There is a stigma associated with being human… and by that I mean, being emotional. Somewhere along the way we (collectively) have deluded ourselves into thinking that we (collectively) shouldn’t express our emotions, which represent fluctuations of the mind that come with having a human brain.
Fluctuations? Yes, fluctuations. Our mind fluctuates. Our brain fluctuates. We are NOT static beings. We are constantly in motion. Emotion. From Latin emovere, e ‘out’ + movere ‘move’. Emotions are fluctuations.
Our brain has many such fluctuations: fear, love, joy, disgust, sadness, compassion, lonely, contempt. At some level we can accept those, as long as they move out before we get impatient and eagerly attempt to regain our “balance", as if that balance is representing our true state. There is no true state, other than movement.
Emotions are neither good nor bad. They just are… [a part of] us. [Part of] our brain. [Part of] being human. But we tend to focus on the negatives associated with emotions, and thereby stigmatize the experience. Don’t be emotional. Don’t show your emotions. I.e., Don’t be human.
Actually, emotions are helpful in many ways. For one, they help us make decisions, “Damasio [a neuroscientist and psychologist] has studied several cases of people who suffered from damage largely confined to the prefrontal cortex. In these cases, people suffer from an inability to decide well; for example, they cannot make good decisions with finances and moral and ethical decision-making skills are impaired. These impairments come with no intellectual deficits, no motor deficits, and no other obvious impairment. But it is clear that these individuals have disturbances of emotion that affect their abilities to make decisions. Damasio proposed a theory, called the somatic marker hypothesis, to account for how we make decisions based on emotions. He argues that decision-making is a process that is influenced by marker signals that arise in our body. These markers associate positive and negative bodily responses with actions and experiences. Those somatic markers become stored as memories of our past experiences stamped with the bodily sensations associated with emotions. When similar experiences come up in the future, these somatic markers help the brain make decisions relatively quickly, largely because the sensations of emotions (or the markers) arise quickly compared to our appraisal of the situation, which would be largely rationally based. Therefore, these markers allow an individual to use past experiences and past knowledge on an unconscious level. The markers participate in the decision-making process along with the rational input.” Excerpt from Self Science - A Guide to the Mind and Your Brain’s Potential.
There are many specific examples of how being emotional is stigmatized, most notable are anxiety and depression. Imagine if it wasn’t. Imagine if we accepted these emotions as normal fluctuations of the mind that come with having a human brain. Imagine if there were no stigma associated with being human. The Town of Geel has not only imagined it… they have lived it. In Geel, people with "mental illness” are fostered, literally, by families. The town does not use labels and focusses on the qualities and the strengths of those people, not on the experience as an illness. Geel is an excellent example of honouring these fluctuations. “Knowing that you are accepted not only by doctors, not only by your foster family, but accepted by the whole of the community - that also has a healing effect.”
Acceptance is healing. Acceptance allows us to let the natural fluctuations of our brains, mind, and emotions come and go. Sometimes those fluctuations last for a short time, sometimes a long time. Some people experience a fluctuation for their entire lifetime, or two. But in every case, none of those fluctuations are permanent. They all shall pass. Anicca
- Self Science - A Guide to the Mind and Your Brain’s Potential By Mandy Wintink.
- A story about Geel: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/psychiatric-community-care-belgian-town-sets-gold-standard-1.2557698
- Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, (New York Putnam Publishing, 1995).
- You can watch Antonio Damasio speak with David Brooks about this phenomenon in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IifXMd26gWE.