Your brain’s three competing emotional systems.

Brain circuits.
Brain. Photo courtesy of

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Your brain’s automatic emotional regulation systems run constantly.

There’s a whole lot of things going on automatically in your nervous system. When I use the word brain here, I’m using it in the broad sense. More than half of all your nerve cells are not in your head. Some of these processes may be unconscious. Theorists believe we have two basic thinking systems. System one is that unconscious or barely conscious intuitive thinking system that is continually sending us feelings. Your life experiences can train your intuitive thinking system. Other times we use our slow thinking system, and it alters these emotional regulation systems’ settings.

Scientifically inclined people may think of this as the automatic process of moving electrical signals and chemical neurotransmitters throughout the nervous system. Some people will view this as emotions or feelings. I have seen systems that reduce all feelings to 3, 4, or 5 primary feelings. The English language has over 100,000 feelings related words. Each Sunday, I feature one of those words and some quotes about them.

Your threat system is continuously vigilant, keeping you away from danger.

Everyone has a threat system. Because of life experiences, some people have their threat systems turned up to the highest possible setting. If you’ve undergone a lot of traumatic experiences, your threat system is likely turned up high. Rumination and the worry method you adopt can keep your threat system running at maximum.

Threat systems are automatically biased towards seeing threats everywhere. Failure to detect a threat could be fatal. Unfortunately, detecting too many dangers, especially low probability threats, can interfere with having a happy or contented life.

A threat system set too high results in lots of fear, anxiety, and worry. If you’re in a dangerous situation, the threat system tries to protect you and may motivate you to change your circumstances. But if you’re not in a high danger situation, a threat system running on high can produce a lot of anxiety that interferes with your life.

Your threat system is responsible for the characteristic psychologists call a negativity bias. Your threat system sees danger everywhere. If you have an especially vocal inner critic’s voice, it can keep your threat system activated so much that it prevents you from acting.

Your threat system keeps you continually running away from things.

The drive system allows you to get your needs met.

The drive system pushes you forward to get your needs met. Those may be physical needs, emotional needs, or abstract needs such as accomplishment and status. The drive system is responsible for reducing hunger and thirst. Lack of food and water can be fatal. Too much food or unhealthy food can result in obesity and ill health. This points to a problem with the drive system. The drive system is easily turned on but often doesn’t shut off when a need has been met.

Your drive system also increases your interest in relationships. Too few relationships or poor-quality relationships can leave you feeling lonely. The drive system encourages reproduction. Too little sexual drive would have left the human species extinct. Some people get into problems when they try to use their reproductive system too often or to meet needs other than expressing love and affection.

Your drive system tells you that you must constantly chase after your desires.

The self-soothing system helps you adapt to changing circumstances.

The function of the self-soothing system is to produce positive feelings. For some people, it generates a sense of calm, comfort, and peace. Your self-soothing system can also increase resilience and help you cope with novel situations and setbacks. One way of looking at this is that most mental, emotional, and behavioral illnesses result from the threat and drive system’s overpowering the self-soothing system.

A well-functioning self-soothing system increases your sense of well-being and may result in an overall sense of happiness or contentment. Happiness is a complicated concept. Not everyone agrees on the nature of happiness or what you should do to maximize it. Throughout this year, I plan to write additional blog posts on happiness, its nature, and how to maximize it.

Running away from threats and chasing pleasure may not be the healthiest choices. Maybe it’s time you learned to like yourself and accept yourself the way you are. This year work on developing your positive emotions.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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