What is Emotional Learning (and why it is important)


Positive thinking, or positive self-talk, has been thrown about a lot in the media in the form of self-help books, talks and workshops to educate the public on healthy communication with oneself. The idea behind positive thinking is that there is a silver lining in every grey cloud. This idea has become so mainstream that many people from all walks of life use it to cope and deal with life’s difficulties. The most common analogy that illustrates positive thinking is the proverbial glass which is half-full (as opposed to half-empty). Common phrases or mantras that people tend to use include:


  • “Things can only get better”

  • “I should count my blessings”

  • “Some people have got bigger problems than me”

  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

  • “No pain, no gain”

  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try again

  • “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”





The problem with positive self-talk is that it has its limitations, particularly when mental health issues are involved. It is a well-known fact that the brain is made of two halves (or hemispheres), namely the ‘Logical’ half (left brain) and ‘Emotional’ half (right brain). The thing is these two halves do not always agree with each other because there is a distinct difference between what you know to be true and what you feel to be true. This can be likened to two computers running in parallel on different operating systems. Therefore, what is learnt using ‘Logic’ is stored separately from what is learnt through ‘Emotion’. When you engage in positive self-talk, you are really only relating and making sense to the logical part of your brain. This is why more often than not, you will not get anywhere trying to give advice or encouragement to someone suffering from Depression or Anxiety. Furthermore, it require a lot of mental energy and effort, and not to mention, is unnatural trying to always “stay positive” when your feelings are pulling you in the opposite direction. I have met many clients who tell me how much they struggle with their mental health difficulties despite their best efforts to always think positive. So how then would one go about addressing the emotional part of the brain?


Why is it that some days you feel good about who you are and other days you can’t stand to look at yourself? Why is it that you can feel confident and self-assured at your workplace but feel like a train wreck around your friends or family? What you need to understand is that we are made up of several psychological “parts” which emerge and react at different times and situations. Some of these parts (which I will refer to as “wounded parts”) can be likened somewhat to a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation which just takes over us. Just think of someone who suddenly has a massive anger outburst and moments later feels remorseful and has no idea what hit him. The reason for this is what is known as ‘Emotional Learning’. Much of emotional learning occurs in the earlier part of our lives (particularly our childhood) and it becomes like a program that is hardwired into our brains, , regardless of positive experiences we may have along the way. Over time, these undesirable patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting are unfortunately perpetuated and reinforced as we go through life.


However, thanks to advances in the understanding of trauma and its effects on the emotional brain, there are now several cutting edge therapies available that facilitate processing and change in the emotional centre of the brain, thereby resolving various mental health problems once and for all. Examples of such therapies are Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy, Coherence Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.  In his book, “Self-Therapy”, Psychologist Jay Earley (a proponent of IFS therapy) explains in detail how one can identify and begin to communicate with various parts of oneself to bring about emotional healing and wholeness. I would encourage readers to check out his book for an in-depth discussion on this topic.




Ritchie Wong (Psychologist)

Ph: 0413 909 849

Email: info@emdrclinic.com.au


Online appointments are available on weekdays and weekends.



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1/82 Hawthorn Rd

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