Emotions have been categorized as primary emotions and emotions of reference. The primary emotions come with the package. Infants have these emotions. Numerous researchers have listed these emotions. A hybrid list would be anger, sadness, disgust, interest, joy, and distress or fear. These grow and mature across time and become more shaped by the external environment. At base, these are our body speaking to us.
Emotions of reference emerge with the development of the self-consciousness of the self. This is the time around two years of age where the mobile, verbal toddler is letting the I, Me, and Mine fly around. (The term “emotions of reference” comes from Michael Lewis’ book Shame.)
From the beginning of human life, membership in our social group is all important. From here we find our meaning, our value, our importance. Each individual human is forming and evolving from the onset of life. Self consciousness begins to clearly manifest with the child recognizing herself in the mirror by the age of 18 months old. It is certainly off and running in the two year old toddler with the developmental convergence of mobility, linguistic pronoun use of “I”, “me” and “mine”, and the beginnings of what Michael Lewis calls the emotions of reference; examples - pride, guilt, shame, jealousy. These emotions are measures of the self with some social standard.
My social environment teaches me the what, how, when, why, where, and who of referencing my self. When a perceived need arises to compare myself by looking at the advantages that age or sex or hair color have in my family, my envy develops. I accomplish the spelling of a word with great applause from my grandmother, my feelings and the incoming messages converge into pride. These experiences and the experience of all emotions of reference are my feelings of how I fit into my social environment.
For a highly and imperatively social animal, our lifelong development of attachment/bonding is pivotal to belonging. We have a genetically based need to find structure, process and meaning within a social context that arises from both our evolutionary path and the very composition of our information processing. It is an interplay of biology, language, family, society, culture, and cosmology. It is a dynamic, ongoing, relational process within ourselves and with others.
I choose the word belonging with its obvious anthropocentric overtones, for three reasons. First, I look out from human eyes with human concerns. Second, I wanted a word that fit the transformation of the infant’s need for attachment/bonding that occurs with linguistic acquisitions around two years of age. Finally, with the adaptive function of self consciousness having evolved to facilitate our fitting into the social setting, the word belonging with its warmth and substance seemed to capture this lifelong, dynamic process.
Lack of social support has been linked to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diseases of the immune system, addictions, as well as depression and other forms of mental illness. A child in an orphanage can be given the best of physical care. He can be kept clean and well fed; but if he is not picked up and loved, he may lose weight and die. Among tribal people banishment from the tribe can mean illness and/or death. This need not be actual physical removal. Simply the loss of the social support takes away the sense of place, time and meaning.
I believe the experience that wells up when we feel we do not belong is shame. Shame is the experience of not being acceptable in the social environment; of our personhood or an intimate aspect of our humanity being ostracized.
As example, shame arises when we, especially as children, have no socially acceptable release for our natural frustration/anger. Or where our natural feelings of flight manifest as fear or terror are condemned. Shame is the feeling that arises when a behavior that is manifesting a naturally occurring internal state invokes the social response of disgust; of being cast out; of not belonging.
With the social response imprinted very early on our basic survival patterns, self-talk acts to maintain a sense of shame whenever the disallowed internal experience occurs. This is often below awareness because recognition of this aspect of our self is a threat to belonging; hence to survival.
Shame’s counterpart is guilt. Guilt arises from the disapproval of our behavior as opposed to rejection of our personhood. When guilt occurs, a way is taught for rectifying our error and for the acceptable expression (no matter how convoluted) of our experience within the social context. Guilt provides a process for continued membership in the group. In this way it provides continued support for the “traditional” patterns of socially accepted behavior.
Shame and guilt are decidedly different experiences. Guilt offers continued membership while shame banishes. The pathway to human belonging is channeled and powered by these two emotions of reference that arise through the functioning of self consciousness. I believe these two emotions of reference are primary in the processes of personal and social change.
Another way of dividing emotions is possible. Although not mutually exclusive, emotions can also be seen as expressions of either conflict or of bonding. Emotions of conflict describe situations that need changing; situations that are threatening. We feel fear at finding a snake in our path or perhaps we feel anger at having been passed over for a promotion. The emotions of conflict are designed in the body to persist until we change the situation. The persistence of conflict emotions until removal of the conflict originally had high survival value. In the modern world so condensed in time and space and with no safe outlets for these conflict emotions, this persistence represents a serious problem of adaptation and health.
Excitement, joy, curiosity are examples of emotions of bonding. These emotions are designed not to persist. They occur with nursing, with play, with laughter, with intimacy. For a highly social animal, the need to regenerate bonding emotions by seeking situations that elicit them also has survival value.
Metaphorically, conflict and bonding emotions can be compared to fat soluable and water soluble vitamins. The fat soluble vitamins are necessary but too much of them in the body are toxic. The water-soluble vitamins pass out of the body very quickly and must be replenished.
There is a further corollary involving emotions of conflict and bonding. Most of us have known the persistence of fear, sadness or anger in our life. These emotions were originally designed to persist. They may persist in humans because of psychohistorical events. Then when we feel joy and it does not persist there is a tendency to blame ourselves and feel like we are failures. We are being unfair to ourselves. We are comparing apples to oranges.
Emotions are timeless. When we tap into our sadness, we tap into all the sadness we have ever or will ever feel. This is a hard one for cause/effect types like myself. It is easier to appreciate by separating the content of a sad event from the unique bodily experience of sadness. The content of sad events will vary in the future; not our personal, internal domain of sadness.
We have joy within us as a natural response. When we experience joyfulness, we move into a sensual mind field that is neurological and biochemical. Within this field we move outside the realm of clock time. When we feel joy we open ourselves to our universe of joy.
In the broadest sense, our emotional reactions to the continuing events of our life are the thread that gives us a personal sense of history. Emotions give meaning to experience in the moment and connect us to our memories. Our memories give us our history. Emotions shape our experience of the self.
Let me add one final point. Love is not one emotion; it is all emotions. A white light when passed through a prism becomes a rainbow of colors. Metaphorically, love is the white light of emotions. When passing through us, love is the many hues and blends of the various feelings socially shaped and expressed as emotions.
This perhaps gives us some clarity as to why it is so difficult to love ourself and others. Love is all the emotions. Emotions are timeless. With love, we tap into not only our joy but also our fear and sadness from now, before, and in the future. At times this makes it painful to have love for ourselves and/or others.
When our emotions are affirmed, nurtured and guided, the structures and meanings of the developing self are connected internally and socially. There is belonging.
Love is the energy of life speaking to itself. We are the crystal and love comes from within us and through us. Love, as all the emotions, as the white light, stands as the grail of human spiritual endeavors. To love is to celebrate living. It takes great courage.
Depression and despair are the handmaidens of shame anger. They arise unbidden. Each of the people we have looked at experiences these two sides of the same coin when the energy from the shame within them overwhelms.
Depression is a helplessness. It is a feeling of not inadequacy but no adequacy. Like being in a huge vat of mud and not being able to move fast enough. It is not being able to change the circumstances or environment or behaviors. It has been called anger turned inward. If it were turned outward it would be aimed at the circumstances/environment/behaviors (persons) that are creating the helplessness. Depression is related to the past. It arises when all our adaptations fail to relieve energy of our shame. The energy of depression is pervasive and is a mood and in the gut.
Despair has to do with hopelessness. This relates even more strongly to time. It has to do with the future. It is a fear of a continuation of the present situation. It is same old, same old. It is the feeling that there is no freedom from the repetition of the patterns of adaptation. These patterns are unsuccessful in getting our needs met and they will go on and on and on. So the future is bleak and hopeless.
Depression rises out of the gut from the energy of a failed past and flows into the head dampening action. Despair arise out of the mind because the idea of a future is in the head. Despair flows into the gut dampening the emotional energy for action. They are truly the two headed face of shame in control.
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