1. Ego and emotions

The word ‘I’ refers to the ego. Being the ‘I’ is a pretence; a creation of our mental evolution. A pretence is a fabrication to make something plausible. Your ego is a bundle of desires with which you identify and, together with learned behavior, forms your personality; your ‘self’. Our ego is a creation of the brain, with the primary function to give meaning to our body and our sensory environment, which we experience in our urge for survival. In doing so, our ego provides egocentric emotions, and a self-centered experience of reality.

The above arises from the perception, through our senses, that our bodies are in an environment. Your body is part of its environment because it is made up of atoms from the same system. What our senses perceive, is a body made up of cells. These cells consist of molecules, and molecules consist of atoms. Your body consists largely out of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, which also includes a large part of your environment. A human body can perceive through the five classical senses; taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. However, you also perceive thoughts through the brain, which can be seen as a sixth sense.

Thoughts arise through the sensory input from the five classical senses, in combination with the mind (thinking ability), which beholds the ability to remember and imagine. You cannot consciously create thoughts yourself. You think something about what you perceive through your ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and sense of touch. First there was your environment and then came your thoughts. This means that input from your environment created your thoughts, you didn’t create your environment through your thoughts. So, the first thought is always something you experience. We can ‘guide’ our thinking, which is a coherent set of thoughts, by shifting our focus or by changing from environment.  Also, you can consciously elaborate on thoughts, as we have the ability to remember words we hear or read and put them in a logical order, by asking yourself; ‘why you think something,’ for example.

Imagine for a moment that you receive a cup of tea. You do not know what the temperature of the tea is, so you take a sip of the tea. You notice that it has just finished cooking and immediately think: ‘hot’. You will not think ‘cold’. You use words, through thought, which already existed in your environment, as you read or heard them somewhere. If you make new words, you use letters from an existing alphabet. If you make a new alphabet, you use your imagination to make a variation on an existing alphabet. Through our imagination we can imagine things we derive from our perception of our environment, for example; a unicorn. Your imagination can take you anywhere, as images can be derived from images, instead of from something out of the objective reality.

We experience observations through our senses and try to derive knowledge from them. A human body is created through the sexual intercourse of two fertile people of the opposite sex. Birth is what we call the moment when a new human body comes from the womb of the mother and is no longer directly dependent on the mother for food and oxygen. Your body, however, already existed in your mother’s womb and before that as an egg- and sperm cell, which were also created, etc. This shows that human life is growing, planting and evolving.

The moment at which you emerge from your mother’s body is particularly seen as the moment at which you are born as a person. You even get a name which you can identify to. The more you value your identity, the more important you consider it to be and the more your ego grows. As you grow up, your desires, and thus your ego, will grow. This process is called individuation in western psychology and leads to self-realization (among others Carl Jung 1903-1955, Abraham Maslow 1908-1970).

Of course, it is very understandable that people hold on to this way of thinking and the belief in themselves, because confirming your own thinking and acting is rewarding. It is nice to confirm for yourself, or get confirmed by others, through your interpretation, that your thoughts are correct. In your search for confirmation of your beliefs, you risk to consciously or unconsciously ignore indications that your thinking is incorrect. This is why those with big egos often cannot deal with criticism or other views. That is how your personality is built up; your thoughts and behavior are built up from a series of confirmations. In your upbringing, you take on the behavior of those that raise you and you try to give meaning to the things you experience. The people who raise you will determine your worldview at first, through the things they communicate to you.

If it turns out that their explanations are insufficient, because their communication doesn’t reach you, by the way they communicate with you and/or because the content does not resemble the things you experience, you will experience further desires for meaning in your life. Which in turn will determine your thoughts and behavior, whether or not by the influence of other people around you. That way you come to your own worldview.

The stronger you are convinced of your worldview, the more difficult it is to be open to the possibility that it does not (totally) correspond to reality. People can take extreme measures to protect their worldview, because if their worldview does not correspond to reality, it means that their life has been built upon false assumptions. Insight into the nature of reality ensures that you can deal with situations from reality better than when your worldview does not (entirely) correspond with reality.

Frustrations or dissatisfactions in, for example, your personal relationships, arise from your lack of understanding of the situation, or because your belief, expectation, hope, or wish for the situation is different from the current situation. This belief, expectation, hope or wish stems from your worldview. If you experience frustration or dissatisfaction, your belief, expectation, hope or wish about what you are frustrated about, does not correspond with reality. If they did match, you would accept reality and not experience any frustrations. You want or wish that the situation is different than the current situation actually is. You experience frustrations or dissatisfaction because you have an incomplete picture of reality or do not understand it. Admitting to yourself that you might be wrong, or do not know something, is the only thing that gets in your way!

You can also try to match the situation, and therefore reality, with your beliefs, by exercising power to influence the behavior of others, like your partner or colleagues. However, this is also a desire; you want reality to be different. This self-assertion stems from your convictions of yourself and your worldview. This desire must then be continuously satisfied, in other words, you must then continuously exercise power, and/or play a role, so that others behave as you see fit.

For the insight into the nature of reality, reality has to be illuminated from all sides, to then internalize it. Internalisation is making knowledge your own. Making knowledge your own is becoming aware through observations and then acting upon it. You are aware of your body. If you pinch your arm, you feel this. The unique combination of senses, brains and the rest of your body enables you to identify yourself with the self. If you look into the mirror you see a reflection of your body. This image in the mirror is mentally converted in yourself. It is your own mental reflection on your being; your physical and mental appearance. Because you hold onto your environment, because your environment confirms your existence and you want to give meaning to it, you will experience self-centered emotions and perceive your surroundings from your own experience of reality. Seeing your body as a reflection in a mirror can create the desire to see a mirror, because this reflection confirms your existence. You can find your body beautiful or ugly. If you find your body ugly, you can get an aversion to your body, your reflexion, and to mirrors.

Emotions are reactions to evaluations, through interpretation of stimuli (stress factors) from your environment, which you perceive through the senses, also via thought (Richard Lazarus 1922-2002).[1] The emotions you experience in response to a person or thing affect your perception of this. You can find something or someone beautiful or ugly, depending on the emotions that you connect to that thing or person. For example; you often perceive the face of a person differently after you know him or her better then when you two first met. A preference (positive emotion) or aversion (negative emotion) to an event, phenomenon, thing, or person, affects our perception of this. Emotions are a necessary part of survival. The reasoning and understanding of emotions determine your future evaluations on sensory perceptions, which means that it’s possible for people to develop emotionally.[2]

The desire for having and holding on to possessions, which stems from the desire to confirm your existence and give meaning and substance to life, can provide egocentric emotions. Holding on to physical objects or mental objects (thoughts) are forms of desire. There is material property (physical) and immaterial property (mental). In addition, there is exteroceptive possession (outside of your body) and interoceptive possession (from your body). Consequently, there exists exteroceptive material property (car, house, etc.), exteroceptive immaterial property (status, power, identity, and social contacts), interoceptive material possession (appearance, physique, and health) and interoceptive immaterial property (ideas, ideals, beliefs, opinions, theories, and views).

Attachment to something/ possessions can provide egocentric emotions. Your environment and the world is constantly changing, so holding onto possessions, as it is, while your environment changes, causes loss of possession. You identify with the property and as a result, you experience negative emotions when you lose it. You identify with possession because you think it is yours. The use of the word ‘my’, in speech and thought, is possessive and expresses a desire for possession. A desire for the reverse of property; a desire not to be, or not to have something, can become a negative emotion if you can not influence it or if you’re not able to change it.

As a person, ‘I’, you suffer continuously from dissatisfaction throughout your life, because your personality is built up from desires and these desires have to be continuously satisfied. If you have a desire, you are dissatisfied with the current situation! Therefore; the more desires, the greater your ego, and the more effort it will cost you to satisfy these desires. Buddhism tries to provide insight into the root cause of this constant dissatisfaction and the additional egocentric emotions that one experiences as a person, in order to be able to remove the cause. The term ‘dissatisfaction’ is derived from the Pali word ‘Dukkha’. Pali is the language in which the first Buddhist texts were written. In many translations to Western languages, the word Dukkha is often, perhaps unfortunately, translated into the word ‘suffering’. The word suffering is often interpreted differently than unsatisfactoriness. This other interpretation may be the reason why Buddhism is not correctly understood by many people in the Western world, or approached with a false assumption.

By seeing the cause of your unsatisfactoriness, which arises from your desires, and taking it away, you are enlightening yourself of this dissatisfaction and additional egocentric emotions. Enlightenment stands for a sharp reduction or dissolving, in Buddhism. Examples of self-centered emotions include; disappointment, grief, anger, fear, guilt, shame, envy, contempt, jealousy, hatred, disgust, frustration, stress, pride, uncertainty, and doubt. All these negative emotions are ultimately caused by your ego, in other words; your desires. Shame comes from your desire for socially acceptable behavior. The embodiment of pride is a positive emotion, however, once pride has manifested itself, it can be affected and this degradation forms a negative emotion. In addition, pride can also provide a desire for recognition from others, for what one is proud of. This desire can cause negative emotions and gives rise to unsatisfactoriness. Pride can likewise be based on an incorrect sense of self, personal norms and values, status or achievements.

You might now think that when your desires dissolve, positive emotions also disappear, but this is not the case. Without desires, you are not unsatisfied and, consequently, perceive the world from a satisfied state of mind. Unsatisfaction is the cause of negative emotions. As a result, you are able to experience positive emotions more often and more intensively if you have fewer desires.

Western society has developed in a way in which self-development and individual growth play a major role. Western society is built on growth and development, and the self is the foundation of this. Your ego grows by affirming yourself, by responding to sensory desires, and by confirmation from others, through your interpretation. Your ego becomes smaller by gathering insight into the root cause of your personal desires, to then take them away.

You experience self-centered emotions because a physical reaction takes place after you have evaluated one or more sensory perceptions. You evaluate sensory perceptions because you try to give meaning to what you experience. You try to give meaning to what you experience because from birth you are ignorant and want to give substance to your life. If you give meaning to what you experience, you identify yourself with this meaning. If you do not identify with it, it has no meaning for you. Meaning only exists in the mind. Because you identify with the evaluation of a sensory stimulus, the physical reaction arises.

From this urge to give meaning, you will develop expectations. These expectations are also forms of desires. You develop expectations from the desire to get a grip on what you have experienced, what comes back more often, or what logically could happen. If what you expect to happen does not happen, or is different than you expected, egocentric emotions may occur.

From your evaluation of sensory stimuli, a preference for pleasant stimuli, and an aversion to unpleasant stimuli, is created. The preference for pleasant stimuli creates a desire to experience it, and the aversion to unpleasant stimuli creates a desire not to experience it. The fulfilment of desires for pleasant stimuli and avoiding unpleasant stimuli provides fulfilment, substance, or meaning, to your existence. These desires are the cause of your ego (I) and egocentric emotions.

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[1]             . https://healthresearchfunding.org/lazarus-cognitive-mediational-theory-of-emotion-explained/

[2]             . https://healthresearchfunding.org/lazarus-cognitive-mediational-theory-of-emotion-explained/