little insight into why our powerful emotions arise in any given situation, and prone to becoming ‘caught up’ in our anxious thoughts.
All six emotional styles then will have their roots in our childhood experiences.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).