Diagram reproduced from Media Psychology Tools.
In this week's mindfulness group, we discussed the Three Emotional Regulation Systems. This model comes from the work of Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Derby and founder of The Compassionate Mind Foundation. More information can be found in his book 'The Compassionate Mind'.
In the diagram above, you can see that we have at least three major systems that regulate our emotions and each one is designed to do different things. These systems have been shaped by our evolution and interact to balance our emotions.
The purpose of the threat system is to help us to react to dangers by activating our instinct to fight, flight or freeze. The brain gives priority to dealing with threats over pleasurable things. Hormones released are adrenalin and cortisol and the emotions experienced include anxiety, anger and disgust. These unpleasant emotions help us to respond to threats appropriately.
The drive system motivates us to achieve and get things. It helps us to seek out the resources we need to survive and thrive. When we win and achieve the things that we want and need, we experience feelings of excitement and pleasure. The hormone dopamine is released, which is important in driving us towards getting what we need. The pleasurable feelings that dopamine causes often drives us to want more and more. When what we want to achieve or get is not available or our efforts are thwarted in some way, the threat system takes over, causing feelings of anxiety, frustration and anger.
The soothing system provides us with feelings of contentment, safety and peace. This is an inner peace and contentment that is different from the excitement and pleasure of getting and achieving caused by the drive system. Importantly, this system can be activated by giving and receiving kindness and affection, which releases oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the 'cuddle' hormone. The release of endorphins is also linked to this system, endorphins are the body's natural painkiller and help us to have the feelings of calm and well-being.
We absolutely need all three of these systems to survive and thrive. Problems can occur when our three major emotional regulatory systems are out of balance. Often we find ourselves moving between the drive system, wanting to achieve and get things and the threat system, when our needs are blocked in some way. Studies have shown that Mindfulness Meditation stimulates the soothing system by consciously cultivating compassion and kindness. 'Loving Kindness' meditation is a particularly useful practice for this.
Learn how to practice 'loving kindness' and other meditation practices on our 'Introduction to Mindfulness' course. The next course starts on 4th March in Haverfordwest.
Mindfulness for Health, Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman
The Compassionate Mind, Paul Gilbert