McGilchrist, in his book The Master and His Emissary, explores the many complexities of the role of the right hemisphere around emotion value and emotional understanding. (McGilchrist p54 – 64) Through his analysis of the research it seems that the right hemisphere’s role is paramount when it comes to emotional value and understanding. This is because it is connected to the external world and the people and things within it. The right hemisphere looks outside of ourselves and pays attention to the relationship of things.
Whereas the left hemisphere is more impersonal and emotionally neutral because it focuses on its re-presented world. All new experiences come to the right hemisphere first and then when it is familiar enough it gets passed to the left hemisphere where it is analysed and related to things we already know. This can happen in a fraction of a second.
Interestingly there is one emotion that is more closely linked to the left hemisphere, and that is anger. This may be because, in that moment, there is a sense of outrage that the left hemisphere’s way of experiencing the world is being challenged, particularly as it tends to believe it is right!
Connecting to our emotions
To be able to fully understand ourselves we need to be able to connect with, value and understand our emotions and emotional responses. We also need to be able to understand and value the emotions of others if we are to build successful relationships and be part of society. In coaching, working at an emotional level, enables our clients to make deeper levels of connection and understand what is really going on for them. Shift happens at an emotional level.
It is the right hemisphere that enables us to do this, and I have highlighted here some of those key emotional right hemisphere functions and capabilities that support this:
- The right hemisphere holds emotional memories.
- The right hemisphere is more associated with the recall of memories associated with personal meaning.
- Empathy resides with the right hemisphere as it is connected to the world outside of ourselves.
- The right hemisphere gives us emotional value.
- The right hemisphere is more closely involved with unconscious emotional processing through the right amygdala.
- The right hemisphere has an affinity with bodily experience, as we experience the world through all of our senses and we experience emotions through our bodies.
- All new experience comes to the right hemisphere first.