Affect and Emotion: Understanding the Link
Affect is a little known term for something that we all experience, an extremely common but misunderstood part of our lives. Affect is essentially the bodily experience of an emotion. What do I mean by this? When we are frightened, it might be tightness of the throat, tingling in our legs, dryness in our mouth; when we are angry it might be the ‘boiling of our blood’; the fire in our belly – and so on for all of the emotions. Understanding the link between affect and emotion can really help us understand ourselves.
Affects – unique and common
While there are broad similarities in the way we experience affect and emotion, they can also be quite unique to the person. This is partially due to our individual life experiences and the way that we have responded to things in the past. However, another part is in the way we sense what actually happens in our bodies.
Some of us are sensitive to what happens inside us, others aren’t. Some people are sensitive to some parts of their bodies whilst relatively unaware of what happens in other parts.
So what does this all mean? A simple model is that we feel Affects in our bodies. When we become aware of the Affect, it is a Feeling. If we can link thoughts to the Feeling and the Affect, then it is an Emotion. A persistent series of emotions is a Mood (I've gone into the differences between moods and emotions in another blog post). Of course, this is a technical understanding and quite different to the everyday understanding that we all have about the things we experience (and we can experience multiple emotions at once).
Affect and emotion – the experience is all
So the experience of Affect is a normal thing, and part of what it means to be a human. And yet I would suspect that for many people, their Affects are frightening (and for some, so frightening as to be unbearable). Sometimes we are full of surging sensation in the body, out of our control and mysterious to us. It is so different to what we often think as a normal existence – one where we think and occasionally feel, and when we do feel, we think it’s meant to be only in our heads.
And yet is part of all our inner lives; for most people, most of the time, it is kept deliberately hidden; we never see most affect and emotion and most emotion we see is faked.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about Me, You and Assigning Blame.
– Tim Hill