Never Meta Feeling Like You Before
[With apologies to Edwyn Collins].
The flow of filosofical thinking this week has been leisurely, like a small woodland stream. It has run – or perhaps rather “strolled” – alongside quite a lot of thinking about psychotherapy. It is often difficult to distinguish between these topics because of their symbiotic relationship. I have been thinking about how I can help clients to develop a better understanding of themselves, which then made me think about the nature of knowledge, and reminded me that Aristotle had a lot to say on the subject. Let’s face it, he had a lot to say about everything – for example, “We are what will repeatedly do” (which is why he was a philosopher, spelt correctly, and deservedly so).
A large part of a psychotherapy session this week was devoted to the subject of emotional experiences. We were discussing ways of identifying feelings. This is something we learn in our early life, but sometimes the process goes wrong because of environmental or biological reasons. There are people who struggle to identify their feelings – a condition known as alexithymia. We looked at the primary emotions that are found across all cultures (such as anger, fear, disgust, joy and sadness) and at the role of meta-emotions – the feelings we have about feelings (our own and those of others). For example, feeling anxious for a long period could lead to feeling depressed about it, which in turn colud lead to anger with yourself for getting depressed about being anxious. And what do you say when someone asks how you are feeling? Probably something along the lines of “I feel shit” – which is not a universally recognised emotion in a technical sense, but I imagine it is widely understood!
It is important to remember that emotions are motivational states – they alert you to vital information and predispose you to behave in specific ways. If you are not sure what to call the feeling, think about what the feeling makes you want to do (e.g., to escape, to hide away, to hit out). Labels have their uses but they are not truths in themselves. We need to be guided much more by the phenomenology of our feelings. For example, if a jar of spice labelled “ginger” is bright yellow and sweet you would not add it to a recipe that asked for ginger. End of today’s cookery class!