Thoughts versus emotions & feelings
Let me first make the difference between thoughts, emotions and feelings. Later on, I will explain what is meant by top-down and bottom-up processing.
Although thoughts, emotions and feelings are inextricably interlinked, they are not the same thing. Emotions and feelings are more powerful than our thoughts and they are pretty much the drivers of our behaviour (unless we learn how to integrate our thoughts, emotions and feelings).
As I see it, thoughts are the product of our mind, not always linked to emotions & feelings and behaviours - some thoughts are just thoughts without any emotional charge.
Although there is no real consensus on the definition of emotions, emotions could be thought of as mental states brought on by chemical changes associated with thoughts, feelings, and behavioural responses.
Feelings are the physical manifestation of emotions (i.e., what we experience in the body).
Let me say a bit about how thoughts produce emotions (although it can be the other way round too).
Emotions can be produced by mere thoughts. Even when I am feeling well, I can at will come up with a thought about something unpleasant that happened to me in the past. The unpleasant thought produces corresponding emotion, which produces corresponding neuropeptide (a neurotransmitter produced by the pituitary gland in the brain - it is a physical matter that we can observe under the microscope). The neuropeptide then travels into the cells of our body and produces a feeling state. That is why we say that thoughts create physical matter.
And since thoughts create matter, our thoughts matter.
If you would like to read a little bit more about neuropeptides, please see my post termed 'How bad is stress for us and how does the body keep the score?'.
And now, let me use words uttered by Dr Joe Dispenza, a scientist who puts forward theories that make sense to me, but that - in my view - are not without limitations (I will explain why later).
Although I will quote Joe Dispenza's words below, it might be more interesting fo you to listen to him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfdvbZFXbNA
Here are some of his words:
We have around 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. 80-90% of our thoughts are the same as the thoughts the day before. If we believe that our thoughts have something to do with our future/destiny, but if we have the same thoughts every day, then the same thoughts always lead to making the same choices. This inevitably leads to having the same actions and behaviours, which create the same experiences that produce the same emotions. And the same emotions then lead to the same thoughts. And everything in our biology stays the same = our neurocircuitry, neurochemistry, hormones.
Thus, if we think the same thoughts and feel the same emotions every day, our body is believing and living in the same past experience 24/7.
And we have created habits that do not serve us. A habit becomes a habit when we have done something so many times that our body knows better how to do it than our conscious mind. So, when we do repeat the same habits for years on end, the body is on autopilot, and we lose our free will to a program.
And when these habits do not serve us, we are living by the hormones of stress, we are living in survival, and we are always trying to control or predict an outcome.
So many people spend their life living in stress and creating a lack. They think about things they want in their life and they notice that they do not have it. And they channel their energy into the feeling of lacking something or longing.
And longing equals suffering - as the buddhists say.
Therefore, the first step to change is to become conscious of our unconscious/automatic thoughts, behaviours and emotions.
The next step is to move our body out of the past into the present by changing our attention.
I hope the above has clearly illustrated how our thought processes can influence the way we feel & behave and what life choices we make. This processing, where our thoughts influence our feelings & behaviours, is termed
However, although what Joe Dispenza talks about makes a logical sense (at least to me), I can say from my own experience, as well as the experience of my clients, that it is
really hard to override our emotions with our thoughts.
This is because emotions, which are stored mostly on the unconscious level, are much more powerful than our thoughts.
The opposite of top-down processing is
i.e., the influences of emotions on thoughts. If we address our feelings and emotions first, it then leads to changes in our thought processes. I find that it is much easier to do that than the other way round. Thus, if we want to heal, we need to first address the root cause of our difficult emotions and feelings. We need to 'speak' to our emotions first.
As they say, we have to feel what we want to heal.
From my own experience with different forms of therapy, I find Internal Family Systems Therapy (which despite its name has nothing to do with 'family' per se) and Emotional Freedom Techniques to be the most powerful tools when it comes to addressing and healing unprocessed difficult emotions. Processing these emotions then leads to us being able to make conscious choices that enhance our lives rather than being driven by the unconscious.