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Emotional Processing: Healing Through Feeling

Emotional Processing: Healing Through Feeling

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Emotional Processing: Healing Through Feeling

4/5 (2 valutazioni)
200 pagine
3 ore
Aug 24, 2012


Roger Baker's ground-breaking book, based on the research of his medical team, presents a new way of understanding emotions and new insights into handling emotional pressures, and is illustrated throughout with examples from patients in psychological therapy and from everyday life. The book is divided into 4 parts: 1) The Secret Life of Emotions: introduces the theme of the book and shows how emotional and rational lives are equally valid, 2) Dissolving Distress: looks at our second immune system, emotional processing, which helps us to absorb and break-down emotional hurts and strains, 3) Healing through Feeling: the expression of emotions for good health and well-being, 4) How to Sabotage Emotional Processing: a manual of bad practice.
Aug 24, 2012

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Emotional Processing - Roger Baker



A New Understanding of Emotional Healing

The kiss

‘My mother held me by the hand and led me along the landing to the top of the stairs. I was so small my arm was at full stretch. It was mid-morning but the curtains were still closed and there was a strong, sickly smell of candles burning. She led me downstairs. On every shelf and every surface there were candles flickering. I’d never seen so many. The living room, where we two girls, my sister and I, usually played, was full of people sitting round in the shadows and mumbling to each other. I was led over to a box in the centre of the room. My mother picked me up to look into the box. I remember scraping my knees as she lifted me up.

‘At first I couldn’t understand what I was looking at. Flowers and some blacky-grey hair. Then I realized the hair belonged to my auntie. She was lying there, white and still. I didn’t know what a corpse was, it was the first time I had seen one. Then I was being tilted forwards, actually towards this… dead body, and my lips were being lined up with the lips on the dead body, and I was being told, Kiss… kiss your auntie.

‘I must have let out an awful scream – I remember the shock of hearing my own scream – and I wriggled free and ran off to the kitchen. I was crying and gasping for breath, and had images of dead bodies and Aunt Claire which didn’t seem to fit together. My mother rushed in after me, threw me across her knee and began to beat me repeatedly, shouting about embarrassing her in front of the relatives… thinking only of myself… if you ever show me up again… But the phrase that stuck most, I think, was blabbing like a baby. After that I was dragged in again, lifted up much more forcibly this time and pushed forwards, despite my shivering and shaking, and made to kiss the corpse on the lips.’

It was getting darker outside the therapy office, and I walked across to the door to switch on the lights.

‘And do you think this still has an effect on you so many years later?’ I asked as I returned to my seat.

‘It’s hard to say,’ Marjorie continued. ‘I’ve sometimes wondered if the shock of that kiss… has somehow scarred me, but I can’t quite figure out how.’

When Marjorie had first come to see me for psychological therapy she was not really sure what she was looking for. In the first session she tended to give minimal answers to questions and was obviously wary of seeing a clinical psychologist and scared of being regarded as a ‘mental patient’. The appointment letter with the Department of Mental Health logo had not helped. Her GP had sent a brief referral letter to me mentioning that she had been depressed since the death of her father two years ago, that she was taking an antidepressant medication, and was generally having problems with relationships. He wrote:

‘She is not the woman she used to be. She tells me she can’t cope with life and has retreated to the safety of her house and mixes less with others than she did before. She doesn’t really open up and it is hard to tell what is going on inside. She often smiles and is a pleasant and polite lady but I suspect this masks the depression she feels inside.’

This was our fourth session together. I had obviously ‘passed the test’ and she was prepared to open up and share more about herself. In the first session I had spent quite a lot of time explaining that she was not mentally ill, and that treatment by a clinical psychologist was not about ‘curing mental disease’ but helping her understand more about herself and her emotions.

I continued, ‘Do you think much about the incident with kissing your auntie?’

‘No, not really, this is the first time I’ve thought about it in… let’s say two years.’

I recalled a moment earlier in the session when she had briefly looked sad, then suddenly sat up straight and composed. Just before she had referred to her father ‘passing away’ but had quickly changed the topic to more mundane matters, saying that was all behind her and she was no longer upset by his death. I felt that it would be useful to come back to this point.

‘Earlier in the session you were talking about the recent death of your father. You suggested it had not upset you at all.’

‘That’s right, not in the least,’ she said.

‘Do you mean you didn’t love him, you didn’t have much of a relationship?’ I quizzed.

‘No, no, no, that’s not it,’ she said, quite distraught. ‘No, that’s the thing. I loved him very much. I still do. But I can’t…’

‘Do you ever feel like crying?’ I asked.

‘I so much want to cry. People say you get a lot of relief from crying, a sort of still after the storm. But I never get that. I want to cry, I’d like to… but then along comes… a block.’

At this point in the session I thought it would be helpful for Marjorie to explore this ‘block’ in more detail, to understand it and to pin it down. So I pursued a line of questions helping her to explore exactly what this block was.

‘What could you compare the feeling to?’ I asked. At first she didn’t understand what I was getting at, but after some explanation she was able to describe it.

‘Like a huge black cloud that covers everything and muffles things.’

‘I’d like you to just take a few minutes to look into that cloud and tell me more about it. Don’t rush, take your time.’

After a long pause, she replied, ‘It’s a nasty feeling.’


‘Just nasty.’

‘Is it like a feeling of depression?’

‘No. Not depression. It’s more like…’ Marjorie seemed lost at this point. She was obviously struggling hard to identify what the feeling was.

‘… guilt. Yes, I think it’s guilt. A terrible black guilt.’

We sat in silence for a while. It was almost completely dark outside now, with a bit of a wind picking up.

‘Tell me, Marjorie, do you think there is any connection between this guilt and what you told me about kissing your auntie?’

The silence was so very long at this point I half wondered if Marjorie had actually heard me, but I sensed that something important was happening.

Then I saw a wonderful thing. Small but wonderful. There was a tear running down her cheek.

Marjorie had learned as a child that it was wrong, very wrong indeed, to make a fuss, to cry or scream. The incident with her auntie’s corpse had left a scar, just as she suspected it had, but there had been many other incidents in her upbringing in which crying and ‘making a fuss’ were scolded too. As became clear in later sessions, Marjorie not only had a blockage with tears but also with any lighter feeling such as joking, laughing or showing affection, even at the age of forty-six.

Before our session Marjorie knew she had a blockage in her life but she had not understood what it was all about. The session had helped her clarify that when she was about to experience tears and other emotions a ‘black cloud’ of guilt descended and blotted out her feelings. Also she had not seen how closely linked her emotional reactions were to experiences in her childhood. She had assumed that, because they were so many years ago, they no longer exerted any influence over her. She now realized that her childhood experiences had taught her that expressing feelings openly was selfish, childish, bad and an embarrassment to others. Over the next few sessions, as Marjorie began to reject this ‘phony guilt’ and allow herself to cry and show affection, she broke free of the emotional restraints that had blighted her life for many years.


‘To keep a stiff upper lip: Vb. keep calm, compose oneself, keep cool; master one’s feelings, keep one’s hair on; not turn a hair, not bat an eyelid; be patient, show restraint, forbear; put up with, stand, tolerate, bear, endure, support, suffer, abide; grin and bear it; brook, take it from, swallow, digest, stomach, pocket.’

Roget’s Thesaurus

The stiff upper lip belongs especially to Britain. The British are apparently renowned throughout the world for their mastery over the lip. But wait – what about Princess Di’s funeral? What about the spontaneous outpouring of grief throughout the nation? Are the British stepping out of the repressive straightjacket of emotional control into a more healthy and open expression of feelings, or are they, as a nation, unable to control their impulses any more? Didn’t the stiff upper lip serve the British empire well? Surely it did no harm? Wasn’t society as a whole healthier? Or is it that people are just soft nowadays, having to indulgently express themselves at any cost?

Emotions are something of a mystery and they pose many questions. They are a power and a force that are not easily tamed. From falling in love to road rage, they often appear to have a life of their own. But is emotion important? Does it have any meaning or value in the twenty-first century? Or is it merely the expression of our primitive ancestry? Should much attention be paid to emotion or should it be assigned to the rubbish-heap of vestigial and unhelpful urges that evolution has unfortunately landed on mankind?

How is it best to live with emotions? Struggle with them; control them; calm them down; ignore, suppress, deny them? Some can live well enough with positive emotions but struggle with their negative feelings, such as anger, jealousy or anxiety. Others can even find pleasurable feelings, such as sexual desire and craving for unhealthy foods, alcohol and drugs, as much a problem. Is there a way of harnessing emotions, of living in harmony with them, or even of finding meaning and fulfilment through them?

Let it all out or keep it all in?

There is also the question of how feelings should be expressed. Are there healthy and unhealthy modes of expression? Are some South American nations right to regard the expression of anger as a sign of maturity in adolescent men, or should the Inuit people be preferred in thinking that temper should be reserved for young children and the immature? Of all the factors that have defined our identity in the twenty-first century – political, economic, technological – one little idea, one concept has, as it were, been burrowing quietly beneath the collective unconscious of the Western world and has shaped the view of healthy and unhealthy expression of emotions. In 1894, Sigmund Freud wrote a journal article in which he described for the first time the condition called ‘anxiety neurosis’.¹ The idea of neurosis has been readily absorbed into Western thought since then, but that is not the most significant aspect of this article. Freud speculated that anxiety neurosis was primarily caused by a frustration in sexual arousal. A woman could develop anxiety neurosis if her husband broke off intercourse without satisfying her, and ‘if, on the other hand, the husband waits for his wife’s satisfaction, the coitus amounts to a normal one for her; but he will fall ill of anxiety neurosis.’ Freud’s critics slated the article – if coitus interruptus (being a major form of birth control at that time) caused anxiety neurosis, then half the population should be struck down with it. Freud modified his position and over the years developed a much more subtle view of repressed sexual urges in the mental health realm. However, the germ of an idea was presented to the scientific community, and psychologists often refer to this as the ‘hydraulic theory’ of emotions.

The crux of Freud’s idea at this early stage of his theorizing was that psychological energy is like water – flowing, bubbling up, moving. Crucial life events create a massive flow of new energy. If the flow is restricted, or blocked, pressure can build up and must find an outlet of some form or other. Likewise, restricting the flow of emotions and impulses is thought to be harmful, and may cause the flow of energy into other directions. In psychological terms, repressing, restricting or blocking important impulses and emotions can cause ‘mental pressure to build up’, so that energy is re-routed into mental symptoms or physical illness.

The popular press in Western societies overwhelmingly suggests that bottling up emotions is harmful, and that our feelings must be released, expressed in tears or anger, or we must share our soul with another person.

The writer Ruth Vose in her book Agoraphobia describes this very clearly as part of her recovery from this illness:

‘As I gradually became more self aware, I noticed distinct correlations between my various physical and nervous symptoms. If I suppressed any aggression, I would get colitis, fear of cancer resulted in lumps, anger resulted in vomiting, repressed speech (fear of saying what I really felt) resulted in sore throats. I found that if I tackled the underlying problem (for example, let my anger out rather than keep it in) the physical symptoms would automatically disappear.’²

The question is whether emotions are really like energy that can be restricted, or is this merely a metaphor that has been accepted as true?

This book is written for anyone who wants to understand more about emotions. I am a clinical psychologist, so the emphasis is on the healing of the emotions. It contains insights on how to come to terms with this often stubborn part of our make-up, drawing widely from experiences I have had with patients during psychological therapy.

But this book is about more than the healing of the emotions. It presents an in-depth account of a new psychological theory of emotional healing, called emotional processing. Many psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and neuro-psychologists refer to emotional processing as if it were a well-established field of knowledge. Although psychologist Jack Rachman introduced the concept of emotional processing in 1980, it has not developed much since then. Starting with my research in emotional processing and panic attacks in 1988, a research team has been built up to explore emotional processing in everyday life, psychological disorder, psychosomatic conditions and physical distress. We have developed a new theory, a new therapy

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  • (4/5)
    I found this book interesting and useful. It describes the different ways of dealing with unpleasant emotions - supression, distraction, denial, cognitive behaviour therapy... Concludes that emotions can only be dealt with by feelng them, and thereby releasing them. If only life were so easy!