The rise of helicopter parenting is not just driven by the need for control, but by economic fears.
Swedes, on the other hand, tend to be more relaxed and give their children more emotional freedom because they live in a more equal society. Our usual emotional state can predict long-term health and life expectancy. Upregulating positive emotions and downregulating negative ones is not the only way to manage emotions. Some people tend to down-regulate positive emotions instead. At some point, we all might downregulate positive emotions in certain situations. For example, when interacting with a stranger or when dealing with uncomfortable social situations. There are three key types of emotional regulation.
Emotional suppression means that we still experience the emotion, but inhibit its behavioral expressions. It creates an asymmetry between how you feel and what others see. Suppression, as I discussed before, creates a distortion. We accept our feelings without fighting or judging them.
Accepting our emotions, not turning away from them, is one of the core practice of mindfulness. Cognitive reappraisal involves recognizing the negative pattern your thoughts create. You reframe its course by making sense of things and dialing down your emotions a couple of notches. Before you have an automatic emotional response, cognitive reappraisal helps you evaluate the situation more neutrally.
You take a split second to observe things from a distance. What was once an anxious and reckless driver, becomes a guy in a hurry trying to get to work on time. Multiple studies show that cognitive reappraisal is beneficial for people experiencing both stress and depression due to illness. Cognitive reappraisal is also a successful strategy to deal with everyday activities.
A typical approach is to think about something else. We try to avoid our emotions.
Cognitive reappraisal is a more effective psychological response. A paper in Motivation and Emotion suggests that, instead of ignoring the sensations that might boycott exercise, you should observe them as if you were a scientist studying running or a journalist capturing the experience. Imagine you just failed a job interview. You can react negatively and blame yourself or choose to reflect on what happened.
Revisiting your emotional response will help you make sense of out the experience rather than getting stuck in an emotion. The cognitive reappraisal process involves two steps:. Emotions play an essential role in our lives. Emotional management is not about avoiding emotions but learning to face and understand them. Gustavo Razzetti is a change instigator who helps organizations create positive change. Author, Consultant, and Speaker on team development and cultural transformation.
Negative emotions signal threat to needs and goals and energize avoidance. Positive emotions signal opportunity to meet needs and goals and energize approach. There are differences in emotional temperaments. Some mice and people will have negative emotional systems that are easily triggered, generate more intense reactions, and are harder to sooth.
This is called trait neuroticism. If human minds were like the minds of mice, then this brief synopsis would largely sum up what we need to know. However, unlike mice, humans have a whole additional dimension of consciousness, called the self-consciousness system, and this system complicates the picture significantly. The self-consciousness system reflects on and responds to the primary core experiential system.
Thus, while a mouse just feels fear, an adult human can recognize that they are feeling fear and make judgments about that feeling and whether or not they want to feel more or less of it. Humans also have an explicit public self-consciousness system. That is, they know that other people can see their emotional reactions if they act on them and they must then consider how others will respond to their emotions. It is because of these different streams of consciousness that emotional processing can become very conflicted in humans.
To see why, consider the following example. Johnny is a seven year old learning how to ride his bike. He falls and scrapes his knee and runs over to his dad, crying. Boys don't cry. Let me give you a hug. And, as Johnny grows into an adolescent, it will have strong implications for how he privately judges his own feelings. Here is a working map of human consciousness, called the tripartite model.
It is central to understanding emotions and the reactions and conflicts that people have about them. As you can see, there is an experiential self, which is where core emotions reside, there is a private self, which is the narrator explaining and judging the core feelings, and there is a public self, which is what folks share with others. With this map of emotions and human consciousness, we now have the framework needed to understand how humans process feelings and what gives rise to maladaptive versus adaptive processing.
Before proceeding to spell out some trouble that follows from judging feelings, I want to be clear here that there are very good reasons to sometimes judge feelings negatively I return to this issue at the end of this blog. Keep in mind that feelings are primitive, animalistic response sets that orient the individual toward action. Shame orients you to submit, anger to punish other, fear to run away.
In contrast to such simple impulses, human society often requires very complex, long term responses. That said, however, the judgment and inhibition of feelings comes with a cost. We can see this when we consider what happens as individuals try to repress, distract, avoid or suppress the emergence of the feeling. Such an unprocessed feeling state does not just disappear into the ether. Instead, to continue with the theater of consciousness metaphor, it is jammed in a closet backstage i.
More and more mental energy will go into jamming more and more emotions back stage. Not only do these elements inhibit the original feeling, but they also generate core feelings in and of themselves. That is, the core feeling self will feel wounded and judged by the self-consciousness system, which creates a bad intrapsychic cycle, a cycle where an individual turns against themselves, which can easily lead to depression.
Hopefully, this brings into view how the maladaptive processing of emotions might result clinically significant problems. Let me add two more pieces. First, as noted in the description of basic emotions, people differ in terms of the sensitivity of their negative emotion system. A second important piece here is that as the negative emotions are inhibited and not processed, there is an increasing vulnerability that they will be triggered and released uncontrollably.
This often is what is going on when someone unexpectedly flies off the handle with rage or has an anxiety attack or a depressive crash or a profound experience of self-loathing that results in a suicide attempt. In such a moment, an individual becomes all of the feeling and often cannot help but to act on the powerful negative emotional impulses. Of course, such raw, painful, impulsive displays tend to cause more problems than they solve. And this only engrains the maladaptive process, because after such an episode, many individuals will want to lock down their emotions even more, setting the whole thing up to repeat.
We can reverse this formulation to arrive at the key adaptive ingredients, which include: a the effective education and awareness about what emotions are and the domains of human consciousness that result in conflict; b fostering in individuals and relationships the healthy awareness and attunement to feeling states and the information regarding needs and goals provided by them; and c the adaptive regulation of the impulses associated with strong feelings, in accordance with long term goals and valued ways of being.
A sweet spot is something found in between two poles. The goal, then, is to create an intrapsychic and interpersonal environment that is conducive to emotional processing that is aware and attuned to feelings, but also capable of adaptive regulation. It is overly inhibitory, lacks awareness and attunement, and is punitive. This kind of criticism has the high potential for Johnny internalizing a problematic relationship to his feelings. It is high on awareness and attunement to the expressed feeling, so that is good.
But how does it do in terms of adaptive regulation of the primitive impulse of emotional pain? Potentially, not very well. A scraped knee is just a scraped knee; it is not the end of the world. As an adult, the father should know that and he should then work to can guide Johnny to understand that. Let me see it.
It is just a scrape. A little blood. Happens to everyone when they are learning to riding their bike. You are tough, you can handle it. Do you want to try again or are you done for the day? An examination of our society shows a dramatic swing in the pendulum regarding how we think about negative emotions and who is responsible for regulating them. Each individual was responsible for dealing with their own pain and life was very hard for many, and so you just needed to suck it up. Over the past thirty years, the pendulum has swung far the other way. Now many folks are very sensitive to negative emotions and there are many settings in which the negative feeling states are seen as justified in their totality see here for some information about this changing culture.
This can create serious problems and I will share two real life examples that horrified me. One was when I was signing up to be a soccer coach for eight-year-olds. It started off in a reasonable way. I was told that soccer, at that age, was supposed to be fun. I agreed completely. I could only say positive things about their behavior. Talk about a nightmare implication for society! See here for a link on us becoming a society of wimps. Another example was even more horrifying. A couple of years ago, I was attending a presentation in a room filled with psychologists.
I think we are seeing an increase in emotional problems in part because our society has become more sensitive to them, but we have not provided good education about them, nor explained why we need both awareness and attunement to feelings and the adaptive regulation of feelings states. What we need going forward is better education about emotions and the domains of human consciousness and why we often have conflicts about our feelings. We should be clear that emotions are information, and that we should teach folks to use them to solve problems and, in most cases, not think of emotions as the problem to be avoided.
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At the same time, we need to recognize that emotions tend to energize primitive, short sighted impulsive actions, and we humans live in a very complicated age. Thus, we must learn to adaptively regulate the more problematic action oriented aspects of feelings, and effectively merge them with our long term goals and valued states of being. Your soccer coach and "target" stories are what Robert Bly talks about in "Iron John. Feminism, which was a completely justified corrective movement, caused the pendulum for men to swig from dominance to submissiveness, hence "targets" and triggers.
How To Stop ‘Stuffing’ Your Emotions with Food / Blog - The Journey
This was an absolutely fantastic article. Thanks for writing and posting it. I've observed that a significant number of patients in my medical practice have difficulty identifying and appropriately expressing their emotions. It seems an endemic problem in our society that causes significant pain and suffering. Much of my work--even as a primary care physician--now exists in helping people to identify what they're feeing, judge themselves less harshly for what they're feeling, and appropriately express what they're feeling. You didn't touch on this in your post, but there's of course also the issue about how repressed emotions get translated into physical symptoms.
I consider the unhealthy repression of emotions one of the greatest unrecognized public health concerns today. I appreciate your kind words and good to hear your perspective as a primary care physician. I think you make an excellent point about the connection between repressed emotions and physical problems. I explain these things in terms of failure to harmonize, which stresses the whole biological system and thus exacerbates physiological vulnerabilities. Great piece, Gregg. I am sure we disagree quite a bit on the root causes and best solutions, but recognizing and addressing this is important.
Lickerman makes an important point as well: Repressed emotions, physical symptoms, huge health concern.
I have a theory that the combination of what you address here the swing toward over sensitivity , dependence on government, and the perpetual violence of government and all that comes with it is profoundly damaging to the human psyche. Thanks, Matt. It is an interesting hypothesis. But does it track empirical data?
Panama, Costa Rica and Switzerland are countries known for particularly high well-being. Also, consider countries over time. Were we less dependent on government and the violence of government in the s there was lower levels of stress and anxiety, although levels of the positive side of well-being were similar to today?
This article makes me wonder about the evolutionary purpose of self-consciousness and how it influenced the survival of our species. For instance, on whether to act or not based on survival of self, survival of family, tribe, community, etc. Why did the human brain evolve toward the tripartite model, rather than toward something different?
You are certainly right in that the 20th century was violent.
To help clarify, if you look at the long-term trends since the beginning of recorded history If you're seeing multiple studies, research showing the long-term trend is going up, please share! I agree we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. But the 20th century is a recent violent time. This has a lot to do with the development of the nation-state and it's monopoly on violence from through the 20th century. I've already gotten Gregg's great post too far off track with my anti-government comments, but one more: people who engage in voluntary free exchange and trade become less violent as they become more prosperous, secure and networked into humanity.
This is not the case for the violent psychopaths who rise to power in government. The violence of the 20th century was caused by a tiny handful of people. The independent vs. It becomes clearer to see how undeveloped self-consciousness, unhealthy cognitive habits seem to get ingrained neurologically generation-to-generation There is no question dependence on government programs has increased since the 80s.
Everything from welfare to farm subsidies to higher education subsidies has increased dramatically — far greater than the growth of the population. Total government spending per capita as well as overall has increased since the 80s. I am not aware of any measure by which dependency has decreased. The US was involved in a few relatively small wars in the 80s and 90s.