Affect – Affected – Affection
Affect: ( verb) To act upon; to influence; to move the feelings of
(noun) The emotion that lies behind action; an emotional state
Affected: (adjective) Having power to move the emotions
Affection: (noun) Love; attachment; influencing; emotion; disposition;
In reading Lisa Feldman Barrett’s excellent book “How Emotions Are Made” I encountered her use of the word Affect often, so I delved deeper into the somewhat ambiguous uses of the word Affect in terms of our verbal language.
“Scholars and Scientists confused affect and emotion for centuries.” She writes. “Affect is your basic sense of feeling, ranging from unpleasant to pleasant (valence) and from agitated to calm (arousal). Emotion is a much more complex mental construction.
Many scientists use the word “affect” when they really mean emotion … affect is not specific to emotion; it is a feature of consciousness.”
When I wrote about the “Iceberg of Language” in the book Navigating The Ship of You, I described the vehicle of language as being metaphorically akin to an iceberg floating on the surface. Above the surface (the visible part) is our verbal language and below the surface is the non-verbal language of our senses plus our internal language of Self.
The senses, as I put it, are the usual VAKOG group (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, gustatory) plus Balance, Time and Self (once we have a sense of Self, you understand.)
Now, with the codification facility of any learnt verbal language, we all have the means of conveying meaning to both others AND ourselves – with specific regard to the language of our Senses.
We put the meaning we wish to convey INTO WORDS.
Yet we know that when we do this, that the words are often woefully inadequate to express what we really mean. If you’re not sure then consider expressing these instances:-
A sunset, a work of art.
A piece of music, the voice of a loved one.
The touch of a loved one, a burning flame.
Smelling salts, a damask rose.
A lemon, chocolate, curry.
Dizziness, Losing our footing.
Past, Present, Future.
A kiss, the holding of hands, a hug, an arm around the shoulder – these all carry so much more meaning than we could ever convey with words.
Dizziness or losing our footing usually causes us to give out nondescript cries such as “Woaaa” or “Aaaagh” before we either regain our balance or hit the ground.
Yet, with these two instances, let’s say, we can plug into meaning very well when we consider them from the perspective of understanding Affect.
A feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labelled.
An emotion is the projection/display of a feeling. Unlike feelings, the display of emotion can be either genuine or feigned.
An affect is a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential.
Here, above, are some salient points that help with our understanding of where our thinking, our thought processes, our harnessing of the Power of Thought, has a relationship with our Senses, and in particular, our Sense of Self.
It illustrates clearly and points us towards realising how Emotions are constructed. And once we gain an understanding that our Emotions ARE constructed, then we can gain the ability to both not be prisoners of them, or at the mercy of them, in terms of Experience.
Similarly, we can gain the ability to not be ruled by, or at the mercy of, our Memories.
With immediate effect, our Relationship with our Thinking shifts to a new perspective – and we get a sense that something Transformative has happened.
I’ve always held the view that we use Emotion to vivify, to add more richness to, every experience. If the experience is good or bad (in terms of valence and arousal) we have the capacity to enhance it by adding Emotion in there, prior to committing it to Memory. Once committed to memory, any experience can be easily flagged up with the emotional tagging present.
If you’re not quite sure what I mean, then consider your memories of visits to the dentist. Similarly, the experience of a delicious meal at a particular restaurant in delightful or intimate company, will be flagged up for memory accordingly, with many varieties of vividly constructed emotion enhancements.
With all the unmemorable and bland experiences, we choose not to add in Emotion. There is no reason to do so, so we filter the dull and featureless out of committing to memory.
And when we might go out and get an induced high, or go on a bender – then at some point there will be oblivion, maybe even unconsciousness. Then we will only remember what it felt like prior to losing our sense of experience.
So now, having unpacked my understanding of Feelings, Emotions and Affect I’d like to mention some recent experiences where I felt decidedly different due to Affect.
I was not led into interpreting them as Feelings and then enhancing them with Emotion – rather I held the Affect Experience at an unconscious level … with the meaning maintained within my Self, held in place by the Language of Self.
I recently spent approximately four hours at sea in a small, shallow draught ship, travelling across rough seas. Every wave we encountered affected the stability of the ship relative to the horizon, and for the first 60-90 minutes of the journey that horizon was enclosed, indistinct and vaguely nebulous. This was caused by misty, fine rain driven by strong winds.
Some hours after returning to land, sat in a chair, I became aware of the sensation of still being on board ship with the rocking back and forth and side to side. When I went to bed and was laid horizontal, the sensation of that motion was still playing out through my Sense of Balance. This was Affect – it didn’t feel uncomfortable, it didn’t feel anything other than the Affect. There was no Emotional attachment to the experience. There’s no thoughts going around my head saying, “Well I don’t want to, or hope I don’t, feel that way again in a hurry! It wasn’t nice!” For those thoughts would have been me constructing Emotions.
Today, as I write, the Affect is not present. My Sense of Balance has returned to a more stable state of equilibrium.
Whilst the above Affective experience concerned Balance, the other concerns our Kinaesthetic sense.
You’ll have heard it said, “You never forget your first Kiss.” Well there’s a number of reasons of course – starting with Affect. This is your first, so the Feeling is entirely new. So, this starts out as a rich, raw Affective experience. There may be some other Feelings and Emotions playing out at the same time this first Kiss is going on – such as how you feel about the person you are Kissing, what has brought the two of you together in this moment, etc etc. Yet, a Kiss is a unique “in the NOW” experience – when it starts the moment begins and when it ends the moment is gone. Then all the assessments, the judgements, the describings and the Emotional painting, start to take place.
From then on, each Kiss will only ever be another – for the first one has BEEN. In our personal taxonomy of Kissing there will still be First ones with certain persons, which we might have a special place for in the grand scheme of things.
A Kiss, whatever the form, is for the perpetrators, an exchange of meaning without words using the language of the Kinaesthetic Sense. No more – no less.
All Kinaesthetic language is far more rich and varied than we might ever have words for.
When we give someone a hug, or take their hand, there is a considerable amount of non-verbal language going on – and within that language, using that particular vehicle, meaning is communicated and conveyed between people.
Now here’s the thing:-
In terms of kinaesthetic exchanges, like the above mentioned ones – given all the non-verbal communication, and the pre-presence of Feelings and Emotions – do we ever get the chance to have an Affective Experience?
Well I would have probably said “highly unlikely” as an answer, mainly because regularity and familiarity of can mask the possibility of our noticing any sensation at the level of Affect.
Until, that is, I had some recent experience of holding hands with a good friend. Oddly enough, the only way I can describe it is as being “A non-conscious experience of intensity. A moment of unformed and unstructured potential.”
So, was this really Affect, or was it a one-way, directed Affection?
Well, for me it was the former mainly because I experienced it at THAT level. I would not presume to ask my friend either, since there was meaning exchanged between us that was beyond words – and why would I trivialise a profound experience by endeavouring to discover the meaning USING WORDS. I already got the meaning anyway!
The other interesting thing to note is that I cannot say how I Feel about the experience, mainly because I never added in any Emotion at the time, in order to vivify and flag up the Memory for re-presenting later. Because my Sense of Self holds the experience at an unconscious level, try as I may, I cannot recall what the various instances of mutual hand holding felt like. It is the same as with my distorted balance from sailing the rough seas, before regaining equilibrium.
Without my understanding of Affect, I would have described both of these experiences in a different way. And these descriptions would have been both incorrect and inadequate, laced with interpretive thought and coded into Memory with degrees of Emotional enhancement.
Affect is certainly a feature of consciousness – yet how can it be that a feature of consciousness is also described as being “a non-conscious experience of intensity”?
For me, this places such an experience as being “felt with the heart” – outside of intellectual awareness – rather than being noticed in our subjective consciousness.
Food for thought, certainly – yet mainly for thought processes with our non-verbal language of the Senses
My article “The Iceberg of Language”, taken from the book, is here: