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Inhibitory Emotions and How They Affect Our Art

Humans have two types of emotions: core and inhibitory.

Core emotions are with us from birth and help us to better understand the world. They are unconscious and uncontrollable, triggered by our environments. The core emotions are:

  • Sadness

  • Fear

  • Anger

  • Joy

  • Excitement

  • Sexual excitement

  • Disgust

Our core emotions are associated with feelings in our bodies. Inhibitory emotions are utilized by our brains to help us avoid feeling our core emotions.

Why would our brains do this? For two reasons:

  1. To help us in social situations in which we feel that our core emotions would be inappropriate (i.e., uncontrollably crying at a work meeting).

  2. To prevent our systems from being overwhelmed.

The inhibitory emotions are:

  • Shame

  • Anxiety

  • Guilt

Unlike core emotions which stem from our bodies’ experiences, inhibitory emotions come from our minds’ experiences.

When singers step into a performance or audition, our systems have a tendency to go into high alert. We’re doing something incredibly vulnerable, we can’t control the outcome, and our inhibitory emotions flare up, raring to go to protect us.

As performers, we must convince our brains that we don’t need the protection of our inhibitory emotions. Luckily, doing so is simple.

When performance anxiety threatens to impact your ability to be present, you’re likely feeling an inhibitory emotion instead of tapping into a core emotion. When this happens,

  1. Pause and take a deep belly breath.

  2. Tap into your body and name what is happening sensationally.

  3. See if you can place the name of the core emotion tied to that sensation.

  4. Move through it to the next moment.

Look, it isn’t pleasant to feel some of our core emotions. But our art will suffer if we are unable to tap into the truthful emotions that arise in us. Remember: Inhibitory emotions live in our brains. Core emotions live in our bodies.

All we have to as singers do to get ourselves out of our heads is to tap into what is happening right now. Not only does that allow us to move through emotions, but we come out stronger on the other side of storytelling for not having inhibited it.

Your body won’t betray you but your protective intellect might. Trust what you’re feeling. Whatever it is, it’s right.

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