What is Expressive Suppression?

Introduction

Expressive suppression is the intentional reduction of facial expression of an emotion, and it is a component of emotion regulation.

Expressive suppression is a concept:

“based on individuals’ emotion knowledge, which includes knowledge about the causes of emotion, about their bodily sensations and expressive behavior, and about the possible means of modifying them”.

In other words, expressive suppression signifies the act of masking facial giveaways (refer to facial expression) in order to hide an underlying emotional state (refer to affect). In fact, simply suppressing the facial expressions that accompany certain emotions can affect “the individual’s experience of emotion”. According to a 1974 study conducted by Kopel and Arkowitz, repressing the facial expressions associated with pain actually decreased the experience of pain in participants. However, “there is little evidence that the suppression of spontaneous emotional expression leads to decrease in emotional experience and physiological arousal apart from the manipulation of the pain expressions”.

According to Gross and Levenson’s 1993 study in which subjects watched a disgusting film while suppressing or not suppressing their expressions, suppression produced increased blinking. However, suppression also produced a decreased heart rate in participants and self-reports did not reflect that suppression had an effect on disgust experience. While it is unclear from Gross and Levenson’s study whether suppression successfully diminishes the experience of emotions, it can be concluded that expressive suppression does not completely inhibit all facial movements and expressions (e.g. blinking of the eyes). Niedenthal argues that expressive suppression works to decrease the experience of positive emotions whereas it does not successfully decrease the experience of negative emotions. If the suppression of facial expressions does not diminish negative emotions that one experiences, why is it such a common practice?

It may be that expressive suppression serves more of a social purpose than it serves a purpose for the individual. In a study done by Kleck and colleagues in 1976, participants were told to suppress facial expressions of pain during the reception of electric shocks. Specifically, “in one study the subjects were induced to exaggerate or minimize their facial expressions in order to fool a supposed audience”.  This idea of covering up an internal experience in front of observers could be the true reason that expressive suppression is utilised in social situations. “In everyday life, suppression may serve to conform individuals’ outward appearance to emotional norms in a given situation, and to facilitate social interaction”.  In this way, hiding negative emotions may cause for more successful social relationships by preventing conflict, stifling the spread of negative emotions, and protecting an individual from negative judgments made by others.

Component

Expressive suppression is a response-focused emotion regulation strategy. This strategy involves an individual voluntarily suppressing their outward emotional expressions. Expressive suppression has a direct relationship to our emotional experiences and is significant in communication studies. Individuals who suppress their emotions are seeking to control their actions and are seeking to maintain a positive social image. Expressive suppression involves reducing facial expression and controlling positive and negative feelings of emotion. This type of emotion regulation strategy can have negative emotional and psychological effects on individuals. Emotional suppression reduces expressive behaviour significantly. As many researchers have concluded, though emotional suppression decreases outward expressive emotions, it does not decrease our negative feelings and emotional arousal.

Different forms of emotion regulation affect our response trajectory of emotions. We target situations for regulation by the process of selecting the situations we are exposed to or by modifying the situation we are in. Emotion suppression relates to the behavioural component of emotion. Expressive suppression has physiological influences such as decreasing heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and increasing sympathetic activation.

Expressive suppression requires self-control. We use self-control when handling our emotion-based expressions in public. It is believed that the use of expressive suppression has a negative connection with a human’s well-being. Expressive suppression has been found to occur late, after the peripheral physiological response or emotion process is triggered. Künh et al. (2011) compare this strategy to vetoing actions. This type of emotion regulation strategy is considered a method which strongly resists various urges and voluntarily inhibits actions. Kühn et al. (2011) also posited the notion that expression suppression may be internally controlled and that emotional responses are targeted by suppression efforts.

One of the characteristics of expressive suppression, a response-based strategy, is that it occurs after an activated response. Larsen et al. (2013) claim expressive suppression to be one of the less effective emotion regulation strategies. These researchers label expressive suppression as an inhibition to the behavioural display of emotion.

Externalisers vs. Internalisers

Regarding emotion regulation, specifically expressive suppression, there are two groups that can be characterised by their different response patterns. These two groups are labelled externalisers and internalisers. Internalisers generally “show more skin conductance deflections and greater heart rate acceleration than do externalizers” when attempting to suppress facial expressions during a potentially emotional event.  This signifies that internalisers are able to successfully employ expressive suppression while experiencing physiological arousal. However, when asked to describe their feelings, internalisers do not usually speak about themselves or specific feelings, which could be a sign of alexithymia. Alexithymia is defined as the inability to verbally explain an emotional experience or a feeling. Peter Sifneos first used this word in the realm of psychiatry in 1972 and it literally means “having no words for emotions”. Those who are able to consistently suppress their facial expressions (e.g. internalisers) may be experiencing symptoms of alexithymia. On the other hand, externalisers employ less expressive suppression in response to emotional experiences or other external stimuli and do not usually struggle with alexithymia.

Gender Differences

Men and women do not equally utilise expressive suppression. Typically, men show less facial expression and employ more expressive suppression than do women. This behaviour difference rooted in gender difference can be traced back to social norms that are taught to children at a young age. Young boys are implicitly taught that “big boys don’t cry,” which is a lesson that encourages the suppression of emotional behaviour in masculine individuals. This suppression is a result of “the punishment and consequent conditioned inhibition of all expression of a given emotion”.  If a masculine individual expresses an emotion that is undesirable and society responds by punishing that behaviour, that masculine individual will learn to suppress the socially unacceptable behaviour. On the other hand, feminine individuals do not experience the same societal pressure to the same extent to suppress their emotional expressions. Because feminine individuals are not as pressured to keep their emotions concealed, most do not feel the need to suppress them. However, there are exceptions.

Vs. Display Rules

Complete expressive suppression means that no facial expressions are visible to exemplify a given emotion. However, display rules are examples of a controlled form of expression management and “involve the learned manipulation of facial expression to agree with cultural conventions and interpersonal expectations in the pursuit of tactical and/or strategic social ends”  The utilisation of display rules differs from expressive suppression because when display rules are enacted, the action to manage expression is voluntary, controlled, and incorporates certain types of expressive behaviour. Conversely, expressive suppression is involuntary and is the result of social pressures that shape subconscious behaviours. It is not a controlled action nor does expressive suppression involve the manipulation of voluntary expressions, it is only manifested in the absence of expression. There are three ways in which facial expression displays may be influenced: modulation, qualification, and falsification. Modulation refers to the act of showing a different amount of expression than one feels. Qualification requires the addition of an extra (unfelt) emotional expression to the expression of a felt emotion. Lastly, falsification has three separate components. Falsification incorporates:

  • Expressing an unfelt emotion (simulation);
  • Expressing no emotion when an emotion is felt (neutralisation); or
  • Concealing a felt emotion by expressing an unfelt emotion (masking).

A Response-Focused Strategy

Expressive suppression is an emotion management strategy that works to decrease positive emotional experiences, however, it has not been proven to reduce the experience of negative emotions. This strategy is a response-focused form of emotion regulation, which “refers to things we do once an emotion is underway and response tendencies have already been generated”. Response-focused strategies are generally not as successful as antecedent-focused regulation strategies, which refers to “things we do, either consciously or automatically, before emotion-response tendencies have become fully activated”. Srivastava and colleagues performed a study in 2009 in which the effectiveness of students’ use of expressive suppression was analysed in the transition period between high school and college. This study concluded that “suppression is an antecedent of poor social functioning” in the domains of social support, closeness, and social satisfaction.

Psychological Consequences

Suppressing the expression of emotion is one of the most frequent emotion-regulation strategies utilized by human beings. Clinical traditions state that a person’s psychological health is based upon how affective impulses are regulated; the consequences of affective regulation have become, therefore, a main focus of psychological researchers. The psychological consequences directly related to expressive suppression are frequently disputed. Some early 20th-century researchers state that suppressing a physical emotional response while emotionally aroused will increase the emotional experience due to concentration on suppressing that emotion. These researchers argue that common sense tells us emotions become more severe the longer they are bottled up. Other researchers dispute this theory, saying that emotional expression is so significant to the overall emotional response that when suppression occurs, all other responses (e.g. physiological) are weakened. These researchers solidify this argument with the tradition that people are taught to count to ten when emotionally aroused in order to calm themselves down. If suppressing emotions were to increase the emotional experience, this counting exercise would only intensify a person’s reactions. However, it has been deemed to do the opposite. Unfortunately, few studies have been carried out to test these hypotheses. The idea that people have conflicting views on what is better – to bottle up emotions by counting to ten before acting/speaking or to release emotions as bottling them up is bad for your mental health – is of constant interest to researchers in the field of emotion. These differing views on such a commonplace human behaviour suggest that expressive suppression is one of the more complicated emotion-regulation techniques.

As a solution to these opposing ideas, it has been suggested (and mentioned in the Externalisers vs. Internalisers section above) that people have a tendency to be either emotionally expressive (externalisers) or inexpressive (internalisers). The habitual use of one expressive technique over the other leads to different psychological and physiological consequences over time. Expressive behaviour is directly related to emotional suppression as it is assumed that internalisers consciously choose not to express themselves. However, this assumption has gone primarily untested with the exception of a 1979 study by Notarius and Levenson, whose research found that internalisers are more physiologically reactive to emotional stimuli than externalisers. One explanation for these findings was that when a behavioural emotional response is suppressed it must be released in other ways, in this case physiological reactions. These findings lend themselves to the suggestion by Cannon (1927) and Jones (1935) that emotional suppression intensifies other reactions.

It has also been suggested that illness and disease is increased by continued emotional suppression, especially the suppression of intensely aggressive emotions such as anger and hostility which can lead to hypertension and coronary heart-disease. As well as physical illness, expressive suppression is said to be the cause of mental illnesses such as depression. Many psychotherapists will try to relieve their patients’ illness/strain by teaching them expressive techniques in a controlled environment or within the particular relationship in which their suppressed emotions are causing problems. A counter-argument to this idea suggests that expressive suppression is an important part of emotional regulation that needs to be learned due to its beneficial use in adulthood. Adults must learn to successfully suppress certain emotional responses (e.g. those to anger which could have destructive social consequences). However, then the question is whether or not to suppress all anger-related responses, or to release those less volatile in order to reduce the risk of contracting physical and mental illnesses. The Clinical Theory implies that there is an optimum level between total suppression and total expression which, during adulthood, a person must find in order to protect their physical and psychological being.

While expressive suppression may be socially acceptable in certain situations, it cannot be considered a healthy practice at all times. Concealing and suppressing expressions can cause stress-related physiological reactions. Stress occurs because “the social disapproval and punishment of overt emotional expression that causes suppression is itself intimidating and stressful”.  There are several occupations which require the suppression of positive or negative emotions, such as estate agents masking their happiness when an offer is placed on a house to maintain their professionalism, or elementary-school teachers suppressing their anger so as to not upset their young students when teaching them right from wrong. Only in recent studies have researchers begun looking into the effects that continual suppression of emotion in the workplace has on people. Continual suppression causes strain on those utilising it, especially on those who may be natural externalisers. Strain elicited by such suppression can cause an elevated heart-rate, increased anxiety, low commitment and other effects which can be detrimental to an employee. The common conception is that expressive suppression in the workplace is beneficial for the organization and dangerous for the employee over long periods of time.[citation needed] However, in a 2005 study, Cote found that factors contributing to the social dynamics of emotions determine when emotion regulation increases, decreases, or does not affect strain at all. The suppression of unpleasant emotions such as anger contribute to increasing high levels of strain

Link with Depression

Expressive suppression, as an emotion regulation strategy, serves different purposes such as supporting goal pursuits and satisfying hedonic needs. Though expressive suppression is considered a weak influence on the experience of emotion, it has other functions. Expressive suppression is a goal-oriented strategy which is guided by people’s beliefs and potentially by abstract theories about emotion regulation. In a 2012 study by Larsen and colleagues, the researchers looked at the positive association between expressive suppression and depressive symptoms among adults and adolescents which are influenced by parental support and peer victimisation. They found a reciprocal relationship between parental support and depressive symptoms. The same was not true for the relationship between peer victimisation and depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms followed decreased perception of parental support one year later. They found that initial suppression occurred after increases in depressive symptoms one year later, yet depression did not occur after suppression.

However, in a continuation of their original study, Larsen and colleagues found that this relationship between suppression and depression was reversed. Depressive symptoms occurred after the use of suppression, and suppression did not occur after future depressive symptoms. The authors of this study support that expressive suppression has physiological, social, and cognitive costs. Some evidence says that “depressed people judge their negative emotions as less socially acceptable” than non-depressed people. ”Appraising one’s emotions as unacceptable mediates the relationship between negative emotion intensity and use of suppression”.

Negative Social Consequences

As an appropriate level of expressive suppression is important for physiological and psychological health, it is equally as important for the maintenance of social situations. However, excessive use of expressive suppression can negatively affect social interactions. While expressive suppression may seem like an easier way of coping with emotions in society or of becoming more likable in a social environment, it actually alters behaviour in a way that is visible and undesirable to others. Because expressive suppression is an action that occurs in social interactions, it is reasonable that this emotion regulation strategy would have social implications. Specifically, suppression involves three social costs. The act of suppressing facial expressions prohibits others in the social world from gaining information about a suppressor’s emotional state. This can prevent a suppressor from receiving social emotional benefits such as sympathy or sharing in collective positive and negative emotions that “facilitate social bonding”.  Secondly, expressive suppression is not always fully successful. If a suppressor accidentally shows signs of concealed feelings, others may perceive that the suppressor is covering up true emotions and may assume that the suppressor is insincere and uninterested in forming legitimate social relationships. Lastly, expressive suppression is hard work and therefore requires more cognitive processing than freely communicating emotions. If a suppressor is unable to devote full attention to social interactions because he/she is using cognitive power to suppress, the suppressor will not be able to remain engaged nor put in the work to maintain relationships.

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What is Dissociation (Psychology)?

Introduction

Dissociation, as a concept that has been developed over time, is any of a wide array of experiences, ranging from a mild emotional detachment from the immediate surroundings, to a more severe disconnection from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

The phenomena are diagnosable under the DSM-5 as a group of disorders as well as a symptom of other disorders through various diagnostic tools. Its cause is believed to be related to neurobiological mechanisms, trauma, anxiety, and psychoactive drugs. Research has further related it to suggestibility and hypnosis, and it is inversely related to mindfulness, which is a potential treatment.

Brief History

French philosopher and psychologist Pierre Janet (1859-1947) is considered to be the author of the concept of dissociation. Contrary to some conceptions of dissociation, Janet did not believe that dissociation was a psychological defence.

Psychological defence mechanisms belong to Sigmund Freud‘s theory of psychoanalysis, not to Janetian psychology. Janet claimed that dissociation occurred only in persons who had a constitutional weakness of mental functioning that led to hysteria when they were stressed. Although it is true that many of Janet’s case histories described traumatic experiences, he never considered dissociation to be a defence against those experiences. Quite the opposite: Janet insisted that dissociation was a mental or cognitive deficit. Accordingly, he considered trauma to be one of many stressors that could worsen the already-impaired “mental deficiency” of a hysteric, thereby generating a cascade of hysterical (in today’s language, “dissociative”) symptoms.

Although there was great interest in dissociation during the last two decades of the nineteenth century (especially in France and England), this interest rapidly waned with the coming of the new century. Even Janet largely turned his attention to other matters.

There was a sharp peak in interest in dissociation in America from 1890 to 1910, especially in Boston as reflected in the work of William James, Boris Sidis, Morton Prince, and William McDougall. Nevertheless, even in America, interest in dissociation rapidly succumbed to the surging academic interest in psychoanalysis and behaviourism.

For most of the twentieth century, there was little interest in dissociation. Despite this, a review of 76 previously published cases from the 1790s to 1942 was published in 1944, describing clinical phenomena consistent with that seen by Janet and by therapists today. In 1971, Bowers and her colleagues presented a detailed, and still quite valid, treatment article. The authors of this article included leading thinkers of their time – John G. Watkins (who developed ego-state therapy) and Zygmunt A. Piotrowski (famed for his work on the Rorschach test). Further interest in dissociation was evoked when Ernest Hilgard (1977) published his neodissociation theory in the 1970s. During the 1970s and 1980s an increasing number of clinicians and researchers wrote about dissociation, particularly multiple personality disorder.

Carl Jung described pathological manifestations of dissociation as special or extreme cases of the normal operation of the psyche. This structural dissociation, opposing tension, and hierarchy of basic attitudes and functions in normal individual consciousness is the basis of Jung’s Psychological Types. He theorised that dissociation is a natural necessity for consciousness to operate in one faculty unhampered by the demands of its opposite.

Attention to dissociation as a clinical feature has been growing in recent years as knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increased, due to interest in dissociative identity disorder (DID), and as neuroimaging research and population studies show its relevance.

Historically the psychopathological concept of dissociation has also another different root: the conceptualization of Eugen Bleuler that looks into dissociation related to schizophrenia.

Diagnosis

Refer to Dissociative disorder.

Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum. In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defence mechanism in seeking to master, minimise or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict. At the non-pathological end of the continuum, dissociation describes common events such as daydreaming. Further along the continuum are non-pathological altered states of consciousness.

More pathological dissociation involves dissociative disorders, including dissociative fugue and depersonalisation disorder with or without alterations in personal identity or sense of self. These alterations can include: a sense that self or the world is unreal (depersonalisation and derealisation), a loss of memory (amnesia), forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue), and separate streams of consciousness, identity and self (dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality disorder) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Although some dissociative disruptions involve amnesia, other dissociative events do not. Dissociative disorders are typically experienced as startling, autonomous intrusions into the person’s usual ways of responding or functioning. Due to their unexpected and largely inexplicable nature, they tend to be quite unsettling.

Dissociative disorders are sometimes triggered by trauma, but may be preceded only by stress, psychoactive substances, or no identifiable trigger at all. The ICD-10 classifies conversion disorder as a dissociative disorder. The DSM groups all dissociative disorders into a single category and recognises dissociation as a symptom of acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder.

Misdiagnosis is common among people who display symptoms of dissociative disorders, with an average of seven years to receive proper diagnosis and treatment. Research is ongoing into aetiologies, symptomology, and valid and reliable diagnostic tools. In the general population, dissociative experiences that are not clinically significant are highly prevalent with 60% to 65% of the respondents indicating that they have had some dissociative experiences.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

Diagnoses listed under the DSM-5 are dissociative identity disorder, dissociative amnesia, depersonalisation/derealisation disorder, other specified dissociative disorder and unspecified dissociative disorder. The list of available dissociative disorders listed in the DSM-5 changed from the DSM-IV-TR, as the authors removed the diagnosis of dissociative fugue, classifying it instead as a subtype of dissociative amnesia. Furthermore, the authors recognised derealisation on the same diagnostic level of depersonalisation with the opportunity of differentiating between the two.

The DSM-IV-TR considers symptoms such as depersonalisation, derealisation and psychogenic amnesia to be core features of dissociative disorders. The DSM-5 carried these symptoms over and described symptoms as positive and negative. Positive symptoms include unwanted intrusions that alter continuity of subjective experiences, which account for the first two symptoms listed earlier with the addition of fragmentation of identity. Negative symptoms include loss of access to information and mental functions that are normally readily accessible, which describes amnesia.

Peritraumatic Dissociation

Peritraumatic dissociation is considered to be dissociation that is experienced during and immediately following a traumatic event. Research is on-going related to its development, its importance, and its relationship to trauma, dissociative disorders, and predicting the development of PTSD.

Measurements

Two of the most commonly used screening tools in the community are the Dissociative Experiences Scale and the Multiscale Dissociation Inventory. Meanwhile, the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV – Dissociative Disorders (SCID-D) and its second iteration, the SCID-D-R, are both semi-structured interviews and are considered psychometrically strong diagnostic tools.

Other tools include the Office Mental Status Examination (OMSE), which is used clinically due to inherent subjectivity and lack of quantitative use. There is also the Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule (DDSI), which lacks substantive clarity for differential diagnostics.

Peritraumatic dissociation is measured through the Peritraumatic Dissociative Scale.

Aetiology

Neurobiological Mechanism

Preliminary research suggests that dissociation-inducing events, drugs like ketamine, and seizures generate slow rhythmic activity (1-3 Hz) in layer 5 neurons of the posteromedial cortex in humans (retrosplenial cortex in mice). These slow oscillations disconnect other brain regions from interacting with the posteromedial cortex, which may explain the overall experience of dissociation.

Trauma

Dissociation has been described as one of a constellation of symptoms experienced by some victims of multiple forms of childhood trauma, including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. This is supported by studies which suggest that dissociation is correlated with a history of trauma.

Dissociation appears to have a high specificity and a low sensitivity to having a self-reported history of trauma, which means that dissociation is much more common among those who are traumatised, yet at the same time there are many people who have suffered from trauma but who do not show dissociative symptoms.

Adult dissociation when combined with a history of child abuse and otherwise interpersonal violence-related PTSD has been shown to contribute to disturbances in parenting behaviour, such as exposure of young children to violent media. Such behaviour may contribute to cycles of familial violence and trauma.

Symptoms of dissociation resulting from trauma may include depersonalisation, psychological numbing, disengagement, or amnesia regarding the events of the abuse. It has been hypothesized that dissociation may provide a temporarily effective defence mechanism in cases of severe trauma; however, in the long term, dissociation is associated with decreased psychological functioning and adjustment.

Other symptoms sometimes found along with dissociation in victims of traumatic abuse (often referred to as “sequelae to abuse”) include anxiety, PTSD, low self-esteem, somatisation, depression, chronic pain, interpersonal dysfunction, substance abuse, self-harm and suicidal ideation or actions. These symptoms may lead the victim to present the symptoms as the source of the problem.

Child abuse, especially chronic abuse starting at early ages, has been related to high levels of dissociative symptoms in a clinical sample, including amnesia for abuse memories. It has also been seen that girls who suffered abuse during their childhood had higher reported dissociation scores than did boys who reported dissociation during their childhood. A non-clinical sample of adult women linked increased levels of dissociation to sexual abuse by a significantly older person prior to age 15, and dissociation has also been correlated with a history of childhood physical and sexual abuse. When sexual abuse is examined, the levels of dissociation were found to increase along with the severity of the abuse.

A 2012 review article supports the hypothesis that current or recent trauma may affect an individual’s assessment of the more distant past, changing the experience of the past and resulting in dissociative states.

Psychoactive substances

Refer to Dissociative Drug.

Psychoactive drugs can often induce a state of temporary dissociation. Substances with dissociative properties include ketamine, nitrous oxide, alcohol, tiletamine, amphetamine, dextromethorphan, MK-801, PCP, methoxetamine, salvia, muscimol, atropine, ibogaine, and minocycline.

Correlations

Hypnosis and Suggestibility

There is evidence to suggest that dissociation is correlated with hypnotic suggestibility, specifically with dissociative symptoms related to trauma. However, the relationship between dissociation and hypnotic suggestibility appears to be complex and indicates further research is necessary.

Aspects of hypnosis include absorption, dissociation, suggestibility, and willingness to receive behavioural instruction from others. Both hypnotic suggestibility and dissociation tend to be less mindful, and hypnosis is used as a treatment modality for dissociation, anxiety, chronic pain, trauma, and more. Difference between hypnosis and dissociation: one is suggested, imposed by self or other, meaning dissociation is generally more spontaneous altering of awareness.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation have shown an inverse relationship specifically with dissociation related to re-experiencing trauma due to the lack of present awareness inherent with dissociation. The re-experiencing episodes can include anything between illusions, distortions in perceived reality, and disconnectedness from the present moment. It is believed that the nature of dissociation as an avoidance coping or defence mechanism related to trauma inhibits resolution and integration.

Mindfulness and meditation also can alter the state of awareness to the present moment; however, unlike dissociation, it is clinically used to bring greater awareness to an individual’s present state of being. It achieves this through increased abilities to self-regulate attention, emotion, and physiological arousal, maintain continuity of consciousness, and adopt an approach to the present experience that is open and curious. In practice, non-judgmental awareness has displayed a positive relationship with lower symptoms of PTSD avoidance, which can relate to greater opportunities for success with exposure therapy and lowering PTSD symptoms of hypervigilance, re-experiencing, and overgeneralization of fears.

When using mindfulness and meditation with people expressing trauma symptoms, it is crucial to be aware of potential trauma triggers, such as the focus on the breath. Often, a meditation session will begin with focused attention and move into open monitoring. With severe trauma symptoms, it may be important to start the meditation training and an individual session at the peripheral awareness, such as the limbs. Moreover, trauma survivors often report feeling numb as a protection against trauma triggers and reminders, which are often painful, making it good practice to start all trainings at the limbs as a gradual exposure to body sensations. Doing so will also increase physical attachment to the present moment and the sense of grounding, thereby increasing tolerance to trauma reminders and decreasing the need and use of dissociation.

Treatment

When receiving treatment, patients are assessed to discover their level of functioning. Some patients might be higher functioning than others. This is taken into account when creating a patient’s potential treatment targets. To start off treatment, time is dedicated to increasing a patient’s mental level and adaptive actions in order to gain a balance in both their mental and behavioural action. Once this is achieved, the next goal is to work on removing or minimising the phobia made by traumatic memories, which is causing the patient to dissociate. The final step of treatment includes helping patients work through their grief in order to move forward and be able to engage in their own lives. This is done with the use of new coping skills attained through treatment. One coping skill that can improve dissociation is mindfulness due to the introduction of staying in present awareness while observing non-judgmentally and increasing the ability to regulate emotions. Specifically in adolescents, mindfulness has been shown to reduce dissociation after practicing mindfulness for three weeks.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociation_(psychology) >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is Emotional Aperture?

Introduction

Emotional aperture has been defined as the ability to perceive features of group emotions.

This skill involves the perceptual ability to adjust one’s focus from a single individual’s emotional cues to the broader patterns of shared emotional cues that comprise the emotional composition of the collective.

Background

Some examples of features of group emotions include:

  • The level of variability of emotions among members (i.e. affective diversity);
  • The proportion of positive or negative emotions; and
  • The modal (i.e. most common) emotion present in a group.

The term “emotional aperture” was first defined by the social psychologist, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, and organisational theorist, Quy Huy. It has since been referenced in related work such as in psychologist, journalist, and author of the popular book Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman’s most recent book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.” Academic references to emotional aperture and related work can be found on the references site for the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations.

Emotional Aperture abilities have been measured using the emotional aperture measure (EAM). The EAM consists of a series of short movie clip showing groups that have various brief reactions to an unspecified event. Following each movie clip, individuals are asked to report the proportion of individuals that had a positive or negative reaction.

Origin

The construct, emotional aperture, was developed to address the need to expand existing models of individual emotion perception (e.g. emotional intelligence) to take into account the veracity of group-based emotions and their action tendencies.

What is Reduced Effect Display?

Introduction

Reduced affect display, sometimes referred to as emotional blunting, is a condition of reduced emotional reactivity in an individual.

It manifests as a failure to express feelings (affect display) either verbally or nonverbally, especially when talking about issues that would normally be expected to engage the emotions. Expressive gestures are rare and there is little animation in facial expression or vocal inflection. Reduced affect can be symptomatic of autism, schizophrenia, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, depersonalisation disorder, schizoid personality disorder or brain damage. It may also be a side effect of certain medications (e.g. antipsychotics and antidepressants).

Reduced affect should be distinguished from apathy and anhedonia, which explicitly refer to a lack of emotion, whereas reduced affect is a lack of emotional expression (affect display) regardless of whether emotion (underlying affect) is actually reduced or not.

Types

Constricted Affect

A restricted or constricted affect is a reduction in an individual’s expressive range and the intensity of emotional responses.

Blunted and Flat Affect

Blunted affect is a lack of affect more severe than restricted or constricted affect, but less severe than flat or flattened affect. “The difference between flat and blunted affect is in degree. A person with flat affect has no or nearly no emotional expression. They may not react at all to circumstances that usually evoke strong emotions in others. A person with blunted affect, on the other hand, has a significantly reduced intensity in emotional expression”.

Shallow Affect

Shallow affect has equivalent meaning to blunted affect. Factor 1 of the Psychopathy Checklist identifies shallow affect as a common attribute of psychopathy.

Brain structures

Individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect show different regional brain activity in fMRI scans when presented with emotional stimuli compared to individuals with schizophrenia without blunted affect. Individuals with schizophrenia without blunted affect show activation in the following brain areas when shown emotionally negative pictures: midbrain, pons, anterior cingulate cortex, insula, ventrolateral orbitofrontal cortex, anterior temporal pole, amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and extrastriate visual cortex. Individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect show activation in the following brain regions when shown emotionally negative pictures: midbrain, pons, anterior temporal pole, and extrastriate visual cortex.

Limbic Structures

Individuals with schizophrenia with flat affect show decreased activation in the limbic system when viewing emotional stimuli. In individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect neural processes begin in the occipitotemporal region of the brain and go through the ventral visual pathway and the limbic structures until they reach the inferior frontal areas. Damage to the amygdala of adult rhesus macaques early in life can permanently alter affective processing. Lesioning the amygdala causes blunted affect responses to both positive and negative stimuli. This effect is irreversible in the rhesus macaques; neonatal damage produces the same effect as damage that occurs later in life. The macaques’ brain cannot compensate for early amygdala damage even though significant neuronal growth may occur. There is some evidence that blunted affect symptoms in schizophrenia patients are not a result of just amygdala responsiveness, but a result of the amygdala not being integrated with other areas of the brain associated with emotional processing, particularly in amygdala-prefrontal cortex coupling. Damage in the limbic region prevents the amygdala from correctly interpreting emotional stimuli in individuals with schizophrenia by compromising the link between the amygdala and other brain regions associated with emotion.

Brainstem

Parts of the brainstem are responsible for passive emotional coping strategies that are characterised by disengagement or withdrawal from the external environment (quiescence, immobility, hyporeactivity), similar to what is seen in blunted affect. Individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect show activation of the brainstem during fMRI scans, particularly the right medulla and the left pons, when shown “sad” film excerpts. The bilateral midbrain is also activated in individuals with schizophrenia diagnosed with blunted affect. Activation of the midbrain is thought to be related to autonomic responses associated with perceptual processing of emotional stimuli. This region usually becomes activated in diverse emotional states. When the connectivity between the midbrain and the medial prefrontal cortex is compromised in individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect an absence of emotional reaction to external stimuli results.

Prefrontal Cortex

Individuals with schizophrenia, as well as patients being successfully reconditioned with quetiapine for blunted affect, show activation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Failure to activate the PFC is possibly involved in impaired emotional processing in individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect. The mesial PFC is activated in aver individuals in response to external emotional stimuli. This structure possibly receives information from the limbic structures to regulate emotional experiences and behaviour. Individuals being reconditioned with quetiapine, who show reduced symptoms, show activation in other areas of the PFC as well, including the right medial prefrontal gyrus and the left orbitofrontal gyrus.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex

A positive correlation has been found between activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and the reported magnitude of sad feelings evoked by viewing sad film excerpts. The rostral subdivision of this region is possibly involved in detecting emotional signals. This region is different in individuals with schizophrenia with blunted affect.

Diagnoses

Schizophrenia

Flat and blunted affect is a defining characteristic in the presentation of schizophrenia. To reiterate, these individuals have a decrease in observed vocal and facial expression as well as the use of gestures. One study of flat affect in schizophrenia found that “flat affect was more common in men, and was associated with worse current quality of life” as well as having “an adverse effect on course of illness”.

The study also reported a “dissociation between reported experience of emotion and its display” – supporting the suggestion made elsewhere that “blunted affect, including flattened facial expressiveness and lack of vocal inflection … often disguises an individual’s true feelings.” Thus, feelings may merely be unexpressed, rather than totally lacking. On the other hand, “a lack of emotions which is due not to mere repression but to a real loss of contact with the objective world gives the observer a specific impression of ‘queerness’ … the remainders of emotions or the substitutes for emotions usually refer to rage and aggressiveness”. In the most extreme cases, there is a complete “dissociation from affective states”. To further support this idea, a study examining emotion dysregulation found that individuals with schizophrenia could not exaggerate their emotional expression as healthy controls could. Participants were asked to express whatever emotions they had during a clip of a film, and the participants with schizophrenia showed deficits in behavioural expression of their emotions.

There is still some debate regarding the source of flat affect in schizophrenia. However, some literature indicates abnormalities in the dorsal executive and ventral affective systems; it is argued that dorsal hypoactivation and ventral hyperactivation may be the source of flat affect. Further, the authors found deficits in the mirror neuron system may also contribute to flat affect in that the deficits may cause disruptions in the control of facial expression.

Another study found that when speaking, individuals with schizophrenia with flat affect demonstrate less inflection than normal controls and appear to be less fluent. Normal subjects appear to express themselves using more complex syntax, whereas flat affect subjects speak with fewer words, and fewer words per sentence. Flat affect individuals’ use of context-appropriate words in both sad and happy narratives are similar to that of controls. It is very likely that flat affect is a result of deficits in motor expression as opposed to emotional processing. The moods of display are compromised, but subjective, autonomic, and contextual aspects of emotion are left intact.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was previously known to cause negative feelings, such as depressed mood, re-experiencing and hyperarousal. However, recently, psychologists have started to focus their attention on the blunted affects and also the decrease in feeling and expressing positive emotions in PTSD patients. Blunted affect, or emotional numbness, is considered one of the consequences of PTSD because it causes a diminished interest in activities that produce pleasure (anhedonia) and produces feelings of detachment from others, restricted emotional expression and a reduced tendency to express emotions behaviourally. Blunted affect is often seen in veterans as a consequence of the psychological stressful experiences that caused PTSD. Blunted affect is a response to PTSD, it is considered one of the central symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorders and it is often seen in veterans who served in combat zones. In PTSD, blunted affect can be considered a psychological response to PTSD as a way to combat overwhelming anxiety that the patients feel. In blunted affect, there are abnormalities in circuits that also include the prefrontal cortex.

Assessment

In making assessments of mood and affect the clinician is cautioned that “it is important to keep in mind that demonstrative expression can be influenced by cultural differences, medication, or situational factors”; while the layperson is warned to beware of applying the criterion lightly to “friends, otherwise [he or she] is likely to make false judgments, in view of the prevalence of schizoid and cyclothymic personalities in our ‘normal’ population, and our [US] tendency to psychological hypochondriasis”.

R.D. Laing in particular stressed that “such ‘clinical’ categories as schizoid, autistic, ‘impoverished’ affect … all presuppose that there are reliable, valid impersonal criteria for making attributions about the other person’s relation to [his or her] actions. There are no such reliable or valid criteria”.

Differential Diagnosis

Blunted affect is very similar to anhedonia, which is the decrease or cessation of all feelings of pleasure (which thus affects enjoyment, happiness, fun, interest, and satisfaction). In the case of anhedonia, emotions relating to pleasure will not be expressed as much or at all because they are literally not experienced or are decreased. Both blunted affect and anhedonia are considered negative symptoms of schizophrenia, meaning that they are indicative of a lack of something. There are some other negative symptoms of schizophrenia which include avolition, alogia and catatonic behaviour.

Closely related is alexithymia – a condition describing people who “lack words for their feelings. They seem to lack feelings altogether, although this may actually be because of their inability to express emotion rather than from an absence of emotion altogether”. Alexithymic patients however can provide clues via assessment presentation which may be indicative of emotional arousal.

“If the amygdala is severed from the rest of the brain, the result is a striking inability to gauge the emotional significance of events; this condition is sometimes called ‘affective blindness'”. In some cases, blunted affect can fade, but there is no conclusive evidence of why this can occur.

What is Affect Regulation?

Introduction

Affect regulation and “affect regulation theory” are important concepts in psychiatry and psychology and in close relation with emotion regulation.

Refer to Affect Labelling.

Background

However, the latter is a reflection of an individual’s mood status rather than their affect.

Affect regulation is the actual performance one can demonstrate in a difficult situation regardless of what their mood or emotions are. It is tightly related to the quality of executive and cognitive functions and that is what distinguishes this concept from emotion regulation.

One can have a low emotional control but a high level of control on his or her affect, and therefore, demonstrate a normal interpersonal functioning as a result of intact cognition.

What is Affect Labelling?

Introduction

Affect labelling is an implicit emotional regulation strategy that can be simply described as “putting feelings into words”.

Refer to Affect Regulation.

Plutchik Wheel

Specifically, it refers to the idea that explicitly labelling one’s, typically negative, emotional state results in a reduction of the conscious experience, physiological response, and/or behaviour resulting from that emotional state. For example, writing about a negative experience in one’s journal may improve one’s mood. Some other examples of affect labelling include discussing one’s feelings with a therapist, complaining to friends about a negative experience, posting one’s feelings on social media or acknowledging the scary aspects of a situation.

Affect labelling is an extension of the simple concept that talking about one’s feelings can make oneself feel better. Although this idea has been used in talk therapy for over a century, formal research into affect labelling has only begun in recent years. Already, researchers have quantified some of the emotion-regulatory effects of affect labelling, such as decreases in subjective emotional affect, reduced activity in the amygdala, and a lower skin conductance response to frightening stimuli. As a consequence of being a relatively new technique in the area of emotion regulation, affect labelling tends to be compared to, and is often confused with, emotional reappraisal, another emotion-regulatory technique. A key difference between the two is that while reappraisal intuitively feels like a strategy to control one’s emotions, affect labelling often does not. Even when someone does not intend to regulate their emotions, the act of labelling one’s emotions still has positive effects.

Affect labelling is still in the early stages of research and thus, there is much about it that remains unknown. While there are several theories for the mechanism by which affect labelling acts, more research is needed to provide empirical support for these hypotheses. Additionally, some work has been done on the applications of affect labelling to real-world issues, such as research that suggests affect labelling may be commonplace on social media sites. Affect labelling also sees some use in clinical settings as a tentative treatment for fear and anxiety disorders. Nonetheless, research on affect labelling has largely focused on laboratory studies, and further research is needed to understand its effects in the real world.

Brief History

The notion that talking about or writing down one’s feelings can be beneficial is not a recent one. People have kept diaries for centuries, and the use of talk therapy dates back to the beginnings of psychotherapy. Over the past few decades, the idea that putting one’s feelings into words can be beneficial has been shown experimentally. More recently, the concept of affect labelling has grown out of this literature, honing in on the emotion regulation aspect of the benefits of vocalising feelings.

In recent years, research on affect labelling has mostly focused on proving its applicability as an emotion regulation strategy. Although some research exists on the behavioural and neural mechanisms behind its effectiveness, this area of study is still in its early, speculative stages.

Regulatory Effects

Emotional Experience

When engaging in affect labelling, subjects subjectively report lower levels of emotional affect than they do in identical conditions without the affect labelling. This effect is not only found when subjects rate their own emotional state, but also when they label the emotion displayed or evoked by stimuli such as images.

Autonomic Response

Autonomic responses characteristic of various emotions may decrease after performing affect labelling. For instance, upon quantifying their level of anger on a rating scale, subjects subsequently experienced decreases in heart rate and cardiac output. Research also indicates that giving labels to aversive stimuli results in a lower skin conductance response when similar aversive stimuli are presented in the future, implying affect labelling can have long-term effects on autonomic responses.

Neuroscientific Basis

Research has found that engaging in affect labelling results in higher brain activity within the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), and reduced activity in the amygdala when compared to other tasks involving emotional stimuli. In addition, evidence from brain lesion studies also point to the vlPFC’s involvement in the affect labelling process. Subjects with lesions to the right vlPFC were less able to identify the emotional state of a character throughout a film. This implies that the region is required in order for affect-labelling to take place. Additionally, it has been shown through meta-analysis that while the amygdala is found to be active in tasks involving emotional stimuli, activity is lower when subjects had to identify the emotions rather than simply passively viewing the stimuli.

One theory that integrates these findings proposes that the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex works to down-regulate activity in the amygdala during affect labelling. This theory is supported by evidence from several studies that found negative connectivity between the two brain regions during an affect-labelling task. Furthermore, researchers have used dynamic causal modelling to show specifically that increased activity in the vlPFC is the cause of lower amygdala activity.

Comparison to Emotional Reappraisal

Emotional reappraisal is an emotion regulation technique where an emotional stimulus is reinterpreted in a new, usually less negative, fashion in order to reduce its effect. As an example, someone might reinterpret a bad test score as being a learning experience, rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of the situation. As it is a related emotion regulation strategy, affect labelling research often draws insight from the existing literature on reappraisal.

The most salient difference between affect labelling and reappraisal lies in people’s perception of the efficacy of affect labelling. Unlike reappraisal, affect labelling’s effectiveness in regulating emotion is fairly unintuitive. Research has shown that while subjects expect reappraisal to reduce emotional distress, they predict the opposite for affect labelling, expecting the vocalisation of feelings to actually increase their emotional distress. In reality, while the magnitude of the reduction in emotional response is found to be stronger for reappraisal than for affect labelling, both strategies produce a noticeable decrease.

Individuals who respond more to reappraisal after the presentation of emotional stimuli tend to also benefit more from affect labelling, indicating they may act through the same mechanism.

Reappraisal and affect labelling share similarities in their neural signatures. As in affect labelling, reappraisal produces activity in the vlPFC while inhibiting response in the amygdala. However, in contrast to affect labelling, reappraisal has also been found to generate activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Possible Mechanisms

Distraction

One possible explanation for affect labelling’s effectiveness is that it is simply preventing the labeller from fully experiencing the emotional response by drawing their attention away. Distraction techniques have been shown to elicit similar neural activity as affect labelling, with increased activity in the vlPFC and decreased in the amygdala. Additionally, some explicit distraction paradigms have been shown to result in similar reductions of negative emotions.

However, evidence is mixed on this front, as other tasks that involve turning attention away, such as a gender labelling task, do not produce the same reduction. Applications of affect labelling seem to suggest that the mechanism of action is not simply distraction. When applied with exposure therapy, affect labelling was found to be much more effective in reducing skin conductance response than distraction. Affect labelling is also known to result in long-term benefits in clinical settings, whereas distraction is generally considered to negatively affect progress.

Self-Reflection

Another proposed mechanism for affect labelling is through self-reflection. Emotional introspection differs from affect labelling in that it does not require explicit labelling of emotion; however, engaging in introspection has similar effects to affect labelling. As such, rather than being the entire process, affect labelling could act as a first-step in an emotional introspective process. Evidence supporting this mechanism uses a measure of dispositional mindfulness to quantify people’s ability to self-reflect. Researchers were able to link dispositional mindfulness to affect labelling by showing that people with higher levels of dispositional mindfulness showed stronger brain activation in regions associated with affect labelling, such as the vlPFC. Additionally, they showed greater reductions in activity in the amygdala, suggesting that mindfulness modulates the effectiveness of affect labelling, and lending support to the idea that introspection is the mechanism of action.

Unfortunately, this theory of affect labelling struggles to explain affect labelling’s benefits on stimuli that do not apply to the self. For instance, the regulatory effects of labelling external stimuli, such as faces or aversive images presented during an experiment, are unlikely to be explained by a self-reflective process.

Reduction of Uncertainty

People are known to be ambiguity averse, and the complexity of emotion can often create uncertainty in feelings that is unpleasant. Some researchers believe that affect labelling acts by reducing uncertainty in emotion. This is supported by neural evidence connecting uncertainty to activity in the amygdala. Affect labelling has been shown to down-regulate activity in the amygdala, and this may be a result of the reduction of uncertainty of feelings.

Evidence against this theory is the fact that while some emotions are characteristically uncertain, such as fear or anxiety, others tend to be more straightforward, e.g. sadness and anger. Since affect labelling is known to work across all these types of emotions, it is unlikely that uncertainty reduction is the only mechanism by which it acts.

Symbolic Conversion

Another theory of affect labelling posits that the act of labelling is a sort of symbolic encoding of information, changing the stimulus into language. It has been proposed that this symbolic conversion may act as a type of psychological distancing from the stimulus, leading to overall lower levels of affect. While affect labelling specifically refers to giving labels to emotions, assigning abstract content labels, such as identifying objects as “human”, “landscape”, etc., has been found to yield many of the same benefits. There is neural evidence to support this as well. Several studies have found that when subjects classify stimuli based on non-emotional categories, they exhibit greater vlPFC activity and less activity in the amygdala, just like in affect labelling. The fact that labelling non-emotional stimuli has similar effects to that of emotional stimuli suggests that the simple act of converting a stimulus into language may be driving the effect.

Applications

Social Media

The act of posting about one’s feelings on social media sites such as Twitter is a type of affect labelling. One research study analysed 74,487 Twitter users’ tweets for emotional contact, classifying tweets as either before or after instances of affect labelling, which were identified as tweets stating “I feel…”. The researchers found that emotions tended to increase in valence over time in tweets preceding the affect labelling tweet, with the greatest positive or negative emotion being experienced closest to the act of labelling. After the affect labelling tweet, the emotional intensity of the following tweets was found to fall off quickly, going back to baseline levels of valence. The results of this study support the application of affect labelling as an emotion regulation strategy in real-world settings, and show that social media users engage, potentially unknowingly, in affect labelling all the time.

Mental Health

A small body of work has begun to look at affect labelling’s potential as a clinical treatment in conjunction with exposure therapy for phobias, anxiety disorders, and other stress disorders.

One study found that subjects with high public speaking anxiety who chose from a set of predetermined emotion words to describe their feelings before giving a speech in front of an audience showed greater reductions in anxiety, quantified by physiological responses such as heart rate, than subjects who performed a control, shape-matching, task before giving their speeches. These results suggest that combining affect labelling with an exposure treatment is more effective than exposure alone. Notably, the affect labelling and control conditions found no difference in self-reported anxiety; however, physiological responses characteristic of anxiety were reduced for the subjects who performed the affect labelling.

Another study found similar results in spider-fearful individuals, exposing them to a tarantula over two days while simultaneously verbalising their feelings. Compared to subjects in reappraisal, distraction, and control conditions, subjects who engaged in affect labelling showed lower skin conductance response than the other conditions, although there was no difference between conditions in self-reported fear.

Although there is tentative evidence for the value of affect labelling in clinical settings, researchers acknowledge that there is still a need for many more studies drawing from clinical populations in order to deduce the value of using affect labelling in conjunction with other treatments before it can be safely adopted into practice.

Limitations and Concerns

The use of self-report measures of emotion in psychological research may invoke affect labelling, even in studies unrelated to the topic. Whether or not this poses a problem for emotion researchers is still largely unknown.

Although affect labelling appears be effective in laboratory studies with many participants, as with all psychological phenomena, individuals will vary in their experience. The reasons for individual differences in the effectiveness of affect labelling are in need of further research. Furthermore, paradigms used to study affect labelling differ widely, with some providing subjects with pre-prepared labels to select, while others require subjects to self-generate their own labels. These paradigms produce noticeable differences in results, with self-generative paradigms finding more long-term delayed effects of regulation, and pre-prepared paradigms finding immediate effects. The explanation for the differences in these results is still relatively unexplored, though some suspect it may be due to pre-prepared labels implying a kind of interpersonal emotion regulation, since it may be interpreted as a kind of support from the experimenter.

Whether or not the laboratory findings about affect labelling are applicable to affect labelling in the real world is another question researchers must ask. The situations in which people use affect labelling in real life are rich with context, and it is difficult to say whether the particular operationalisations of affect labelling used in a study allow the results to generalise.

What is Abreaction?

Introduction

Abreaction (German: Abreagieren) is a psychoanalytical term for reliving an experience to purge it of its emotional excesses – a type of catharsis.

Sometimes it is a method of becoming conscious of repressed traumatic events.

Psychoanalytic Origins

The concept of abreaction may have actually been initially formulated by Freud’s mentor, Josef Breuer; but it was in their joint work of 1895, Studies on Hysteria, that it was first made public to denote the fact that pent-up emotions associated with a trauma can be discharged by talking about it. The release of strangulated affect by bringing a particular moment or problem into conscious focus, and thereby abreacting the stifled emotion attached to it, formed the cornerstone of Freud’s early cathartic method of treating hysterical conversion symptoms. For instance, they believed that pent-up emotions associated with trauma can be discharged by talking about it. Freud and Breur, however, did not treat the spontaneous emotional reliving of traumatic event as curative. They instead described abreaction as the full emotional and motoric response to a traumatic event necessary in adequately relieving a person of being repetitively and unpredictably assailed by the trauma’s original and unmitigated emotional intensity. Although the element of surprise is not compatible with Freud’s approach to therapy, other theorists consider that, in abreaction, it is an important part of analytic technique.

Early in his career, psychoanalyst Carl Jung expressed interest in abreaction, or what he referred to as trauma theory, but later decided it had limitations in treatment of neurosis. Jung said:

Though traumata of clearly aetiological significance were occasionally present, the majority of them appeared very improbable. Many traumata were so unimportant, even so normal, that they could be regarded at most as a pretext for the neurosis. But what especially aroused my criticism was the fact that not a few traumata were simply inventions of fantasy and had never happened at all.

Later Developments

Mainstream psychoanalysis tended over time (with Freud) to downplay the role of abreaction, in favour of the working through of the emotions revealed through such acting-out of the past. However, Otto Rank explored abreaction of birth trauma as a central part of his revision of Freudian theory; while Edward Bibring revived the notion of abreaction as emotional reliving, a theme subsequently taken up by Vamik Volkan in his re-grief therapy.

Abreaction Therapies

In Scientology, Dianetics is a form of abreaction that science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard borrowed from the United States Navy when he spent three months in a San Diego hospital in 1943 with the complaints of an ulcer and malaria. Hubbard later wrote, in his autobiography My Philosophy, that he had observed abreactive therapy in the hospital, though in later life he claimed to have made the discovery on his own after being wounded in battle and given up as untreatable.

What is Parentification?

Introduction

Parentification is the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own parent or sibling. In extreme cases, the child is used to fill the void of the alienating parent’s emotional life.

Two distinct types of parentification have been identified technically: instrumental parentification and emotional parentification.

  • Instrumental parentification involves the child completing physical tasks for the family, such as looking after a sick relative, paying bills, interpreting foreign language, or providing assistance to younger siblings that would normally be provided by a parent.
  • Emotional parentification occurs when a child or adolescent must take on the role of a confidante or mediator for (or between) parents or family members.

Background

Melitta Schmideberg noted in 1948 how emotional deprivation could lead parents to treat their children (unconsciously) as substitute parent figures. “Spousification” and “parental child” (Minuchin) offered alternative concepts exploring the same phenomenon; while the theme of intergenerational continuity in such violations of personal boundaries was further examined. Eric Berne touched on the dangers of parents and children having a symmetrical, rather than asymmetrical relationship, as when an absent spouse is replaced by the eldest child; and Virginia Satir wrote of “the role-function discrepancy…where the son gets into a head-of-the-family role, commonly that of the father”.

Object relations theory highlighted how the child’s false self is called into being when it is forced prematurely to take excessive care of the parental object; and John Bowlby looked at what he called “compulsive caregiving” among the anxiously attached, as a result of a parent inverting the normal relationship and pressuring the child to be an attachment figure for them.

All such aspects of disturbed and inverted parenting patterns have been drawn under the umbrella of the wider phenomenon of parentification – with the result (critics suggest) that on occasion “ironically the concept of parentification has…been as over-burdened as the child it often describes”

Choice of Child

For practical reasons, elder children are generally chosen for the familial “parental” role – very often the first-born children who were put in the anomalous role. However, gender considerations mean that sometimes the eldest boy or eldest girl was selected, even if they are not the oldest child overall, for such reasons as the preference to match the sex of the missing parent.

Thus where there is a disabled child in the family to be cared for, “older siblings, especially girls, are at the greatest risk of parentification”; where a father-figure is missing, it may be the eldest son who is forced to take on his father’s responsibilities, without ever obtaining the autonomy that normally accompanies such adult roles.

Alternatively a widower may put a daughter into the social and emotional role of his deceased wife – “spousification”; or a mother can oblige her daughter to play the caring role, in a betrayal of the child’s normal expectation of love and care

Narcissistic

Narcissistic parentification occurs when a child is forced to take on the parent’s idealised projection, something which encourages a compulsive perfectionism in the child at the expense of their natural development. In a kind of pseudo-identification, the child is induced by any and all means to take on the characteristics of the parental ego ideal – a pattern that has been detected in western culture since Homer’s description of the character of Achilles.

Disadvantages

The almost inevitable byproduct of parentification is losing one’s own childhood. In destructive parentification, the child in question takes on excessive responsibility in the family, without their caretaking being acknowledged and supported by others: by adopting the role of parental care-giver, the child loses their real place in the family unit and is left lonely and unsure. In extreme instances, there may be what has been called a kind of disembodiment, a narcissistic wound that threatens one’s basic self-identity.

In later life, parentified children often experience anxiety over abandonment and loss, and demonstrate difficulty handling rejection and disappointment within interpersonal relationships.

Case Studies

  • Carl Jung in his late autobiography reports that his mother always spoke to him as an adult, confiding in him what she could not share with her husband. Laurens van der Post commented on the grown-up atmosphere surrounding the young Jung, and considered that “this activation of the pattern of the “old man” within himself…was all a consequence of the extent to which his father and mother failed each other”.
  • Patrick Casement reports on a patient – Mr T – whose mother was distressed at any and all his feelings, and who therefore protected her from them – mothering her himself.

Literary Examples

The Tale of Genji tells that for “Kaoru’s mother…her son’s visits were her chief pleasure. Sometimes he almost seemed more like a father than a son – a fact which he was aware of and thought rather sad”.

Charles Dickens’ “Angel in the house” characters, particularly Agnes Wickfield in David Copperfield, are parentified children. Agnes is forced to be the parent of her alcoholic father and seems to strive for perfection as a means of reaching the “ego ideal” of her deceased mother (who died upon child-birth). Agnes marries late, has relationship and intimacy problems (she has a hard time expressing her love for David until he reveals his own love for her), and has some self-defeating attitudes; in one scene she blames her own father’s misfortunes on herself. However, she proves to be resilient, resourceful, responsible and even potentially career-driven (she forms her own school). She also manages to marry the protagonist David and the two live happily together for 10 years with children by the end of the novel.

The theme of parentification has also been explored in the Twilight series, with particular but not exclusive reference to the character of Bella Swan.

What is Emotion Work?

Introduction

Emotion work is understood as the art of trying to change in degree or quality an emotion or feeling.

Emotion work may be defined as the management of one’s own feelings, or work done in an effort to maintain a relationship; there is dispute as to whether emotion work is only work done regulating one’s own emotion, or extends to performing the emotional work for others.

Not to be confused with Emotional Labour and refer to Emotional Self-Regulation.

Hochschild

Arlie Russell Hochschild, who introduced the term in 1979, distinguished emotion work – unpaid emotional work that a person undertakes in private life – from emotional labour: emotional work done in a paid work setting. Emotion work has use value and occurs in situations in which people choose to regulate their emotions for their own non-compensated benefit (e.g., in their interactions with family and friends). By contrast, emotional labour has exchange value because it is traded and performed for a wage.

In a later development, Hochschild distinguished between two broad types of emotion work, and among three techniques of emotion work. The two broad types involve evocation and suppression of emotion, while the three techniques of emotion work that Hochschild describes are cognitive, bodily and expressive.

However, the concept (if not the term) has been traced back as far as Aristotle: as Aristotle saw, the problem is not with emotionality, but with the appropriateness of emotion and its expression.

Examples

Examples of emotion work include showing affection, apologizing after an argument, bringing up problems that need to be addressed in an intimate relationship or any kind of interpersonal relationship, and making sure the household runs smoothly.

Emotion work also involves the orientation of self/others to accord with accepted norms of emotional expression: emotion work is often performed by family members and friends, who put pressure on individuals to conform to emotional norms. Arguably, then, an individual’s ultimate obeisance and/or resistance to aspects of emotion regimes are made visible in their emotion work.

Cultural norms often imply that emotion work is reserved for females. There is certainly evidence to the effect that the emotional management that women and men do is asymmetric; and that in general, women come into a marriage groomed for the role of emotional manager.

Criticism

The social theorist Victor Jeleniewski Seidler argues that women’s emotion work is merely another demonstration of false consciousness under patriarchy, and that emotion work, as a concept, has been adopted, adapted or criticised to such an extent that it is in danger of becoming a “catch-all-cliché”.

More broadly, the concept of emotion work has itself been criticized as a wide over-simplification of mental processes such as repression and denial which continually occur in everyday life.

Literary Analogues

Rousseau in The New Heloise suggests that the attempt to master instrumentally one’s affective life always results in a weakening and eventually the fragmentation of one’s identity, even if the emotion work is performed at the demand of ethical principles.

What is Emotional Labour?

Introduction

Emotional labour is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfil the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and managers.

Not to be confused with Emotion Work and refer to Affective Labour.

Roles that have been identified as requiring emotional labour include those involved in public administration, espionage, law, caring for children, medical care, social work; roles in hospitality, and jobs in the media. As particular economies move from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, more workers in a variety of occupational fields are expected to manage their emotions according to employer demands when compared to sixty years ago.

Usage of the term has also been extended to refer to unpaid work that is expected interpersonally, such as taking care of organising holiday events or helping a friend solve their problems.

Definition

The sociologist Arlie Hochschild provides the first definition of emotional labour, which is displaying certain emotions to meet the requirements of a job. The related term emotion work (also called “emotion management”) refers to displaying certain emotions for personal purposes, such as within the private sphere of one’s home or interactions with family and friends. Hochschild identified three emotion regulation strategies:

StrategyDescription
CognitiveWithin cognitive emotion work, one attempts to change images, ideas, or thoughts in hopes of changing the feelings associated with them. For example, one may associate a family picture with feeling happy and think about said picture whenever attempting to feel happy.
BodilyWithin bodily emotion work, one attempts to change physical symptoms in order to create a desired emotion. For example, one may attempt deep breathing in order to reduce anger.
ExpressiveWithin expressive emotion work, one attempts to change expressive gestures to change inner feelings, such as smiling when trying to feel happy.

While emotion work happens within the private sphere, emotional labour is emotion management within the workplace according to employer expectations. Jobs involving emotional labour are defined as those that:

  • Require face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with the public.
  • Require the worker to produce an emotional state in another person.
  • Allow the employer, through training and supervision, to exercise a degree of control over the emotional activities of employees.

Hochschild (1983) argues that within this commodification process, service workers are estranged from their own feelings in the workplace.

Alternative Usage

The term has been applied in modern contexts to refer to household tasks, specifically unpaid labour that is often expected of women, e.g. planning celebrations or having to remind their partner of chores. The term can also refer to informal counselling, such as providing advice to a friend or helping someone through a breakup. When Hochschild was interviewed about this shifting usage, she expressed that it made the concept blurrier and was sometimes being applied to things that were simply just labour, although how carrying out this labour made a person feel could make it emotional labour as well.

This modern use of the term had originally been introduced by non-professionals of the field and has therefore received criticism by medical and psychological professionals.

Determinants

DeterminantDescription
Societal, Occupational, and Organisational NormsFor example, empirical evidence indicates that in typically “busy” stores there is more legitimacy to express negative emotions than there is in typically “slow” stores, in which employees are expected to behave in accordance with the display rules. Hence, the emotional culture to which one belongs influences the employee’s commitment to those rules.
Dispositional Traits and Inner Feeling on the JobSuch as employees’ emotional expressiveness, which refers to the capability to use facial expressions, voice, gestures, and body movements to transmit emotions; or employees’ level of career identity (the importance of the career role to self-identity), which allows them to express the organisationally-desired emotions more easily (because there is less discrepancy between expressed behaviour and emotional experience when engaged in their work).
Supervisory Regulation of Display RulesSupervisors are likely to be important definers of display rules at the job level, given their direct influence on workers’ beliefs about high-performance expectations. Moreover, supervisors’ impressions of the need to suppress negative emotions on the job influence the employees’ impressions of that display rule.


Surface and deep acting foundational text divided emotional labour into two components:

  • Surface acting: Occurs when employees display the emotions required for a job without changing how they actually feel.
  • Deep acting: Is an effortful process through which employees change their internal feelings to align with organisational expectations, producing more natural and genuine emotional displays.

Although the underlying processes differ, the objective of both is typically to show positive emotions, which are presumed to impact the feelings of customers and bottom-line outcomes (e.g. sales, positive recommendations, and repeat business). However, research generally has shown surface acting is more harmful to employee health. Without a consideration of ethical values, the consequences of emotional work on employees can easily become negative. Business ethics can be used as a guide for employees on how to present feelings that are consistent with ethical values, and can show them how to regulate their feelings more easily and comfortably while working.

Careers

In the past, emotional labour demands and display rules were viewed as a characteristic of particular occupations, such as restaurant workers, cashiers, hospital workers, bill collectors, counsellors, secretaries, and nurses. However, display rules have been conceptualised not only as role requirements of particular occupational groups, but also as interpersonal job demands, which are shared by many kinds of occupations.

Bill Collectors

In 1991, Sutton did an in-depth qualitative study into bill collectors at a collection agency. He found that unlike the other jobs described here where employees need to act cheerful and concerned, bill collectors are selected and socialised to show irritation to most debtors. Specifically, the collection agency hired agents who seemed to be easily aroused. The newly hired agents were then trained on when and how to show varying emotions to different types of debtors. As they worked at the collection agency, they were closely monitored by their supervisors to make sure that they frequently conveyed urgency to debtors.

Bill collectors’ emotional labour consists of not letting angry and hostile debtors make them angry and to not feel guilty about pressuring friendly debtors for money. They coped with angry debtors by publicly showing their anger or making jokes when they got off the phone. They minimised the guilt they felt by staying emotionally detached from the debtors.

Childcare Workers

The skills involved in childcare are often viewed as innate to women, making the components of childcare invisible. However, a number of scholars have not only studied the difficulty and skill required for childcare, but also suggested that the emotional labour of childcare is unique and needs to be studied differently. Performing emotional labour requires the development of emotional capital, and that can only be developed through experience and reflection. Through semi-structured interviews, Edwards (2016) found that there were two components of emotional labour in childcare in addition to Hochschild’s original two: emotional consonance and suppression. Edwards (2016) defined suppression as hiding emotion and emotional consonance as naturally experiencing the same emotion that one is expected to feel for the job.

Food-Industry Workers

Wait Staff

In her 1991 study of waitresses in Philadelphia, Paules examines how these workers assert control and protect their self identity during interactions with customers. In restaurant work, Paules argues, workers’ subordination to customers is reinforced through “cultural symbols that originate from deeply rooted assumptions about service work.” Because the waitresses were not strictly regulated by their employers, waitresses’ interactions with customers were controlled by the waitresses themselves. Although they are stigmatised by the stereotypes and assumptions of servitude surrounding restaurant work, the waitresses studied were not negatively affected by their interactions with customers. To the contrary, they viewed their ability to manage their emotions as a valuable skill that could be used to gain control over customers. Thus, the Philadelphia waitresses took advantage of the lack of employer-regulated emotional labour in order to avoid the potentially negative consequences of emotional labour.

Though Paules highlights the positive consequences of emotional labour for a specific population of waitresses, other scholars have also found negative consequences of emotional labour within the waitressing industry. Through eighteen months of participant observation research, Bayard De Volo (2003) found that casino waitresses are highly monitored and monetarily bribed to perform emotional labour in the workplace. Specifically, Bayard De Volo (2003) argues that through a sexualized environment and a generous tipping system, both casino owners and customers control waitresses’ behaviour and appearance for their own benefit and pleasure. Even though the waitresses have their own forms of individual and collective resistance mechanisms, intense and consistent monitoring of their actions by casino management makes it difficult to change the power dynamics of the casino workplace.

Fast-Food Employees

By using participant observation and interviews, Leidner (1993) examines how employers in fast food restaurants regulate workers’ interactions with customers. According to Leidner (1993), employers attempt to regulate workers’ interactions with customers only under certain conditions. Specifically, when employers attempt to regulate worker-customer interactions, employers believe that “the quality of the interaction is important to the success of the enterprise”, that workers are “unable or unwilling to conduct the interactions appropriately on their own”, and that the “tasks themselves are not too complex or context-dependent.” According to Leidner (1993), regulating employee interactions with customers involves standardizing workers’ personal interactions with customers. At the McDonald’s fast food restaurants in Leidner’s (1993) study, these interactions are strictly scripted, and workers’ compliance with the scripts and regulations are closely monitored.

Along with examining employers’ attempts to regulate employee-customer interactions, Leidner (1993) examines how fast-food workers’ respond to these regulations. According to Leidner (1993), meeting employers’ expectations requires workers to engage in some form of emotional labour. For example, McDonald’s workers are expected to greet customers with a smile and friendly attitude independent of their own mood or temperament at the time. Leidner (1993) suggests that rigid compliance with these expectations is at least potentially damaging to workers’ sense of self and identity. However, Leidner (1993) did not see the negative consequences of emotional labour in the workers she studied. Instead, McDonald’s workers attempted to individualise their responses to customers in small ways. Specifically, they used humour or exaggeration to demonstrate their rebellion against the strict regulation of their employee-customer interactions.

Physicians

According to Larson and Yao (2005), empathy should characterize physicians’ interactions with their patients because, despite advancement in medical technology, the interpersonal relationship between physicians and patients remains essential to quality healthcare. Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians consider empathy a form of emotional labour. Specifically, according to Larson and Yao (2005), physicians engage in emotional labour through deep acting by feeling sincere empathy before, during, and after interactions with patients. On the other hand, Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians engage in surface acting when they fake empathic behaviours toward the patient. Although Larson and Yao (2005) argue that deep acting is preferred, physicians may rely on surface acting when sincere empathy for patients is impossible. Overall, Larson and Yao (2005) argue that physicians are more effective and enjoy more professional satisfaction when they engage in empathy through deep acting due to emotional labour.

Police Work

According to Martin (1999), police work involves substantial amounts of emotional labour by officers, who must control their own facial and bodily displays of emotion in the presence of other officers and citizens. Although policing is often viewed as stereotypically masculine work that focuses on fighting crime, policing also requires officers to maintain order and provide a variety of interpersonal services. For example, police must have a commanding presence that allows them to act decisively and maintain control in unpredictable situations while having the ability to actively listen and talk to citizens. According to Martin (1999), a police officer who displays too much anger, sympathy, or other emotion while dealing with danger on the job will be viewed by other officers as someone unable to withstand the pressures of police work, due to the sexist views of many police officers. While being able to balance this self-management of emotions in front of other officers, police must also assertively restore order and use effective interpersonal skills to gain citizen trust and compliance. Ultimately, the ability of police officers to effectively engage in emotional labour affects how other officers and citizens view them.

Public Administration

Many scholars argue that the amount of emotional work required between all levels of government is greatest on the local level. It is at the level of cities and counties that the responsibility lies for day to day emergency preparedness, firefighters, law enforcement, public education, public health, and family and children’s services. Citizens in a community expect the same level of satisfaction from their government, as they receive in a customer service-oriented job. This takes a considerate amount of work for both employees and employers in the field of public administration. There are two comparisons that represent emotional labour within public administration, “Rational Work versus Emotion Work”, and “Emotional Labour versus Emotional Intelligence.”

Performance

Many scholars argue that when public administrators perform emotional labour, they are dealing with significantly more sensitive situations than employees in the service industry. The reason for this is because they are on the front lines of the government, and are expected by citizens to serve them quickly and efficiently. When confronted by a citizen or a co-worker, public administrators use emotional sensing to size up the emotional state of the citizen in need. Workers then take stock of their own emotional state in order to make sure that the emotion they are expressing is appropriate to their roles. Simultaneously, they have to determine how to act in order to elicit the desired response from the citizen as well as from co-workers. Public Administrators perform emotional labour through five different strategies: Psychological First Aid, Compartments and Closets, Crazy Calm, Humour, and Common Sense.

Definition: Rational Work vs. Emotion Work

According to Mary Guy, Public administration does not only focus on the business side of administration but on the personal side as well. It is not just about collecting the water bill or land ordinances to construct a new property, it is also about the quality of life and sense of community that is allotted to individuals by their city officials. Rational work is the ability to think cognitively and analytically, while emotional work means to think more practically and with more reason.

Definition: Intelligence vs. Emotional Intelligence

Knowing how to suppress and manage one’s own feelings is known as emotional intelligence. The ability to control one’s emotions and to be able to do this at a high level guarantees one’s own ability to serve those in need. Emotional intelligence is performed while performing emotional labour, and without one the other can not be there.

Gender

Macdonald and Sirianni (1996) use the term “emotional proletariat” to describe service jobs in which “workers exercise emotional labour wherein they are required to display friendliness and deference to customers.” Because of deference, these occupations tend to be stereotyped as female jobs, independent of the actual number of women working the job. According to Macdonald and Sirianni (1996), because deference is a characteristic demanded of all those in disadvantaged structural positions, especially women, when deference is made a job requirement, women are likely to be overrepresented in these jobs. Macdonald and Sirianni (1996) claim that “[i]n no other area of wage labour are the personal characteristics of the workers so strongly associated with the nature of the work.” Thus, according to Macdonald and Sirianna (1996), although all workers employed within the service economy may have a difficult time maintaining their dignity and self-identity due to the demands of emotional labour, such an issue may be especially problematic for women workers.

Emotional labour also affects women by perpetuating occupational segregation and the gender wage gap. Job segregation, which is the systematic tendency for men and women to work in different occupations, is often cited as the reason why women lack equal pay when compared to men. According to Guy and Newman (2004), occupational segregation and ultimately the gender wage gap can at least be partially attributed to emotional labour. Specifically, work-related tasks that require emotional work thought to be natural for women, such as caring and empathizing are requirements of many female-dominated occupations. However, according to Guy and Newman (2004), these feminized work tasks are not a part of formal job descriptions and performance evaluations: “Excluded from job descriptions and performance evaluations, the work is invisible and uncompensated. Public service relies heavily on such skills, yet civil service systems, which are designed on the assumptions of a bygone era, fail to acknowledge and compensate emotional labour.” According to Guy and Newman (2004), women working in positions that require emotional labour in addition to regular work are not compensated for this additional labour because of the sexist notion that the additional labour is to be expected of them by the fact of being a woman.

Implications

Positive affective display in service interactions, such as smiling and conveying friendliness, are positively associated with customer positive feelings, and important outcomes, such as intention to return, intention to recommend a store to others, and perception of overall service quality. There is evidence that emotional labour may lead to employees’ emotional exhaustion and burnout over time, and may also reduce employees’ job satisfaction. That is, higher degree of using emotion regulation on the job is related to higher levels of employees’ emotional exhaustion, and lower levels of employees’ job satisfaction.

There is empirical evidence that higher levels of emotional labour demands are not uniformly rewarded with higher wages. Rather, the reward is dependent on the level of general cognitive demands required by the job. That is, occupations with high cognitive demands evidence wage returns with increasing emotional labour demands; whereas occupations low in cognitive demands evidence a wage “penalty” with increasing emotional labour demands. Additionally, innovations that increase employee empowerment – such as conversion into worker cooperatives, co-managing schemes, or flattened workplace structures – have been found to increase workers’ levels of emotional labour as they take on more workplace responsibilities.

Coping Skills

Coping occurs in response to psychological stress – usually triggered by changes – in an effort to maintain mental health and emotional well-being. Life stressors are often described as negative events (loss of a job). However, positive changes in life (a new job) can also constitute life stressors, thus requiring the use of coping skills to adapt. Coping strategies are the behaviours, thoughts, and emotions that you use to adjust to the changes that occur in your life. The use of coping skills will help a person better themselves in the work place and perform to the best of their ability to achieve success. There are many ways to cope and adapt to changes. Some ways include: sharing emotions with peers, having a healthy social life outside of work, being humorous, and adjusting expectations of self and work. These coping skills will help turn negative emotion to positive and allow for more focus on the public in contrast to oneself.