The Learned Non-Use Of Positive Emotion

Those who have treated stroke victims have known for a long time now that one of the biggest problems in recovery is “learned non-use.”  This means that a person, because of a degree of paralysis, has learned not to use neurons and their associations that are intact and good to go, but aren’t being used and have withered.  This is the biggest obstacle to the recovery from paralysis.

We can experience emotional paralysis as well.

Consider this.  A stroke can be a metaphor for small and larger trauma in our emotional life.  Negative events, small and large, teach us not to feel positive emotion.  We can live in a way that teach us to feel positive emotion less and less. 

Religions can teach us not to have positive emotion until we are cleansed or healed of our issues.  We rely on pills to save us and eat food that destroys our well-being.  We watch television and movies that fill us with negative images of human experience.  We believe that Congress will save us or destroy us.  University life can be far more negative than positive with its constant pressure to perform.  Daily reports of the economy become our measures for hopelessness.  The power of negativity and negative emotion can teach us “not to use” or “non-use” positive emotions.  We forget to go there.  We forget about positive emotions. 

Extended bad or toxic relationships can make us forget how to feel good.  We literally can forget to use positive emotion.  I have worked with people who could not feel joy or love.  I have worked with people who could, at the start, only feel very low degrees of positive emotions for wonderful events in their lives.  Forgetting to use positive emotions, or the learned “non-use of positive emotion,” can be a way into depression.

It happens to all of us.  Negative things happen and we forget to feel good.  They continue to happen and we forget how to feel good.  We tend to wait for things to make us feel joy or love.  And if you wait for something to happen on the outside only, you can be waiting for a long time.

Watch enough reality TV, news programs, the continual CNN loop, or most of television in general, and you can forget to feel joy or love or peace.

We have this idea that positive feelings must be earned.  We must earn joy, we must earn love, we must earn peace, and many believe that they must sacrifice to have the privilege of feeling these emotions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But it is true if you have reversed the cause and effect of positive emotion.  If you are waiting for something on the outside to make you feel good, you could be waiting for a long, long time.

Learned non-use of positive emotion is relearned by practicing positive emotion.  We have created The Emotional Gym for people whose capacity to feel positive emotion has been paralyzed by the world around them –and that is most of us to one degree or another.

The way out starts with a decision to feel positive emotion.  It’s sort of like the decision to go to the gym and get into shape.  Very hard at first.

We have developed a 12 Step Program called the UpSpiraLife Group (Up Spiral Life).  It is designed to restore positive emotion and to increase happiness, well-being, and thriving.  It is a positive 12 step group where we create a Sanctuary of Positivity for one hour in the lives of the people who participate.

You can learn more about these groups and the book that is the guide to this program on our website. Click here.

12 New Steps to a New Millennium: The UpSpiraLife Group is available on Amazon. Click here.


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute