Why Does Affect Matter?
By Sue Deppe, M.D.
In a world of overwhelming problems, why should anybody try to understand emotion? The answer, in short, is motivation. We’ve got to understand why humans do what they do in order to do something different! Affect motivates everything, from our triumphs to our failures. While innate affect will occasionally drive behavior (distress of hunger drives eating), we adults usually respond out of experiences and affect patterns that have formed the unconscious emotional rules we call ‘scripts’. With their highly magnified affects, scripts can power behaviors from simple (eating) to complex (e.g., altruism or greed). Either way, affect is the motivator.
Recent alleged bullying of a bisexual high school student in Vermont (USA) triggered a ‘sit-in’ in solidarity with that student. What is the role of disgust, shame, dissmell (the root of contempt) and anger in verbal and physical attacks? What past and current emotional experiences might cause young people to attack someone they see as different? What enabled three hundred teens to empathize and publicly express their solidarity with the targeted student?
Data are accumulating on the application of affect-script paradigms in restorative practices worldwide. A recent Newsweek article featured Pop-Tech Social Innovation Fellow Lauren Abramson, PhD, and her use of restorative practices for community conflict and crime. (See ‘Media Watch’ below.)
Healthy communities find ways to share and maximize positive affects (the good feelings); share and metabolize negative affects (the bad stuff); and enable people to express emotion in healthy ways. Understanding emotion helps us to reduce violence and build community. This is important information!
A recent illness gave art therapist Jeanette Wright a chance to explore her own images and affects. Enjoy her drawing and reflections. Understanding our own affects helps us to know ourselves better.
Psychiatrist Daven Morrison tells us that employees value emotional skills in co-workers. How we handle affect can make or break a workplace. Or a relationship. Or a child.
Retired minister Dave McShane is a keen observer of human affect and a longtime student of Silvan Tomkins. He watches the faces of his colleagues as a discussion takes an unexpected turn. Affect can show us what is hidden—even when we don’t want to know! (Understanding shame can change your life! Check out Affect and Script 101.)
Artist Pat Field offers a study on disgust and religion. In response, Andreas Aamodt talks of welcoming others’ affects in psychotherapy, as well as his own, while minimizing his own disgust, anger, and dissmell. Such compassion for the affects of self and others is crucial, both for helpers and for we who would change ourselves.
John Brodsky uses a letter to the editor to grapple with one of the biggest problems of our time, climate change. His thesis is that how we are wired makes it difficult to respond. Empathy (for those we do not know) is the key. While I disagree with the term ‘suicidal’, I agree with his thesis. Solving climate change (and any other concern of our global community) requires more than cognition. It requires enough emotional pain—or powerful enough positive images—to push us out of our current inertia.
So, there you have it. Affect motivates everything. Anything humans care about, communicate, think, or do involves affect. Understanding and modifying affect expression or scripting may be pivotal. Waging war (or peace) involves affect. So do healing, teaching, nurturing, creating, praying, dreaming, reconciling, learning, preventing harm, restoring, and building a business, a family, or a relationship.
May we all receive the affects of others with kindness and express our own with courage, humility, and grace. And in this season of light and darkness, may all beings find peace.
Sue Deppe, MD, Newsletter Editor
Media Watch: Pop-Tech Innovator Lauren Abramson in Newsweek!
By Sue Deppe, M.D.
Restorative practices pioneer Lauren Abramson, Ph.D., was featured in Newsweek on 11 September 2011. Lauren is on the Board of Directors of the Tomkins Institute and has shared her deep knowledge of affect and its application to restorative justice worldwide for many years. Check out these links:
The Real Fixers. The Crimefighter: Lauren Abramson
Resolving Conflict With a Handshake, Not Handcuffs
Lauren was a pioneer in understanding how affect and script play out in the restorative process. When those involved in conflict or harm tell their stories, get affects out on the table, and begin to empathize with each other, magic happens. People can hold each other accountable for the effects of their actions, work toward healing harm, and strengthen their connections with each other.
The Sunday Newspaper: An Exploration of Art, Affect, and Illness
By Jeanette Wright, M.S., A.T.R.
Recently I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease and received two stents in three months, both in the Left Anterior Descending Artery that supplies blood to the left ventricle of the heart. Critical blood supply to the ventricle was 75% blocked.
Following is a visual vignette that shows a version of the Winnicott Scribble Technique I used in creating the drawn image in Figure 2. From the stimulus of the scribble a story developed about the capacity of the body to generate consciousness and coherence through visual imagery; it oriented me to what was going on.
During the weeks following the diagnosis I sat down and began a scribble drawing.
Fig. 1 Photo of the heart
We understand that affect is physiological and motivational. My application of Affect Script Psychology has focused on neuronal activity patterns as they come through the eye and the hand onto a piece of paper in a drawing. I believe this eye-hand pathway to be in accordance with Tomkins’s concept of imagery as translation of memory and sensory data. For thirty years I have been watching people draw, including myself. It has become clear to me that it is affect that leads (motivates) the drawing, and further that it is the drawn imagery that re-presents present experience and scripted past. As we know, the sole purpose of affect is to get our attention. To make marks on a piece of paper means that something has gotten our attention. Through Tomkins’s process of minding, we have an opportunity to discover that the imagery has translated memory and sensory data into line, shape, color, space, and knowledge—data that might otherwise escape attention.
Fig. 2 The Drawn Image
Making a scribble drawing is easy. I use a pencil with my non-dominant hand, close my eyes and draw a tangle of lines across the paper. My task then is to look for forms. I first saw that the top of the scribble lines suggested the profile of a face. I outlined it in black, reinforced the jaw (some anger here) and added a green eye (a spot of hope).
Next, I recalled a painting I had seen in the morning paper. I had been captured by an exuberant array of pinks in a painting by DeKooning, and resonated with accounts of his insistence on combining abstraction with figurative painting, not a popular style at that time. I decided to play with the pink pastel and moved the color into an elongated shape. Then my associations went to an article in the same newspaper about the frustration expressed by accomplished women in high level positions when “talked over” by men. As I thought about this universal experience I kept spreading brown around the pink. The pink ended up smaller and diminished in color. About this time I was fully aware of feeling a kinship with these women. I, too, have felt shame and anger when “talked over” by men. Then the drawing was finished. It took about two minutes.
In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman makes the observation that when affect arises we think fast. (He doesn’t seem to reference or grasp the pioneering work of Tomkins and only manages to get as far back as Damasio.) Kahneman attributes thinking fast to our “Intuitive Self” and thinking slow to our “Remembering Self”. Interesting to me is the capacity of the drawn image to capture the automatic and quicksilver experience of affect and script by providing a visual record where we can see what we think and think by what we see. In the “looking” we unfold implicit and explicit memory; orient, evaluate, judge, and make sense out of what is going on. With the drawn image, we experience coherence between our response to what was initially urgent, abstract, and general, and a fuller understanding of personal experience, both scripted and creative.
Several days later I shared my drawing with a physician colleague. In looking at the drawing again, in analyzing the imagery and in gaining coherence while elaborating on a different frame of reference presented by my colleague, my thinking slowed. I realized a specific location in my body was telling me something.
I was implicitly anticipating that my colleague would resonate with my interpretation and conclusions. Instead, after taking in what I had told him, he quickly exclaimed, “Jeanette, this is a drawing of the left ventricle!” I was delighted with the implicit and explicit associations. (Such co-creation like this occurs regularly in my work with patients and generates much positive affect.)
We then entered into a dialogue around how my body had made a comment about my limbic life, how the drawing reflected activity in the subcortical part of my mind—the part that lies beneath my conscious thoughts. I could now see the affective scripting that connected these associations: the brown constricting shape pressed in and loomed over my vitality represented in the pink (my heart). It dawned on me that over the years I too have felt dominated and suppressed when men talk over me. I concluded that experiences such as these have placed considerable unrecognized stress on my heart.
As I quickly saw that, indeed, physical and emotional content relating to my health had found its way into the form of my artery, I resonated with work by the artist Ben Shahn who believed that form is the shape of content.
In summary, the profile of the face at the top of the drawing resembled the bicuspid valve of the left ventricle. Memory and sensory data were revealed in the pink (blood) of the heart. The constriction of social politics that loomed over my life as a woman was represented in the brown suppression of my vitality.
Affect Imagery Consciousness. Someone should write a book about that. Thanks, Silvan!
(To learn more about Jeanette Wright’s use of ASP in Art Therapy you may want to order a copy of her presentation at the 2010 conference.)
With Co-Workers, Emotional Skills Matter
By Daven Morrison, MD
More than anything related to intelligence or technical skill, employees say they want emotional intelligence in co-workers. While Daniel Goleman never precisely defined “EQ”, a cottage industry in assessments and competencies has sprung up around it. The Career Builder survey has a nice definition:
“A general assessment of a person’s abilities to control emotions, to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions, and manage relationships.”
I am delighted that the term has entered the workplace. It is far better than the term ‘soft skills’ which was often spoken with significant contempt when our team was brought in to help with an issue. Anything to help people work better together that didn’t tie to efficiency, throughput, or sales was often dismissed as virtually worthless.
But the lack of a clear definition concerns me. Who judges these items and makes these assessments?
This can be a real bear when they are incorporated into 360 degree evaluations. Especially when an organization is under threat and people fear for their jobs.
Who decides what EQ is? How do you compare the EQ required at Army boot camp with that required to work in an American Girl store? How does leadership influence EQ evaluations? Do leaders bias things in favor of financial or production targets? How much of it is a tool to keep ‘cool’ people employed or to harm ‘dorks’ or ‘losers’?
Of greater concern, why is there not an expectation for education of employees, supervisors, and leadership on how to use emotions to solve problems?
Were organizations to take this problem seriously, there would be much greater appreciation and understanding of the basic affects. In my opinion there is no better model than that of Silvan Tomkins.
Reflections on 9/11: Ten Years Later
By David McShane, M.Div., D.D.
(From an email on 11 September 2011)
I belong to a discussion group I started in 1963. I am the only one left of the original twelve members. We meet every other week, a nice assortment of college professors and business folks, all really bright people. A few far right, most tilting left and a couple as far left as I am. We met on Friday September 9th, to discuss a brief paper about whether George Bush got it right regarding the Middle East’s need to become democratized. The discussion wandered away from the topic, as it always does. Somehow, the subject of forgiveness was brought up (not by me). I said, “Interesting, to mention forgiveness on the eve of 9-11.”
An absolute knock-down dead pall settled over the group. Deer in headlights. They’d discovered a turd on the birthday cake. A few chins actually sagged toward chests. Eye contact was obliterated. It lasted many seconds. Nothing more needed to be said, nor probably should have been. I broke the silence by arising to replenish my Glenlivet.
What happened here?
A combination of confusion and shame, mostly shame, overwhelmed them briefly. They realized for a few seconds how trapped they are in ‘correct think’. There has been a lot going on about forgiveness in this town (Kalamazoo, Michigan), in past months. This is the headquarters of the Fetzer Institute, which has had a longstanding, international, highly-funded program on forgiveness. The guys in the group had each been exposed to it at Rotary, in church, or one of the many programs sponsored by Fetzer.
Forgive them, those 9-11 bastards? That is the response that hit them first, and right quick the elephant showed up in the room, and they realized they were it. For a brief bit they were aware of a question they preferred not to face. Why—really why—did they do it? We are all so crippled in our vision of THEM, whoever THEM is. For a bit there, they realized alienation is a two way street; somebody needs to make the first move. Me. Us, possibly.
Blessings, friends. Blessings are to be found. When one finds you, receive it gladly and share.
Sorry guys, but this is Sunday. Cheers, DAVE
A Tasteful Study of Religious Disgust
By Pat Field and Andreas Aamodt, Psykologspesialist
A recent Tomkins-Talk thread looked at a report of a study that showed a pre-loading with moral disgust influenced the perception of taste. In the study, subjects were given an unsweetened drink of lemon juice and water and asked to rate how it tasted, including how disgusting it was. The participants—all self-identified Christians—were asked to copy one of three short texts: A passage from the Qur’an; an excerpt from atheist Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion; or a portion of the preface to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. They were then given the drink (presented as “slightly different” but actually the same) and asked to rate the taste again. Participants
“. . . showed an increased disgust response following contact with rejected religious beliefs (i.e., Islam and atheism), but not a neutral text,” the researchers report. “Other ratings of the drink (e.g., sweetness, sourness) were not as strongly influenced by writing the passage, indicating that the effect was limited to disgust responses, and not taste in general.” [http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/taste-buds-reflect-feelings-of-moral-disgust-31268/]
The study also found that given the direction to wash their hands after writing the rejected religious passages, the participants showed no more disgust than after writing the dictionary passage. It appeared that the act of writing out despised ideas led to a sense of contamination, and hand-washing restored a sense of purity.
The ensuing discussion took a political turn for a moment, with speculation that those politicians who resist compromise may be experiencing the influence of political slogans designed to elicit disgust. Compromise may be equated with contamination, providing strong affective motivation to resist working with those whose ideology and programs have been associated with disgusting imagery.
Tomkins-Talkers reflected for a bit on their own propensity to experience disgust for persons who hold ‘disgusting’ views or who have done contemptible deeds. Participants’ reflections turned to their own attempts to hold persons in compassionate regard while still personally deploring unhealthy ideas and unsavory deeds.
Andreas Aamodt joined the conversation with the following uplifting contribution:
“In the Norwegian Affect Consciousness Therapy Model, which is largely based on ASP, we welcome and value all affects in all people, and especially in our patients. We try to identify and validate all basic affects and important emotions, and then to identify the scripts the person has for handling the affects and emotions. We always try to understand the contextualized signal function of the affects, that is to understand and make sense of the affects, and then possibly to challenge and improve maladaptive affect handling scripts to promote affect integration, life and health. We believe that people think most clearly, and behave most wisely, if their affects are welcomed, identified and validated no matter what. This is one of our highest values, and even the worst psychiatric conditions can greatly improve and possibly be cured by a process relentlessly focusing on affect integration. It is well documented that there is a strong relationship between affect integration rated by the Norwegian Affect Consciousness Interview and mental health.
“I personally train to minimize my experience of disgust towards people’s expressions by using affect integration practices to welcome my own affects including shame (self doubts, disappointments, frustrations), fear, sadness, etc., that can trigger disgust, anger, or contempt. My aim is to be able to digest as much as possible of what I experience without being overloaded or intoxicated. I try to use the Affect Consciousness Model on myself by being interested in identifying, accepting, reflecting upon, utilizing, and expressing important affects when it seems wise to do so. I find it to be a very useful practice in line with my own highest ethical values to continually develop my own ability to understand and care for as many living beings as possible including myself. These idealistic thoughts sometimes co-assemble my interest with joy and pride that further my motivation to expand my affect integration horizon.”
Risking the Future: Homo Terminus
By John Brodsky, MD
The sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.
-Keats (Epigraph from Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”)
To the Editor:
Is humankind suicidal? (“Can Our Species Escape Destruction?” John Terborgh, New York Review of Books, October 13, 2011) The answer seems to be yes, humankind is suicidal, and no, our species will not escape destruction, though we can; we are able. How do we explain this? The answer lies in three words: Affect, imagery, and consciousness.
The first of these words refers to our panel of innate responses to stimuli, which, joined by memory to our ‘kindersehen’ (scenes of childhood), forms our emotional lives, determines our response to analogous experience, and colors our vaunted but flawed rationality.
The second of these words refers to our capacity—unparalleled in other forms of life—to manufacture a hoped-for future, to “make the world nearer to our heart’s desire” rather than remain doomed to evolve to fit aspects of a world we will not change. With this power, this freedom, we both feather and foul our nest.
The third word remains a mystery. The source of all value and the generation of our concern for our future, its existence may be epiphenomenal—a ghost in a machine which may in any case be programmed for self destruction. What a gift! What a glory! Yet, what a shame!
Who among us would kill our own children, the product of our selfish genes and the living vessels which carry our mortal egos into the future? No emotionally healthy persons in love with themselves and with their progeny would do such a thing. Yet, in our blindness, we may doom generations we will never face; our loving lineage does not extend to those we will not live to see. The explanation for this nearsightedness is to be found, again, in three words: Affect, imagery, and consciousness.
Affect is contagious. Dating from a prehistoric and preverbal era in the history of our social species, it remains the primary (and the primal) source of our interpersonal communication and the basis for the intimacy and love which is our best moral quality. It also energizes the dysfunctional demon of war, and its horrid companions such as murder and genocide. Affect functions through body language, most intensely on the display board of the face. Can we—will we!—see the distress, the anguish, the terror of generations we will not live to face as we let the world go to hell? Perhaps we only “imagine” their faces. And “imagery” is weak when compared with the affective resonance of flesh!
What of consciousness? Visualize now a world destroyed; Mother Nature poisoned: a rotting corpse all that remains of this “pale blue dot” in space. Yes, our genes are near-sighted. But let us look into the future with emotional eyes, and think of those children, who, because we will not live to see them, we do not love as much as we should.
John Brodsky, MD
‘Til You’re Blue in the Face
John Brodsky, MD
Three books now on the shelf are of some interest to those of us fascinated by the scripted life. One, The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, by Irving Kirsch, condemns
drugs as placebos.
Another, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, by Robert Whittaker, describes them as damaging, and a third The Trouble With Psychiatry: A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis, by Daniel Carlat, admits their effectiveness and doubts their specificity but laments the neglect of psychotherapeutic intervention by the current generation of psychiatrists, As a general practitioner often looking for help in curing my troubled patients, I felt supported by these authors.
Experienced members of our Tomkins community have reminded me that neurochemical propensity toward brain illness as a result of genetic or postnatal influences may well be a reality and that my position is influenced by my bias, and I will concede that. Still, I wonder.
Sometimes, while motoring idly down the road on mornings when the interesting opportunities of my life seem almost equally balanced by the anxieties of life’s uncertainties, I have noticed that I can shift my subjective affective posture from negative to positive and back again with the most subtle changes of focus between life’s offerings and life’s threats. In doing so, I begin to think about what is going on in my head as these shifts in feeling take place. It is as easy to conceive of wavelike changes in complex patterns of neurocircuitry as it is to conceive of alterations in the chemical “bath” of various local subunits. Both phenomena are part of the same pattern, but to me, the patterns seem more important than the “bath.” Why?
How is consciousness generated? Does it not seem more likely a product of circuitry than of chemistry? And if so, does it not seem safer to attempt to alter our circuits than to change their bath water? Less likely in that case to be victims of surprising shocks, I’d say!
Gurus for ages have offered advice toward rewarding lives. Some have advised meditation or similar forms of mental control. Others have advised magic mushrooms or modern psychopharmacological drugs.
It has been noted that affect/script psychology is an umbrella beneath which all forms of therapy find shelter. With the current emphasis on drugging every complaint it may be our responsibility as “observers of script” to open that umbrella to another purpose-that of shielding some of our patients from the rain of medicine which may be hindering their efforts to change their circuits.
John Brodsky, MD
Longtime Tomkins student and Board member, Dr, John Brodsky, is a primary care physician in Pennsylvania. He enjoys tossing Tomkins’s paradigm and life experience together with his wide-ranging reading in an inquisitive mind, and offering the resulting salad to others for a taste.
I interviewed John and provided some counterpoint.-Sue Deppe, MD, Psychiatry
The Interview by Sue Deppe
Sue: Can you clarify the title?
John: I was referring to the idiom “Talk ‘til you’re blue in the face”, meaning talk is doing no good. But if this is now from another age (I heard my mother use it), then perhaps I need another title.
Sue: If it is from another age, I am of that age! The metaphor is fine. But it seems like your message is the opposite-not that talk will do no good, but that it is crucial in script change.
John: It IS opposite. I personally don’t think that hurts; but if you have another title, do tell. Meanwhile I’ll try to think of one. J
Sue: I happen to agree that psychotherapy is incredibly important. I heard the end of an interview with Dan Carlat on NPR the other day and if I heard correctly, he was bemoaning the fact that many psychiatrists now are not interested in psychotherapies. He thinks we should be. Psychiatric residency programs are required to train to a certain basic level of psychotherapy competencies. Some do better than others. I love doing psychotherapy.
You are saying you still doubt neurochemical propensity for mental illnesses. Can you say why?
John: I don’t doubt a “correlation” and an “effect” from drugs, but I suspect it’s a chicken-egg situation and I am not certain we can assume or prove that people are born with serious dysfunctional sensitivities in their affect panels.
Sue: Hmm . . . Kids can have very different “temperaments” from the get-go-normal and extreme. They may be more anxious (fear-terror), happier, more easily angered, more calm, etc., and they also script their parents in their interactions.
John: Yes. My mother always told me that. My grown children’s Swarthmore pediatrician wrote a book on it. (I could not interest him in ASP!)
Sue: Unmedicated people with bipolar disorder show relatively abrupt changes in affect, feeling, and behavior, over days, hours, or moments. A person might be OK, not depressed or manic, and over just a few days or weeks move to crushing suicidal depression, tearfulness, and hopelessness. Or she may move the other way and become hyperactive and euphoric, or paranoid and irritable. You can sit in front of someone who is acutely manic and watch him go from pleasant to giggling inappropriately to irritable and angry within seconds. It is called “labile affect” in psychiatry.
We have many examples of the natural histories of untreated schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on. And they often have similarities from patient to patient, when the patients grew up in very different environments.
And there are genetic links.
John: This is where it’s important to correct my bias.
Sue: What specifically is a chicken-egg situation?
John: Further on in our correspondence you say that the circuitry and the chemistry go hand in hand. One is the chicken, one the egg.
Sue: Can you say more about why the patterns seem more important than the bath? I am curious. (I know you asked why. Maybe you don’t know!) J
John: This is admittedly my bias: First, I have always been fascinated by the effects of nurture.
Sue: Me, too.
John: Second, I have always been lazy about studying complex basic science (biochemistry, in this case).
Sue: I tried, but I damn near flunked it in med school.
John: Third, I had a rather judgmental “bootstraps” mother, e.g., don’t blame (nature), take responsibility, etc.
Sue: Yup. I got, “You can do anything if you try hard enough.” No copping out and externalizing blame in our families, huh?
You talk about it being safer to change the circuits than to change their bath water. I strongly doubt that medications or life experience/psychotherapy act on only one or the other. While I am not a neurologist, my understanding is that multiple circuits and groups of neurons with millions-yea billions-of interconnections may be involved in thought, memory, action, feeling. The classic view of a neuron firing involves release of packets of chemicals from the neuron into the synaptic cleft near another neuron, but there are literally hundreds of neurotransmitters and many neurohormones interacting in the brain and body. The circuitry is incredibly complex. It seems to me that circuits by definition are using the bath.
John: This seems the crux of my message. When I was driving down the road “mildly sad” and changed my feeling to “moderately happy” it seemed to me that I was playing with circuits and not chemicals; so quickly did I respond, and so “patterned” seemed my thought. I will admit that were I “seriously depressed” and drowning in bad chemistry, it might not have worked.
What really struck me as interesting was my experience (in paragraph three) of being able to shift my emotional state by using thought. I admit I am not seriously sunk in any punishing negativity (or irrational positivity) at this time in my life and my ability may not be expected to be duplicated by the seriously ill.
Sue: Agree. As Don Nathanson has pointed out, the problem with many mental illnesses is that one is stuck in a particular affect or pattern and cannot shift to the appropriate affect for a stimulus, as you did by shifting focus.
John: If this “stuckness” is scripted it should be open to change by thought (therapy and therapy’s “homework”); if chemical, not so easy-I admit that. Yet it seemed instructive, AND “pattern shift generated”, as I took no pill and was not injecting anything!
Sue: We know that life experience and psychotherapy can change the brain. We can see similar changes on functional MRI whether we do Prozac or exposure and response-prevention behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. We have increasing evidence that trauma can change the brain physically. So maybe when you deliberately shifted your focus, you were (however subtly) changing the activity of certain neurotransmitters and circuits. I think that affects and scripts are modified by biology AND experience, including psychotherapies. I think we get into lots of trouble when we over-simplify!
John: To be sure! Emergent phenomena as part of complexity theory are often beyond our control. We are people with a vast and complex machine between our ears, and we often seek to reduce the excitement of complexity into the joy of simplicity. Better perhaps I should just kiss my kids and say goodnight.
Sue: Can you be more specific about how you think medication may hinder people’s ability to change their circuits? An example?
John: Isn’t this obvious? If one feels good, why bother to “close down the old show and put a new one on the road”? (Berne)
Sue: True-if a depression is controlled by the medication, one may also find that the need for psychotherapy disappears (along with the motivation). The psychoanalysts used to worry a lot about this. I think they viewed symptoms somewhat differently. Many psychiatrists now see treatment (meds, psychotherapy) as “yes, and” rather than “either-or”. Many of us have worked with people who beat their heads against the wall in therapy, finally got their medication right, and found that psychotherapy finally worked!
John: Here is a core and practical piece of advice from the trenches. Carlat, far more than the other two authors, agrees. That’s one reason I bought HIS book.
Sue: I have a family member who is one of those patients. As long as she is on her medication, she can handle her relationship with her parents. Without meds, it was impossible to finish working through her anger and shame issues in psychotherapy. Your title fits my family member. She can talk until she’s blue in the face, but without medication, her therapy-and life-don’t work. (Ah-life experience again! It does form our worldview and biases, doesn’t it?)
John: Just as my fear of drugs forms mine.
Sue: Hey, John, thanks for the fun repartee!
THE FACE OF SCANDAL: TRUE REMORSE? TOMKINS-TALK GLEANINGS
From June, 2011
In the context of confession, apology, and expression of regret by U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner for his Twitter scandal, a recent thread on Tomkins-Talk took a look at the facial expressions of a number of politicians caught in one scandal or another—all showing the same “upside-down smile” comprised of lips pressed together and an upward thrust to the chin boss.
Illustration by Pat Field
The analysis of the expression by Dan Hill in the article and video differs substantially from how we would describe it using Tomkins’s affect paradigm. We differentiate dissmell and disgust, for instance.
This is substantially a face of shame, tilted with eyes downcast and decreased eye contact. There may be some distress as well.
The tight mouth might signal backed-up anger, or, as Lauren Abramson suggested in her post of June 9th, “Perhaps this is an intrapunitive (Silvan used to use that word, often when someone would bite their lip) anti-disgust element on top of the shame.”
The thread continued with speculation about how much actual shame was involved, and whether each politician had expressed anything like true remorse. We on the Newsletter Committee felt that the subsequent discussion took a deeper, more significant path that we’d like to share with a larger audience.
Pat Field and Sue Deppe
SHAME AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REGRET AND REMORSE
Marg Thorsborne: If I can add two cents worth from a restorative perspective . . . This is not so much of a comment on facial expression, but the difference between “regret” and “remorse”, and the need to link to the symbolism and actions around apology, which excites a great deal of comment in the justice system and school discipline.
Once, in a course I was teaching, someone advised me to visit the website: www.perfectapology.com. I thought it would be a fluffy shocker, but indeed that was not the case—for me at least. Regret is about being sorry for the consequences of one’s actions . . . I see this at work with airline apologies—“Qantas would like to announce that QF 623 to Melbourne has been delayed a further twenty minutes. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience this causes you.” Corporate shame? Do I think this has gone to the corporate heart? Are they truly sorry? Not visibly, for me anyway! Another way I look at regret is when an apology is offered that sounds a lot like “I’m sorry you feel that way” (but what’s not being said in words is, “but that’s your problem and you need to get over it!”) So that expression of regret for me is about shame avoidance.
“Remorse”, on the other hand, is about a deeper kind of honesty—“I’m sorry that you are so hurt. What I did was inexcusable, and I have let myself down, you down, my family down. I feel ashamed of myself for what I did. What can I do to repair the damage?”—shame at its best as a social regulator. In the act of remorseful apology and in my promises to behave differently in the future lies the road to redemption and healing of self and the other.
Not what you folk were talking about, but I felt moved to write while the thoughts were with me.
Pat Field: Marg, You say, “Not what you folk were talking about” . . .” I say, “Unfortunate if not what we were talking about!” You haven’t changed or strayed from the topic—I think you have deepened and enriched the conversation. Our mission needs to be much elucidation and exemplification of “shame at its best as a social regulator“.
Richard Sindall: Wow, this is important stuff, especially for someone like me who lives and works in a field that has long been tempted to cheapen forgiveness and has far too often yielded to that temptation for a variety of reasons, some more of marketing than of true need or honest thought. By making forgiveness seem magical and painless for the one being forgiven, we have short-circuited self-forgiveness and tended to make shame a permanent and even virtuous condition. (For anyone who doesn’t know the context from which I’m speaking, I’m a Presbyterian minister.)
Having mentioned magic, I’ll make a reference some may appreciate, others not. In the Harry Potter novels, a wizard has the potential to split his/her soul by murder and to gain a phony kind of immortality by placing a separated fragment of that soul in safe place. The question is asked whether such profound self-mutilation can ever be healed, and the answer is that, yes, there is a possibility of healing but only through the process of remorse, which can sometimes kill the wizard.
Forgiveness and self-forgiveness as a process of remorse, confrontation, healing, and release in which the person actually participates is a concept or understanding we very much need to develop far more than we have to date, which is one of the reasons I have been drawn to Affect Script Psychology.
Pat Field: Dick, right on! For me, it is the transformative process of shame that makes it redemptive.
Being stuck in a script that produces the same shameful behavior again and again is a kind of hell—for those in relationship with that person, and for the person himself/herself. Only by getting down to the scripting process can change take place. Perhaps shame (as genuine remorse) facilitates the formation of new scripts. Will it kill the human? Not usually, but the script will “die”, and in anticipation it will put up quite a tantrum that will often convince the human that he/she is about to die! To be fair, it will be the end of life as s/he knows it.
Doug Reingold: Pat and all,
When a public figure takes responsibility for misbehavior and expresses shame and remorse, the social consequences take several forms:
1. The furtherance of redemption and reconciliation;
2. Confirmation of guilt in the minds of supporters who had held out hope of innocence, and consequently abandonment by some; and
3. The delivery of very powerful ammunition to detractors.
We celebrate the first of these. But the second and third dynamics constitute very real penalties, and go some way to explain the existence of non-apology apologies and so forth.
Marg Thorsborne: One of the issues about public apology by public figures is that the words are so carefully scripted as to appear rehearsed and then not genuine—I’m thinking of Tiger Woods here and your latest politician fella [Weiner] in the States who has been caught doing silly stuff on social networking sites. (How can people be so stupid???) I wonder if the dialogue with those closely associated behind the scenes has been a restorative one: Have the right people been part of it? Has there been sufficient explanation of intention/motivation by the person responsible? Have they taken full responsibility for the harm done to others? Have those hurt felt that? Has there been genuine remorse or is it a bunch of PR advisers who say get out there and do a mea culpa, take your medicine and it’ll blow over . . .
In Oz, it tends to be overpaid football/sporting heroes who do shocking stuff (especially when they are drunk), followed by a press conference . . . maybe I’m just too cynical about what isn’t happening that is genuine. On a note of hope, the restorative philosophy, spreading so nicely through education is now making its way into junior football clubs (teachers are coaches), so [there are] more restorative responses to serious incidents on the field or afterwards in locker rooms. [Ed. Note: Marg is speaking from Australia, one of the many places where restorative practices are being integrated into many aspects of community life, including the education and justice systems. She is a highly skilled restorative practitioner.]
SHAME AFFECT AND SCRIPTED SHAME
Brett Schur: Thank you, Marg, for the helpful juxtaposition of regret and remorse.
I believe that our working group understands shame differently and better than anyone else. In order to maintain our clarity about the concepts of shame, I believe that it is critical to always bear in mind the differences between the affect shame and the library of scripts that each of us builds around our own personal history of experiencing that affect.
I ask my clients the question, “Is pain bad?” Of course we all recognize that pain is not bad; pain is vital to our very survival. Pain is a signal that something is wrong and a motivation to act. Given a couple of examples, every client quickly sees the wisdom in this. It is only a bit more challenging to understand the signal and motivational values of the affect system and of each of the affects individually. Shame (affect) isn’t bad; it is very simply a piece of information, and a motivation to act. Affect is a momentary experience until it becomes wrapped in a library of scripts like the irritating grain of sand becomes encased in the scar tissue that is a pearl. The affect is neither good nor bad in and of itself. (Our colleague Joe Izzo has banished the terms positive and negative from discussion of affect because of the implication of good and bad; instead he uses either pleasant/unpleasant or rewarding/punishing.)
The library of scripts which builds up around the affect shame for some people contains messages about the self. Often these scripts begin with the experience of being immersed in shame. A parent may use words or gestures (e.g. turning away from) or worse to amplify the momentary experience of shame. In an awful case, the parent may, for example, remind the child tomorrow and the next day and next week and next year of the moment of shame, teaching the message that one must carry shame forward into the future forever and associate it with the image of the self until the self is seen as inherently bad. A client helped me to understand this. She told me that she is bad. I objected a bit too readily, failing to validate what I would come to learn is her core concept of herself. Later, I responded that we all have a part of us that is bad and a part of us that is good. She was distraught because I still didn’t understand. She explained that being bad didn’t begin at some point in time and wasn’t associated with any particular event or experience in her past. It couldn’t be changed, divided, or mitigated because it was part of her very nature. She explained that she is bad in the same way that she is female. It is a part of the nature of every cell of her body. She cannot be changed from bad to good (her assumption of my goal for her) any more than she can be changed from female to male.
Not everyone has a library of scripts about shame that is as pervasive and intense as hers. To be ashamed of oneself is a script which references not only the affect shame but also the library of scripts that comprises what we call the self.
Polarity theory addresses, among other things a set of beliefs and practices about the role of affect, including especially shame affect, in life and more particularly in the socialization of a child. In the humanistic model, affect, including shame affect is valued as a momentary experience which provides information and motivation. It is meant to be understood, valued, modulated, and then parked in the library of memories. The goal of avoiding the building of pervasive shame scripts is valued.
In contrast, in the normative model, affects are tools for the regulation of behavior, of the person, and of the social strata. Shame is amplified rather than modulated and the rehearsal of shame messages is taught as a tool for control. Thus is formed the pearl that is the library of shame scripts, intimately and inseparably woven into the scripts that we call the sense of self.
For some, forgiveness is a script for the modulation of shame. For others who lack skills for the modulation of shame, forgiveness is a new tool to be learned, the beginning of a new library of scripts about the self. To find peace in oneself is to step out of the scripts and into the moment.
Sandra Lydick: I am a Tomkins newby and would like to ask for help on the topic of forgiveness. I’ve been asked to write a practitioner response to a Meta-Analytic Synthesis of Forgiveness’s Situational and Dispositional Correlates for the Institute for Restorative Justice & Restorative Dialogue, The University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work. (Oh, yeah, I think it’s due Monday) My background is LMSW and United Methodist clergy, currently the Exec. Dir. and Victims Chaplain for a non-profit I founded to assist victims of crime. I also work with Charles Gaby at the Center for Creative Transformation.
I am curious about how people may not be helped by the Restorative Justice model especially when the offender does not admit wrongdoing. I use Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves in helping clients from faith communities who have been admonished with the normative religious perspective of the pastor or faith leader or community of faith that insists the victim’s salvation hinges on their forgiving the offender. A recent student pastor who had a complicated relationship with a church member who violated boundaries with the pastor’s children and was suspected of breaking into the parsonage was given the message by her congregation that she had to forgive the offender and that if she didn’t let it go and “put on a fake, happy face,” she would be considered a bad person, and she feels she would ultimately have left the church. She feels forgiveness has to be a personal decision generated from within.
I also think the Walter Wink material about what Jesus was saying in the stories of “turning the other cheek” “going the second mile” and “giving your cloak also” have been used in unhelpful ways by religious leaders. I think the religious community needs to do a lot of education about what Jesus may have meant about forgiveness in his time, and how it may not necessarily translate to our time without reflection and dialogue. I’m thinking of Greta Vosper’s With or Without God.
As the survivor of domestic violence over thirty years ago when there were no shelters, I have come to understand a great deal about my former husband’s behavior and how shame triggered the aggressive [attack other] part of the compass of shame. I do not want to forgive him for what he did to my daughters who are still suffering from the effects of seeing their Mom hurt, and their father unable to modulate his behavior.
Thank you for your thoughts, ideas, suggestions,
Crime Victims Council
Marg Thorsborne: Sandra, in the teaching about restorative practice I do, I often ask people about what the meaning of forgiveness is for them. In summary, it seems that for most people, it’s about being able to let go of the hurts, resentments, bitterness associated with the harms done, no matter what the extent of those harms. I don’t think real forgiveness is about an act you perform as an act of will, I think it’s about placeyou get to after certain things have happened, or certain conditions have been met. It’s a letting go. Timing is important.
The answers vary, and, in no particular order:
-Understanding the other’s reasons/life/meaning they made of what happened before the event
-Having the person admit responsibility (without reservation)
-Being understood (not just by that person, but perhaps significant others)
-Having genuine remorse (apology of words)
-Changed behaviour (apology of action)—very important
-Sometimes making a decision that the bitterness is too much of a burden (“I release you and let you go to your good quickly and in peace” kind of affirmation)
-Time (which allows for perspective-taking and putting distance between the high emotions of the event and days, weeks, months, or years later)
Richard Sindall: Sandra, your questions and the contexts from which you ask them, I believe, invalidate any simple answers pretending to be authoritative. I have just finished the third draft of a sermon for tomorrow (Pentecost Sunday) which insists that God will not violate our integrity, not even for what might look like our own good. Putting on a false happy face to protect a congregation from shame and empathy is not forgiveness but a violation of integrity–
-in your example, the victims’ (the children), the perhaps complicit parent’s (the student minister), and the congregation’s (the community of faith and mutual support) as well as the abuser’s. Nothing is being healed. The only thing being restored is a pretense to calm and a Christian goodness that sounds like imposed religiosity, and the message of such pretense to the congregation is that faith is a phony thing and their own feelings are invalid and un-Christian. No one is helped.
Your salvation depends upon your forgiving the person who harmed you and people you love? Wow. There’s nothing like threatening the victim and administering a falsely spiritual beating to follow up on the original violation and wrong done.
Biblical forgiveness does not brush off the offense as though it were unimportant. In Christian terms, why did Jesus give himself to humiliation, torment, and death if forgiveness could be accomplished by mere denial, cover up, or excuse?
I am able from my theological perspective to enter into what I find to be very helpful dialogue with Affect Script Psychology because it unites biology with biography and so the determinative with hope for change and freedom, thereby maintaining the integrity of the person but without pretense to an autonomy of choice none of us truly has. Change is possible but not easily or quickly achieved and may never be 100% in this world.
In biblical terms, forgiveness may be manifested just as the self-restraint of not taking revenge, not doing everything possible to retaliate and hurt the person back as much as possible. It may be the self-restraint that comes from remembering that God loves that other person no matter how much I may hate him right now and God may be furious with him for what he has done as well as grieved by it. Maybe the best I can do at the time is to refrain from demonizing him and from letting hatred take over my mind and take charge of my actions. Forgiveness may need to begin as a process of becoming somewhat free from him and less controlled by what he has done.
I am amazed and close to appalled at the church’s behavior in your example and at the idea that the student minister “may have to leave the church.” Part of the sexual misconduct policy of my denomination is the insistence that a minister must not have a sexual relationship with a person under his/her pastoral care. I know that rule would be unrealistically restrictive in certain contexts (isolated communities where there are no alternatives), but the idea is that “complicated” relationships with members of the congregation have already crossed boundaries making it imperative that the minister leave the church.
Forgiveness does not deny the validity of the victim’s suffering or the rights of the victim which have been violated. When the suffering is ongoing and the wrong done is still doing damage (as you have described the reality for your daughters), the matter is not over. Why, after all, would we need restorative justice if the damage could simply be denied? Why bother with a process of healing if salvation comes by divine fiat?
I have little time this morning, and I’m responding from my theological and ecclesiastical context because that’s where I am and because I think theology and biblical misinterpretation are the things preventing healing in the situation you have described and in all religious contexts where pretense to forgiveness is mandated. Imposed “forgiveness” is blocking the way to the process of real healing.