Groundbreaking research: Emotions work differently than you think

It should have been a revolution. The research of neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett about emotions. Neuroscientists, therapists and psychologists should have shouted it from the rooftops and developed new methods, techniques and therapies in the past few years, based on this newly acquired knowledge. But unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth.

How is that possible? Is there too little money to be made? Is less attention given because the scientist is a woman? Or are psychologists, therapists and scientists afraid that otherwise they will have to completely overhaul their methods?

How emotions are made

I don’t know the answer, but I do know it needs to change. It’s like holding onto the idea that the earth is flat, when three years earlier someone discovered that the earth is round. Therefore: order Barret’s brilliant book ‘How Emotions Are Made’, read this article and share this knowledge! It is of vital importance in the fields of psychology, neurology, law and medicine, as well as in your personal life and relationships.

Emotions do not work or arise as we have thought for decades. In fact, they do not arise, they are constructed based on the concepts in our brain.

These groundbreaking insights came from the study:

  • Emotions are not reactions to external events
  • Newborns have no emotions
  • You cannot determine from the outside what emotion someone is going through
  • It is not true that certain parts of your brain (such as the amygdala) are responsible for your emotions.
  • Emotions are not located in a certain part of your brain (the reptilian brain)
  • Emotions are not universal, but culturally determined

The brain continuously predicts

The main job of the brain is prediction. We do this all the time, millions of times a day.

We perceive something, for example a transparent flat rectangle through which light shines, and predict: that’s a window. Or we see a person with a hat on and a pipe in the mouth and predict: that’s Grandpa.

The same also happens with sports; for example, we predict where the ball will end up and can anticipate in time. If we waited until the ball was already there before reacting, we would be too late. That’s how it works with reading; by predicting which words are there, we can read a sentence faster than if we were going through each letter.

Predictions determine our reality

We make predictions based on concepts in our brain. All previous events in our lives, we have generalized in our brain as concepts to be able to make decisions faster and thus use our body more energy-efficiently.

Through previous experiences, ideas arise about what a particular concept means to us. We have concepts about tables, chairs, plants and animals. But we also have concepts about less tangible things like love, honesty, marriage, success, rejection, shame.

When a new experience occurs, our subconscious searches for a memory with a similar concept. Based on the concept of what fits best, the brain makes predictions and fires an emotion.

Best guesses

These predictions are your brain’s best guesses of what’s happening in the world around you and how best to respond to it. If the prediction appears to be correct enough, observation and prediction are aligned. We usually make good predictions. The older you get, the more concepts you have in your brain, so the more likely you are to make a correct prediction.

Although it sometimes happens that we make a wrong prediction. Fortunately, otherwise we would never again be surprised or experience anything new. So your child can in a fraction of a second mistaken the neighbor – who also has a beard and pipe – for her grandfather.

Or you think you see a grass snake moving in the bushes, but it turns out to be the garden hose. If your senses are given a little longer to send information to the brain, they can correct the wrong prediction. But they can also adapt the data we absorb from the outside world to the forecast. In that case you might see a grass snake that wasn’t there.

We can only see what we believe

What we observe is also based on simulations and predictions. Barret explains in her book that only 10% of what we perceive is based on information from the retina (the lens in your eye). The other 90% are connections to other parts of the brain, which make predictions about what we think we see.

So our predictions determine what we see! If we don’t have a concept about something, we can’t perceive it. So in fact we can only see what we believe. So our brain constructs something based on everything we have experienced in our life and thus creates our reality.

Unbelievable right? But it gets even more interesting!

Emotions are predictions

It works the same way with emotions. Our brains are constantly receiving signals from our body from our internal organs, tissues, the hormones in our blood and our immune system. Like changing your breathing, the rumbling of your stomach and the rhythm of your heartbeat. These sensory signals from the body have no objective meaning.

Your brain uses concepts to make sense of both internal and external sensations in the world, all at the same time. Interpreting these sensory signals is called interoception, also known as our eighth sense.

For example, you can experience pain in your stomach as hunger or mistrust. But if you’re waiting for a doctor’s result, that same pain can also mean anxiety. Or if your ex just walks by with a new partner, you might interpret it as sadness or jealousy.

Emotions start with sensory feelings

Interoception is important for balancing your ‘body budget’ – your body’s energy needs. The brain constantly predicts how much energy the body needs to ensure that all systems in the body work properly. Based on the prediction from your body, an immediate adjustment is made in the body to prepare it for the prediction. Your blood pressure changes, your glucose increases, your breathing speeds up, etc.

We experience these changes in our ‘body budget’ as emotions. Too little glucose in your body can make you feel exhausted, lack of sleep can make you feel down, and lack of affection can make you feel lonely. These are all subjective interpretations based on your concepts.

When a neurological network collects this sensory information and predicts something based on our self-created concepts, emotions arise. So emotions don’t necessarily mean that something is wrong, but just that your ‘body budget’ is out of balance for a while. With negative emotions, our brain is actually letting us know that we need to replenish certain reserves.

The consequences of ‘wrong’ predictions

In her book, Barrett tells of a fellow student, she wasn’t attracted to, who asked her out. Nevertheless she decides to have a drink with him and as it gets a bit later in the evening, she is surprised to find that she occasionally blushes on her cheeks and feels ‘butterflies’ in her stomach. Apparently she likes the colleague more than she thought. Until she comes home and throws up. She interpreted the rumbling in her stomach and the warmth in her face as feeling in love, when in reality she was getting sick.

Another interesting example is the research that scientists did in Israel. They found that judges who had to decide whether inmates could be released early were significantly more likely to reject the request if the trial took place just before lunchtime. The judges appeared to interpret the signals from their abdomen not as hunger, but as a ‘gut feeling’ that it did not feel right to release the person on parole. Immediately after lunch, the judges released the inmates on parole as frequently as they were used to.

Imagine how many ‘wrong’ predictions we humans make every day with dire consequences for others and ourselves.


– Our emotions are constructed. Emotions seem to come from our bodies, but they are constructed by predictions based on our concepts. One prediction wins and becomes our experience.

– Our concepts determine our reality. Everything we have experienced in the past is programmed in that sense to happen again in the future. Because we make the same predictions again and the same emotions arise based on the same concepts. So you can end up in a continuous loop of the same kind of emotions. That is also how it is often difficult for people with negative thoughts and emotions to come out of this.

– Our emotions are dominating, because they arise from signals from your body, which ensure that the balance in the system is restored. If your body is out of balance, it can have fatal consequences. These signals therefore transcend everything else and are given priority to listen to.

– You can never trust your observations fully. We make lightning-fast predictions based on concepts mainly constructed by ourselves. So how can we be 100% sure of what we observe?

How to transform our emotions

International trainer and coach Wassili Zafiris is the only one (as far as I know) who has developed a method based on this new neuroscientific knowledge: Relationship and Emotion Training and Coaching (RETEC).

“Working with emotions is usually much more effective in coaching and therapy than working with your thoughts and limiting beliefs. Because your emotions control everything. It’s hard to change emotions on your own, but the concept behind it is,” explains Zafiris.

Creating new neurological networks

Neurons on one side of your brain tweak neurons on the other side of your brain without any external response. If at some point a connection is made, your brain can hardly take a different path and you experience it that way every time. For a new experience and emotion, it is necessary that you build a new neurological network.

And that is exactly what Zafiris achieves with his new method: “Creating an unconscious reminder appears to have a major effect on the creation of a new neurological network. As soon as such a network becomes active, the old one will disappear. In this way, very deeply ingrained patterns can be transformed once and for all.”

Want to know more about emotions?

I have guided several CEOs, entrepreneurs and high performing professionals with the RETEC technique and the results are astonishing.

Are you a coach, psychologist or trainer? Then you want to follow Wassili Zafiris’ RETEC training.

Do you want to be coached according to the latest neuroscientific knowledge? Schedule a free 30-minute introductory meeting with me now.

What I learned from the fire that burned our home

7 insights on transformation and healing

Two month ago our yurt was devastated by a huge forest fire. I’m still very grateful that we’re all safe and my husband and our 6 year old son could save some of our emotional belongings. 

I was doing groceries for our son’s Birthday party (at least we had ingredients to bake a cake!) at the time. I just came back in time to get him away from the helicopters and the fire he was making vivid pictures of with my old phone. 

In the weeks after I went through feelings of pain, unfairness, angriness and confusion. Although it was sometimes hard to give myself permission to experience these feelings as I had people in my close environment suffering from much bigger losses. 

And for years I worked closely with refugees who lost much more than their home. Who was I to complain? Soon I discovered those thoughts and feelings didn’t help me heal.

Reconnect with your true purpose

In the past months I guided more than 20 people on their journey to reconnect with their true purpose. A journey full of overcoming obstacles, fears and limiting beliefs. A journey full of discovery, growth, transformation and joy. 

The most important for me in these coaching’s is to give people the tools to write their own story, to dream their own world into being. No matter how impossible it seems.

Creating the life you want to live

Now I’m challenged myself to keep on creating the life I want to live. Instead of letting fear and security rule. I try to do that by being in the present moment. 

Like Eckart Tolle says: there’s only the NOW. The future is only an extended NOW. So you can only be present and make sure you’re okay with being in the NOW. And create the life you want to live right NOW. And then before you know it the future is NOW.  

The fire made me humble and taught me some great lessons.

Hereby I’d like to share with you these 7 lessons I learned about healing and transformation:

1. you create your own reality.

You can’t control the elements in life. You can only live in harmony with it and go with the flow. What you CAN control are your feelings, your thoughts, your words and your actions. They create your reality.

2. Be in the present moment.

My son doesn’t focus on what he had before or what he won’t have in future. He only focuses on what is there. One hour after the fire in which his home and toys burned, he asked: “Mom, are you still gonna bake me a cake?” 

3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling.

Talk to people that really listen. Hold space for your feelings and let them be there. Cry, scream, do whatever you need.

4. Don’t play the comparison game. 

Don’t compare your own problems/trauma with others. No person’s suffering can be measured against any other person’s suffering. 

We all experience stress and trauma differently. 

If you downplay what happened to you, you suppress your feelings. This could make them stronger. Think of what happens when you push a ball under water… It comes back up with force. 

If you on the other hand make it bigger or hold on to the pain, it will become bigger and harder to heal. 

5. Become conscious of what you focus on. 

I can very vividly visualise our home, our perfect bed and the soft sheets on it, Mika jumping out of his selfmade tree house bed yelling: I am awaaaaaake! I hear the birds waking me up in the morning, the smell of the blossoming flowers, the sun on my skin… And then I miss it so much it hurts. 

Therefore in the first two weeks when it was still painful I didn’t focus on that all day. And I learned through NLP to ‘change the movie’ I was looking at, so it could transform feelings of pain in feelings of bittersweet memories of joy, love and gratitude.

6. Practise being grateful.

Although it might feel you have nothing left to be grateful for, it can help you to practise being grateful for what is still there. Gratitude rewires your brain, which leads to an overall increase in well-being, making you more positive, stronger and more resilient to stress.

This podcast gives some amazing insights on what being grateful can do for your health.

7. Write your own story.

Don’t let other people or circumstances write your story. If people say to you: “Oooh no that’s so horrible what happened to you, you must feel…” Decide for yourself how you feel, write your own story, one that helps you and gives meaning to your life. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: These are tips for people that experienced ‘trauma’ themselves and are open to discover and heal. So not for family and friends, from my experience they can better avoid advising. It’s so much more important and valuable to LISTEN and ASK how you can help. 

Do you also like to change the movie you’re playing in or looking at?

Do you want to write your own life story?

Are you looking for your life’s purpose?

Are you healing from trauma and want to transform your life?

I guide you on your path to reconnect with your true nature. Please contact me for a FREE discovery session.

Our beautiful home in Portugal.