Thursday, 4 May 2017

not defensive

Why can it be hard to 'get in touch with your feelings', to 'feel what you need to feel'?

Psychodynamics offers one answer: it's because we don't want to feel pain, and so shy away from painful emotion and from the anxiety it causes.

No doubt that's sometimes true. Yet other factors suggest themselves. Thus what can make for the difficulty may not be so much the intrinsic pain, but the secondary shame, of the feeling. Or at least, what can make for the difficulty is not having a sense of an other who will accept one in one's feeling. That, I believe, is not so far from a difficulty in 'mentalising' one's emotions, so long as one resists the temptation to construe that phenomenon in a merely cognitive manner. Shame and acceptance enter into the heart of self-understanding; thus you enter into the ontological heart of I.

But what else needs considering is the intrinsic difficulty of transitioning between states. Being in an emotional state is being in a self-maintaining auto-enacted attractor basin of affect, thought, activity, etc. It is being in a mode which itself is one way of 'making sense'. My hypothesis is that it is simply difficult to move between states. Where by 'simply' I mean: not because of the pain of the shift, despite the shift being painful, but because we don't know our way around. You have to escape the self-maintaining attractor dynamics of one state, move over a threshold, and enter another state.

Moving between solitude and co-presence is a good example. Getting in touch with your latent anger when you are happy is another. We aren't obliged to think of this difficulty in motivational terms.

Often enough we are, when we arrive there, perfectly happy to be angry or sad or what have you. It was the transition, not the destination, that was troubling. Or, sometimes, not even troubling, but simply difficult.

So what we need to do is to cultivate our ability to move across thresholds between emotional states. We need to develop rites of passage. Micro-emotional forms of what anthropologists note regarding major transitions in life.

Some of these are simple. For example, we have rituals for saying hello and saying goodbye. These enable us to move between the radically different modes of being of solitude and company.

Moving between states can be troubling. I propose that 'anxiety' is the name of the stateless in-between, the state of upheaval we feel when we move out of one unanxious known into another such - but, since we must reconfigure ourselves - or better, since we must be reconfigured - in transit, we have to go through discombobulation. But, once again, I'm not proposing a psychodynamic theory - i.e. it isn't that we don't want to feel the anxiety - although that too may well sometimes be true. It is that we are designed to keep being pulled into the prior steady states. It is anxiogenic to get in touch with uncommon emotions, on this model, not because we don't want to be in the latter state, but because the process of auto-reconfiguration we must go through to get there is intrinsically jarring. But, again, it's not  necessarily that we act to avoid the anxiety, so much as that we get auto-configured by the attractor basin of the original affect state. We know our way around when we are in a steady affective state. That state reveals the world to us (as Heidegger contends regarding mood). We don't know our way around when we are transitioning between states. We lack an inner seer, an inner shaman, an inner spirit guide, to take us from one world to the next.

It's not that we don't want to travel, but just that having a home is having a place we are pulled back to. When we get there, finally, we're usually happy enough.