Secondary responses

Secondary responses continued…


Secondary responses to emotions also include us making judgements about our emotions (e.g., interpreting worry as a sign that we can’t cope with the current situation). In doing so, we can forget what the purpose of the initial emotion was (as there is too much ‘noise’ in the system because we are now viewing the emotion as threatening or unwanted).


Additionally, secondary responses to emotions are often not based upon information from the present-moment context. They are often based upon what has happened before, or about what might occur into the future. This makes it harder for us to take in information that would help us to better evaluate what is going on. Many people with anxiety and depressive disorders often view any sort of negative and even positive emotions (fear, sadness, anxiety, joy) as inherently threatening and aversive, often interpreting them as having catastrophic implications, rather than as transient/fleeting experiences.


In summary, it is these secondary responses that typically influence the emotional experience we end up having and can lead to the maintenance or increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. More specifically, when we are:


  • Over-aroused (increased SNS activity) we can feel terribly overwhelmed and this can lead to avoidance to try to decrease this over arousal leading to emotional dysregulation, typical of anxiety.
  • Low arousal is typically the consequence of continually suppressing or trying to stop ‘feeling’ and this too can lead to dysregulation (feeling numb, empty, lack of pleasure), typical of depression.

Managing secondary responses


One way to manage these secondary responses is to learn to take on a more:

  • objective stance and allow them to be – without judging them.


Therefore by approaching your emotions in a more objective and non-judgmental manner will allow you to respond more flexibly to your emotions.


Also, as many of our secondary response to our initial emotions are based on memories we have (middle brain) of past experiences/events or us ‘fortune telling’ future events, we don’t pay so much attention to the here and now. For example, you may become so focused and worried about a possible future event such as being alone that you miss the reality of the situation (that you are not alone and doing quite well). So in order to respond more flexibly to our emotions we also need to:

  • refocus our awareness to the present moment (in other words become more mindful to the here and now).


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