If he postures like a gorilla? It’s probably not a good sign

If he postures like a gorilla? It's probably not a good sign

Understanding Emotion

Sometimes when my ex-husband was angry and drunk his posture would change. It wasn’t upright with his shoulders back. It wasn’t just that his hands would curl into fists. It was the movement of his arms, the hunching of his shoulders, how his legs suddenly pointed out when he walked, how his chest expanded, how his arms swung.

“He looks like a gorilla,” I would think usually backing up, hands out, placating. “Just like a gorilla.”

It seemed ridiculous to me, a bizarre observation in the midst of a difficult time.

It turns out that I wasn’t all that wrong.


For a long time people have thought of emotional intelligence as a bit of a soft skill and the study of emotion as not as academically rigorous as other scientific studies.

In Ursula Hess’ paper, “Darwin and Emotion Expression” she writes,

“Darwin’s basic message was that emotion expressions are evolved and (at least at some point in the past) adaptive. For Darwin, emotion expressions not only originated as part of an emotion process that protected the organism or prepared it for action but also had an important communicative function. Darwin saw in this communicative function a further adaptive value: ‘We have also seen that expression in itself, or the language of the emotions, as it has sometimes been called, is certainly of importance for the welfare of mankind’” (Darwin, 1872/1965, p. 366).

The book she references is from 1872 and its called The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. It was a radical book at the time because Darwin was a radical kind of guy. And everyone else was into creationism while he was pro-evolution.

He basically said that there are 45 emotions and that you can follow their paths back to mammalian behaviors. Emotions were and are, according to Darwin, how we have evolved from primates and mammals.

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., founding faculty director, Greater Good Science Center, professor of psychology and director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, UC Berkeley E says,

“So dogs show forms of guilt that you might see in humans. Other kinds of species—the primates show threat displays that look like our anger displays, and so on.”

Freud took a couple steps back and said that we just have two main emotions: desire and destruction. Paul Ekman expanded our understanding again and even defined emotional characteristics. Though they feel un-triggered, emotions are often triggered by our brains looking for clues of how to figure out and react to the world.

Keltner says,

“And now, in the field, we think that the emotions do a couple of really important things.

The first is, they systematically orient your mind to attend to certain things and to make certain kinds of decisions. Emotions provide a lot of really important information into what we think matters in the current environment, what we think we should do, what we think is of value or worrisome. They guide thought.

And then the second function that emotions serve—and we often lose sight of this, which is that emotions orient action. They move you towards particular kinds of action. When you’re feeling angry in a negotiation, that’s moving you,

Gerben Van Kleef has shown in Holland, toward being strong in the negotiation and making sure you get your way. So this functional view of emotions, that they guide thought in systematic ways and guide our action, actually yields really important insights that I hope you’re self-aware of.

Is there a scientific consensus about, what are the emotions, what are the different states that we should be aware of when we’re at work?

And it’s really interesting.

Because this is a young science, we don’t have the periodic chart of what the emotions are.

Not yet.

What we think of in the field right now is there are about 20 different emotions. There are negative emotions, like guilt and shame and fear and anger and envy and embarrassment, and there are positive emotions, like joy and contentment and gratitude and love, sympathy, awe, and beauty.”

There’s a really cool and easy to understand (bonus!) website from Frontiers for Young Minds that explains how emotions work. But basically emotions tend to be studied by breaking apart their building blocks which are:

  • What happens in your body
  • What you are thinking, what you’re conscious of
  • And how your actions and behavior are expressed.

Pretty cool, right? There are other ways of thinking about it and studying it as well, such as mood meters, but for me as a regular non scientist and a writer, I think that those linkages of those three elements help me understand the people I recreate on the page and the people that I just talk to in life.

When we understand a little more about emotion, it can help us as humans with our own emotions, but it also can help us as humans to survive and thrive in our interactions with others and not think, “he looks like a gorilla right now, how absurd,” but to actually take appropriate action.

As it’s written in Funderstanding (best website name ever),

“Accurately identifying others’ emotions is essential to our social well-being and happiness. The ability to pick up on others’ emotions helps us manage, communicate, and collaborate with them more effectively. Put simply, it enables us to get along better with people in general. The inability or non-conscious choice not to identify how people are feeling can easily lead to conflict and problems. When I was teaching middle school, I noticed this skill deficit in a number of my students. During my first year or two supervising the middle school cafeteria during lunch (I did this for eleven years), students who were the most challenging to manage were often those who didn’t accurately read other students’ emotions, or mine.”

The next step in a better world is probably caring about other’s emotions and having empathy, but to do that it helps to build the skill of identifying that emotion. Funderstanding has some great ideas at the end of that above linked article to do just that.


The Man Who Called Me Miss America

The Man Who Called Me Miss America

Forgiving Yourself and Others

Forgiving Yourself and Others


There are all sorts of levels of bravery, you know?

Sometimes being brave is just waking up in the morning.

Sometimes being brave is crying because someone sees you or because they don’t.

Sometimes being brave is putting your life on the line or your reputation.

Sometimes being brave is insisting that you have a voice when people insist you don’t.

Sometimes being brave is opening up your heart and sometimes it’s shutting it down.

Sometimes being brave is just breathing in and out.

Sometimes being brave is just leaning away from the thought that you’re an imposter, that you’re not worthy and leaning into owning your light, your power, your joy.

You know what you do. You know how you live. You know when others are being brave. It’s okay to know when you are too, okay? Give yourself some props. You deserve them.

Here’s my painting in progress. I tried to post it last week and wimped out and deleted the post. I know! I know! So brave.

You can buy some of my art here.

Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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