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The Right to Feel Bad, Lesley Hazleton

Feelings -- Our Vital Signs, Willard Gaylin

The Right to Feel Bad (Lesley Hazleton) --

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Feelings - Our Vital Signs (Williard Gaylin)

p 75-79

Despite it's importance, there is an incredible amount of confusion about feelings and emotions in both the minds of the public and the attention of the "experts." Even the nomenclature presents a problem. Generally speaking, the field of psychology has settled down to the use of three terms: "emotion" is the general term which encompasses the feeling tone, the biophysiological state, and even the chemical changes we are beginning to understand underlie the sensations we experience; "affect," introduced from psychoanalysis, is used to describe the dominant emotional tone of an individual and is particularly used in relationship to our recognition of the feelings of others; "feeling" is our subjective awareness of our own emotional state. It is that which we experience; that which we know about our current emotional condition.

Given the central importance of feelings in our everyday life, you would think that the psychological and psychoanalytical literature would be dominated by them. It is not so. Perhaps it is unsettling in a scientific and logical age to place much value on such a subjective, unmeasurable -such an "irresponsible"- subject as feelings. Perhaps feelings are too close to our vulnerable central core to allow for comfortable evaluation. Perhaps it is simply that in a technological society, which values the measurable, the visible, the palpable, and the objectifiable, feelings embarrass us by defying our most respected current tools of investigation.

As a result, we have been exhorted by so many academic prophets with their own contradictory visions of truth, preached to by so many ministers of misinformation, that the culture at large -and the individual within it- is confused about the nature, the meaning, and even the respectability of feelings. Are they the antagonist of intelligence or the special attributes of the only truly intelligent animal; are they the sign of the undisciplined or the evidence of personal liberation from the constrictive inhibitions of society; are they the symptoms of neurosis or the measures of emotional freedom?

Obviously, different cultures, and the individuals within them, vary in their attitudes about feelings. What is emotionally acceptable in the streets of Palermo would seem aberrant in the cool reserve of Stockholm.

Feeling is -if not all- almost all. Feelings serve utility and sensuality. Feelings are the fine instruments which shape decision-making in an animal cursed and blessed with intelligence, and the freedom which is its corollary. They are signals directing us toward goodness, safety, pleasure, and group survival.

Feelings can, like every other aspect of our humanity, be corrupted from their original purposes, As hunger drove the primitive man to the nurture required for life, gluttony can drive modern man to the obesity that destroys. So, too, with feelings. Jealousy, which serves the struggle for survival, can deteriorate into the envy which draws defeat even from victory. We can be overwhelmed by inappropriate guilt, anxiety, shame, and the like. Mental illness is usually a mere disarray of the ingredients of survival. All that is necessary is rearrangement. Feelings are internal directives essential for human life. In addition, and not just in passing, they are their own rewards. They are the means and the ends. All goodness and pleasure must be ultimately perceived in the realm of feelings. It is in the balance of small passions of daily existence that we measure and value our lives.

Yet the public at large is confused about the meaning of feelings and the propriety of their public expression. The confusion is exploited by the continuing flow of "how to" books which guide the perplexed and despairing to inner peace via conflicting and contradictory pathways. On the one hand, there is the "emotions are bad" school, which sees them as stormy intruders on the tranquil sea of life. Here shame and guilt are the most frequently denounced as unnecessary and " neurotic." But shame and guilt are noble emotions essential in the maintenance of civilized society, and vital for the development of some of the most refined and elegant qualities of human potential -- generosity, service, self-sacriface, unselfishness, and duty.

Then there is the theory that accepts emotions as perfectly permissible signs of the healthy body's response to distress, provided they are not contained. In this school of thought, emotions are obliged to be discharged into the environment.

How in the world did a nice emotion like pride get elected first of the seven deadly sins? Self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence -all ingredients of pride- are essential elements to adaptation. They serve both the functional and the pleasure purposes of life. Why, then, is pride a sin?

The seven deadly sins were testament to Hellenic influence on early Christianity. The Greeks, however, only had four primary sins; Christianity managed to add three more for good measure. Pride led both lists. With all deference to St. Gregory, I like pride -but it is certainly a most confusing emotion. It has at least two distinct meanings; it can, in both of its usages, be viewed as either a virtue or a vice; and there has been a distinct shift in our current attitudes about it.

To the Greeks a special form of pride -called "hubris"- was the cardinal affront to the gods, and the great Greek tragedies are dominated by this emotion. Greek tragedy demanded a mighty hero and is fall. To the powerful, the rime moral injunction must always be against a misuse of that power. The danger of power is always arrogance. The warning was clear: the ruler must identify with the ruled, and to insure this the great threat to his position was the sin of pride, unforgivable in the eyes of the gods.

In Aeschylus's play The Persians, the ghost of Darius warns his fellow countrymen: "When arrogance blooms, it bears the fruit of doomed infatuation, when it reaps a harvest rich in tears."

It was the emotions of the powerful which interested the politically oriented Greeks, because their mood established the nature of life in the state. While cast in terms of a relationship the immortals, the purpose of the sin of hubris was to serve justice, to affirm to the mighty their identity was with man -even the common man- not the gods. This was particularly crucial in the hierarchically organized Greek states. Solon warned that abundance leads to hubris must pay the punishment for overstepping the bounds set by justice.

The Christians, however, directed their message not to the powerful leaders but to the abused masses of the post-classical period. In a desperate age, where no hope flourishes on this earth, afterlife becomes the only source of solace. It is comforting to know that humility and poverty are not only our lot, but a ticket to the beyond. Since we are told that it is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god," there is a value in poverty. Whether intended or not, the preaching of pride as a sin and humility as a virtue led to acceptance and passivity -and served to protect a social order of inequity.

With the powerful, I suppose, humility still is a requisite virtue. But times have changed. The number of the securely powerful are few indeed. Modern life has removed all confident security. Anxiety has become the great democratizer. Of course there are still strutting creatures, puffed and filled with smug self-satisfaction, like Wallace Stevens's "Damned universal cock, as if the sun was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail." But those few arrogant creatures of power who still survive are not, generally, our heroes. They are too removed from our reality to allow for ready identification. We are more likely, these days, to classify ourselves among the unpowerful, the alienated, or the anxious.

In this group it is humility that ought be a sin, for it leads to despair and encourages a tolerance of inequity and injustice. We certainly no longer fear that our overwhelming pride will offend the gods. For one thing, we have handled that by reducing the gods; and for another, the world which is now viewed as our own creation is in such a mess of uncertainty as to discourage any excessive self-confidence.

It is instructive to trace the change in the meaning of pride in more modern times: to Spinoza, in the seventeenth century, "pride is pleasure arising from a man's thinking too highly of himself"; to Schopenhauer, in the nineteenth century, "pride is an established conviction of one's own paramount worth in some respect"; and to the American Heritage Dictionary, in own proper dignity or value." In this series of definitions we have moved the definition of pride from an excessive -"too high"- sense of self-worth, to a "paramount" sense, to a "proper" one. As a psychoanalyst in mid-twentieth-century America, I view pride as a virtue and its absence as the deficiency of our time. The restoration of pride is a major goal of treatment. Self-respect and sef-value are essential components of the capacity for pleasure and performance which underlie the healthy (good) life.

In addition, we are here dealing with feelings, and when one thinks of feelings the conflict over meaning of pride is resolved. You cannot deal with feeling "too proud" or, if you do, it ceases to be a prideful feeling. Too proud is a judgment from the outside and even were a judgment from the inside, then by adding the pejorative "too" we would have destroyed the feeling of pride. In making the judgment that we are excessively proud, we demean ourselves either by the judgment of arrogance or by the judgment of inappropriate self-elevation. In either case it is nothing to feel proud about. When we feel pride, it must, by definition be a good feeling, a feeling of which we are proud.

There is another set of complications, however, in pride in that it has both a general and specific feeling form. The first modern dictionary definition (as sense of one's own proper dignity or value) describes the general form. It involves a sense of bearing; a general awareness of one's self; of being worthy, of being decent. In this sense it is synonymous with self-respect. It is a basic attitude which will profoundly influence our general pursuits in life. Such pride involves an overall bearing that normally does not break through into the specific feeling area except on occasions of self-conscious self-appraisal. Pride has been simplistically described by many as the antithesis of shame -- but this form of pride at least is almost directly parallel with one of the pulic definitions of shame. "Have you no pride?" is interchangeable with "Have you no shame?" Both imply a self-respect that dictates appropriate demeanor in public. They define our sense of a proper self. The absence of either implies the absence of a decent standard of behaviour.

Pride here is self-acceptance and self-value. We wear it with our clothes in public. It sticks out all over us and in its absence we advertise our self-contempt. It affects our bearing, our manner, our aspirations -- the way we face defeat and the way we accept victory.

It will also determine how we are treated by others. The self-respect or contempt with which we endow ourselves is like a sign hung around our neck, demanding similar treatment -and usually getting it -- from those whom we meet.

The conscious feeling of pride, on the other hand, is most often experienced in terms of specific activities. We feel proud when we become aware of having done well. That second feeling is definded by the American Heritage Dictionary as "pleasure or satisfaction taken in one's work,achievments, or possessions."

This self-cosseting feeling of pride is not reserved for the conquest of nations or the grand creations of the select and talented few. It can occur to all of us, and does with each sense of mastery or achievement. We see it in the face of a child when he has completed a task for the first time, even if it be the task of dropping a clothespin into a bottle.



p 81-82

..pride is generally felt in the small achievements of our daily endeavor; in the minor measure of our value; in our little victories.

Normal feelings af pride are generally quiet, although warming experiences. They are acknowledged to ourselves by the nod of our head, the shake of our fist, the grin that breaks out with our last stroke of the brush, the last seed planted, the last period on the completed manuscript. Often we are not exactly aware of an emotion -- we simply feel good, or gratified.

In an average day we are more likely to be reminded of our inadequancies and our weaknesses than our successes. We are confronted daily with our failures to fulfill the scope of our ambition or our fantasies. It is the nature of fantasies to be unfulfilled. They are used to extend, as well as to supplement, the achievements of life, but , as such, they are a horizon phenomenon; however far we have traveled, they always seem some distance away.

Since we do not necessarily always experience pride as a special feeling in the solitary pursuits that warrant the emotion, the feeling is most readily identified when it is heightened and augmented by public recognition. Recognized feelings of pride, therefore, are often associated with the public acknowledgment of some achievement -- with the public recognition of its worth. Achievement, even when not recognized, feeds that general sense of pride encompassed in our first definition; in that sense it is most important. Nonetheless, we particularly enjoy the "flush of pride" which accompanies public approval of our product.

Among the "products" most likely to produce pride are our children. It is of the nature of love anyway to overvalue the object, and most of us see our children through the distorted lens of love. We are proud of them beyond their necessary warrant of pride. Children, being our ultimate products, our best hope for immortality, need do little but exist to produce the feeling of pride.

A parent watching his child perform the most mundane of activity can get a glowing, almost smug look of pride across his face, whether the child is an infant or a balding, middle-aged creature. Very often still photographs take of a child will catch the parent in the periphery wearing that particular expression that is so identifiable as pride.

We see in our children the expansion of our horizons and time. We assume that they represent the best in us and will go beyond us. We abide frustrations and acknowledge the failures of our dreams if we see these, our surrogates in pleasure and in pain, as our new hopes for fulfillment.

When in addition to their simply being there, they do achieve certain recognizable acknowledgments of their worth, our pride burtst forward in a particularly physical sensation. It is a welling forth, like a fountain of joy, as expressed in the German word quellung and the Yiddish adaptation, to kvell. When the word kvell is used, it is almost invariably by a parent in relationship to a child and his achivements.


p 83 Pride is capable of being elicited both by and internal measurement, the self, and by a public acknowlegment. In that sense it combines both the mechanisms of guilt and shame. But it is not quite the antithesis of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are exclusively moral judgments. They are the emotional signals that we have not done good. Pride tends to be more involved with doing well than doing good. It is true that there can be pride in a moral achievement, but that almost diminishes the moral character of the act.


There is a sanctiomonious self-righteous quality introduced if one takes pride in having been good. To do good ought to be part of the fabric of one's being: one should feel pain in the deviation from the good and simply feel normal in the performance of good. To do good for external approval is goody-good.

Pride is involved with achievement and mastery -- the whole area of doing and creating. It is a sign generally not that we are good but that we are competent and more. It supports self-esteem with self-confidence. It is the esteem in a self that we can trust and depend on. Its innate tendency can be seen in the early joy of the child in mastery over small objects. The two-year-old is explorer, builder (and destroyer), and achiever par excellence.

The public aspect of pride may or may not be innate. It is always difficult to separate natural genetic tendencies from environmental influences, particularly when the environmental impact is early. Innate tendencies can be either encouraged or discouraged from developing, depending on the responses they elicit form the parents. Similarly, actions of the child will be either rejected or encouraged so artfully and unconsciously as to create the impression that they were "innate" and not taught. The interplay between child and parent is a potent factor in the way the child learns to distinguish between the adaptive ("goodness") and the non-adaptive ("badness") value of his early random behaviour. He does something, and almost invariably will look to the mother for approval of disapproval. That looking to the mother is surely an organic part of the adaptive process. Anyone who has been in a public place must be aware of the "Look, Mom" phenomenon. For some reason, public swimming pools seem to be the locale I most associate with this. The incredible din that can be generated by the exuberant enthusiasm of children aound a swimming pool creates a noise level that, like rock-and-roll, is almost intolerable to people past a certain age. In addition to the general cries and squeals, "Mom, look" and "Look, Mom" are specific and inevitable interjections. So constant is the appeal, particularly with prepubescent children, that "mammaluk-mammaluk" ceases to have an identifiable meaning and becomes a rhythmic background beat before which any attempt at conversation can only be played as melody counterpoint. Mammaluk is the babaloo of the beach and the doowahdoo of the playground.

p 84

Even if the appeal of approval is answered with only the most perfunctory "I'm looking, I'm looking," "That's lovely, dear," the response is required, the ritual must be played out even while the child recognizes the lack of genuine pride and enthusiasm in the mother's intonations.

Externally reinforced pride becomes the initial sign to the child that he has done well. One of the first areas in which the enthusiastic acclaim of the parent over her child's performance is received is in toilet training. In certain cultures and with certain parents, the child is encouraged to "do it for Mommy," and each turd deposited in the appropriate vessel is greeted like an offering on the altar of love. Many people never overcome the sense of their own feces as a gift to be given or retained, and the number of psychosomatic disorders that involve diarrhea and constipation are a tribute to this early association of the lower bowel and rectum with the gift-giving apparatus of the young child.

p 85

Fortunatley most of our parents have helped direct us to other areas of achievement, and most of us graduate from the point where we consider feces as our greatest creation and area of achivement. Still, more often than not, it is in relationship to our productions and performances that we are likely to feel pride.

Pride is an essential ingredient in maturation. It is our incentive and reward for abandoning the pleasures of dependency. The advantages of being an adored and protected child may be too seductive and the alternative to self-reliance may seem too dry and intellectual for the latter to compete successfully. Pride is the pleasure in achivement that supports independence. It is an added incentive to abandon the ways and pleasures or childhood for the more elusive gratifications of maturity.

Pride, like anxiety, guilt, and shame, is one of our vital signs -- those emotions that are basic to the suvival apparatus of a thinking and social animal like man -- although less obviously so than the others.

Fear (with rage) is, of course, part of the primary emergency responses of many lower animal forms. The feelings are one part of the complex emotional mechanism which prepares the endangered animal for the emergency responses of fight or flight. These stress mechanisms are automatic and often uncontrollable.

Guilt and shame are also survival-serving emotions. But here we leave the general animal host and enter into the emotional domain assumed to be exclusively human. These emotions guide us to sacrificing selfish immediate interests to serve the standards and the needs of the group. But since we are by nature a social animal, our individual survival is linked to the species.

Why then include pride in this group? In many ways, it belongs in the last section with the emotions of joy and fulfillment. Yet there is an argument for including pride of achivement with the basic mechanisms of human survival. We are not driven only by mechanisms of pain avoidance; we are also reward seekers. But, unlike lesser creatures, our rewards are not simply the nutrients of biological survival. We are aspirers. We crave achievement, mastery, and purpose because this is the stuff which extends the meaning of human survival beyond the mere perpetuation of a biological shell.


Thomas Paine - The Age of Reason

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

from http://www.ushistory.org/Paine/reason/reason1.htm