Bad Feelings

I haven’t read this book yet–http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/11/why-negative-emotions-good_n_6107708.html?cps=gravity–but it makes a point that’s fundamental to psychoanalytic process:  the capacity to tolerate bad feelings is lifesaving and even vivifying.  Knowing that feelings are signals and therefore highly mediated responses to reality (inner and outer) helps us keep perspective on them while we are feeling them.  That means that we are thinking while feeling, and thus enabling connections to be made between those brain functions that create our awareness of time and help us make decisions and those much older ones that produce affects and emotions.  I strongly disagree with efforts to avoid or discourage discussion of a patient’s traumatic experience because (in this superficial way of thinking) the patient might be “re-traumatized.”  What is true is that no therapist should push a potentially sensitive topic on any patient.  The point of psychoanalysis is to enable patients to take the time they need to broach such topics themselves.  Readying patients for intense emotional experiences, not forcing them, is the nature of our work.  (In this respect, not a classical Kleinian!)  In this, psychoanalysis certainly finds itself at odds with both the cultivation of melancholy and the (particularly Californian) command that we be happy.  Neither contributes to the brain/mind’s strength, courage, or curiosity.  Neither helps us discriminate between old bad feelings that have been triggered by current events, on the one hand, and emotional guidance about our current situation on the other.  In the former case, there’s good reason to pay attention to the links between past and present–that much tells us something, for sure–but not necessarily good reason to let those feelings overwhelm you or “become” your experience.  In the latter case, paying attention to, which means letting yourself feel, bad feelings might be the only thing that can really help you make a change you need to make.  Nor can we feel what others feel, as Shakespeare would put it, if we can’t feel our own feelings.  Emptiness is not an improvement over rage or crushing disappointment, even though, when we are helpless infants, it can sometimes be our only way of defending against madness.  Point being that once our brains have done some growing up, we are much less helpless than we were as babies, so we can think, and act, anticipate and repair, reach out or stay home.  Unless, of course, we are still ruled by fear of our own feelings.

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