According to research by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, there are seven distinct “emotional command systems” believed to be present in each person’s brain.
We’re born pre-wired with these systems, which respond unconditionally to circumstances in our environment that may affect our species’ ability to survive and prosper. When in committed relationships, it is inevitable that some conflict comes about from differing role preferences and from the over- and under-stimulation of preferred roles. Through knowing both your tendencies, recognising your partner’s preferences can increase tolerance of each other
Furthermore, moving into new phases of life or coping with current change can be facilitated knowing just how wide each other’s ‘stretch zones’ are likely to be in the circumstances – you can help each other grow while being more aware of the possibility of ‘panic’ if role preferences are overstimulated too far or too quickly, or either of you can envisage a chronic under-stimulation with consequent distress in future.
Everyone has all seven Command Systems in them. There are no right answers, no norms to aim for. In fact, you may find that your answers change quite a bit as your lifestyle changes. Getting married, having children, growing older – all these events can greatly influence how you activate various emotional command systems.?
Knowing what your preferences are is important as it can:
- Build your awareness of your own emotional needs. This may shed light on why you’re attracted to certain people, activities, or subject matter – why you sometimes feel certain irrepressible longings or feel compelled to behave in certain ways. Better knowledge of your own comfort zone within each emotional command system may help in planning your leisure time, guiding your career, choosing friends or looking after your partner and children.
- Improve your ability to make bids for connection with others and respond to other people’s bids. You’ll be able to say, “I know what I need and I understand why I need it”.
- Help you to better understand the people you’re close to. This gives you a structured way to consider how others in your life are affected by their own emotional command systems, and now these effects may colour your relationship with them.
Let me give a quick summary of:
The seven emotional command systems
Jester – Seeking play, amusement, joking, creative pursuits. When activated you will be feeling relaxation, joy serenity, ecstasy. It is really important for babies and young children (and parents!!) to experience this so that they develop this essential skill.
- Over activation creates extreme silliness, manic behaviour
- Under activation leads to lethargy, depression, inhibition
Sensualist – Seeking sex, flirtation, arousal, intercourse. When activated you will be feeling excitement, energised, gratified.
- Over activation creates sexual risk-taking, coercion, affairs.
- Under activation leads to sexual aversion and depression.
Nest-Builder – Seeking nurturing, caring, forming friendships, expressing affection. When activated you will be feeling loved and needed.
- Over activation creates irritability, loss of personal boundaries, martyrdom, panic when faced with separation.
- Under activation leads to loneliness, isolation, anxiety.
Controller – Seeking dominance, control, freedom. When activated you will be feeling confidence, power.
- Over activation creates anger, aggression, rage.
- Under activation leads to impotence, passivity, frustration.
Adventurer – Seeking learning, questioning, curiosity. When activated you will be feeling excitement, interest, mastery.
- Over activation creates intense sensation seeking, overwork, manic behaviour.
- Under activation leads to restlessness, boredom, irritation, anxiety.
Energy Monitor – Seeking rest, relaxation, nourishment, exercise. When activated you will be feeling physically and emotionally comfortable.
- Over activation creates obsession with stress relief, sleep, diet, body weight.
- Under activation leads to fatigue, exhaustion, depression, weakened immune system.
Sentry – Characterised by seeking safety, prevention and protection. When activated you will be feeling apprehension, tension, anxiety, fear. This is a natural tendency for new fathers, desperately wanting to protect their baby. Ensure that this does not become over activated.
- Over activation creates unrealistic fears, overprotectiveness, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyper-vigilance.
- Under activation leads to cavalier behaviour, carelessness, unsafe risk-taking.
By understanding your emotional command systems as well as the systems of your partner, you can learn how to navigate the differences in a way that meets both partner’s needs. As a result, you’ll have a deeper intimate connection with each other because both of you feel understood and valued.
If you would like to do our questionnaire to find your scores, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you the full questionnaire.
Neil Wilkie is a Relationship Expert, Psychotherapist and author of ‘Reset – The Relationship Paradigm’ www.relationshipparadigm.com
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