Most people have difficulty experiencing the full range of emotions. We may have been raised in a family where certain feelings were not allowed to be expressed or one in which everything had to be “fine.” We may have been overwhelmed, even traumatized by intense emotions. In all cases, discomfort arises when we are exposed to and/or feel certain emotions.
Additionally, the psychiatric field often influences how we perceive emotions. Normal and much needed emotions are often pathologized. For example, sadness is often viewed as dysfunctional, is given the label ‘depression,’ and is to be eradicated with medications.
A more recent example is the pathologizing of introversion or shyness. In his book, “’Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness,” author Christopher Lane states, “Shyness isn’t just shyness any more. It’s a disease.” Traits of ordinary shyness such as seeking time alone, inward reflection, and avoidance of public events or speaking are now listed as qualities of “social anxiety” and “avoidant personality disorder.”
There is an increasing trend to negate certain emotions. Although far from meeting the criteria for being clinically diagnosed with Depressive or Anxiety Disorder, patients are routinely prescribed Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil to regulate symptoms of depression and anxiety. As Jerome Wakefield and Allan Horwitz suggest in their book, “The Loss of Sadness,” “The normal range of human emotion is not being tolerated.”
However, it is healthy and necessary for us to feel all our emotions, including sadness, anger, boredom and anxiety. In his book, “Against Happiness,” Eric Wilson makes a case for our more sober emotions and their “integral place in the great rhythm of the cosmos.” Melancholia is the source of much of the great art, poetry and music. Wilson suggests, “The blues can be a catalyst for a special kind of genius, a genius for exploring dark boundaries between opposites.”
Feelings indicate how we are relating to our situations and ourselves. For example, discontentment motivates us to improve not only ourselves, but also our circumstances and our community at large. Anger often indicates unfairness and injustice prompting us to take action. We may become bored with eating the same items for breakfast. The boredom indicates that we need to bring some newness into our life – well, at least during breakfast selections.
From a depth psychology perspective, boredom (a milder form of depression) is really a temporary stoppage of the spontaneity of new images. We are momentarily stuck. Depression, however, represents a deeper entrenchment into sameness and is a call for exploration into what needs to be changed on a deeper level than just changing our breakfast cereal.
In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” the hero John Savage exclaimed as he retreated from the monotonously pleasure-seeking society: “I don’t want comfort. I want God. I want poetry. I want real danger. I want freedom. I want goodness.” He wanted to feel the range of his emotions.