OPINION

Emotions: What Are We So Afraid Of?

December 05, 2006
Richard Marcus

When did emotion become a dirty word? Okay I know with our uptight society people, especially men, have always been encouraged to suppress their emotions, but now a-days it seems to be bordering on the ridiculous.

While doctors have always had that old stand by valium to hand out to women with "nerves" they now have a plethora of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and a cornucopia of other mood altering drugs. In the old days if you wanted that variety of ways to alter your perceptions you'd have to hope to know a good chemist, now all you need is a doctor and a prescription pad.

Of course there are differences now; nasty occurrences while taking the medications are no longer called bummers or bad trips, but are given the lovely euphemism of side effects. No matter what you call them, cramps, headaches, bathroom troubles, and the risk of nightmares seem to be a heavy price to pay just to control your emotions.

Before I go any further let me say that there are times when these types of medications are a necessity. For the person who just can't cope with whatever their own personal demons are they can provide the needed respite that will allow them to work with a therapist. Anti-anxiety medications are especially beneficial in those instances as they allow the patient and doctor to work at finding the underlying cause without increasing the symptoms.

Of course there are also those people whose only chance at normalcy comes from taking medications. Those who have been correctly diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders must rely on drugs or find themselves institutionalized, where the drugs are guaranteed to steal more then they give back.

But there comes a time when we have to deal with emotions, and not suppress them or we loss a part of our humanity. Compassion grows out of empathy and empathy can only exist if we experience emotions. How can you empathise with someone's tears if you have never felt sadness, or their joy if you've never felt happiness?

When you're walking down the street and you see a child in tears your first instinct is usually find out if its hurt, lost, or anything else that could be bothering it. Why is it so different when we see an adult in the same circumstance? How many of us can honestly say they don't feel a little twinge of fear if they see an adult they don't know, or even one they do know in some sort of extremity of emotion?

Or if not fear how about embarrassment; doesn't some part of you wish they just wouldn't make a scene in public? Conversely why is it if a person laughing is fit to burst, laughing until tears are running out of their eyes, people will ask him or her if they are alright? Or if they are with the person, look on with a bemused, almost tolerant expression on their face that comes as close to denying acquaintance as you can get without actually running away.

I hate to sound trendy, but maybe the blame for it lies with Freud, or at least as far as women are concerned. He was the one who decided there was such an illness as hysteria, most often found in women of course because they were weaker and has less control over their base emotions. But of course he was just writing about his society and the ways people were "abnormal", what the causes were and how to integrate them back into being useful members of society.

Early twentieth century middle class/upper middle class society in most of Europe and North America was hideously repressed and it was considered bad form to show any extreme of emotion. This in spite of the world just having been through the biggest trauma ever jointly experienced by most of humanity: World War 1. Very few countries escaped that conflict without some scarring, yet everyone was insisting that showing emotions was wrong, or a sign that you were ill.

After an event like that would you think that a few tears, or even constant sobbing, would actually be a healthy reaction? Don't you think that some anger would be justified on the part of those who had lost their children or their husbands for reasons no one could really adequately explain? Then there were the tens of thousands who lost family members due to the outbreak of the flu that followed right after the war.

But it was in this atmosphere that Freud and others of the new psychoanalysis profession came up with their theories of hysteria and what is normal and abnormal emotional behaviour. Even though a lot of his work and theories have been discredited Freud's legacy lives on with doctors today in their motivations. Their job still remains trying to make you as an individual become a comfortable, functional cog in the wheel.

You can go to a zillion encounter groups that teach you to get in touch with your feelings and it won't change the fact that someone else's display of emotion will make you feel uncomfortable. Once you've gotten in touch with your feelings it's supposed to ensure that you know where they come from so that you can control them.

Control is the name of the game these days, with public displays of emotion only allowed for reasons of patriotism and in other large sanctioned gatherings. But one person crying their eyes out on the street, because some grief or other overcomes them, is seen as a pariah. One person laughing uproariously at some joke or thought that tickles their funny bone is considered either unwell or perhaps drunk.

Was it Freud who decided it wasn't proper for people to be demonstrative in their displays of emotion? Or was he just searching for the means to explain why were emotional and what could be done to control it? How is it that after two world wars, countless genocides, famines, and other horrors that the world has witnessed in the past hundred years that instead of becoming more empathetic to other people's emotional reactions we have made emotions more and more of a abnormality?

What are we so afraid of, that we may actually see there is something about our lives that isn't perfect? That there is a very good reason to cry almost every day of the week but we don't? How much longer can we continue to cover everything under the rug of medication and pretend there's nothing wrong with the world, but something wrong with the person honest enough to cry? How much longer are we going to continue to be afraid?

Richard Marcus is a long - haired Canadian iconoclast who writes reviews and opines on the world as he sees it at Leap In The Dark and Blogcritics
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