Saturday, July 31, 2010


"Attack Self"

Raising children is difficult on average, always has been.  Little more than a hundred years ago if that, childhood in fact barely existed.  The common man’s life expectancy, once one made it past the early years was still short, was often not past the mid thirties and women often died in childbirth.

This is to set a stage for some “reality” that life has, yes, been for the most part nasty brutal and short. Simply a fact that it really does not take much to realize that in the world without heat and in the cold it was not to easy to feed  a baby, carry it around or clean it and it  might  be easy to see how it was easy to see it as the devil incarnate.  Evil made flesh now in “our hands” to be made “good.” Ergo the finger pointed at me the evil one that “I” the child am bad.

This has most profound implications as the child often becomes the bearer of the family’s emotional burdens.

My claim is to simply follow logic. I believe what I have stated so far. I also believe that we have a biological glue that holds us together as a family unit and that is “interest” and “joy.” – My goal in these words is to limit myself to the “here and now”, to the tangible, to  what we can glean form everyday life. - We need companionship. But once again the journey to where we are has been very rough. We are beginning to recognize in all of modern psychology the dominance of our “negative” feelings or what Silvan Tomkins preferred to call our punishing feelings. These keep us alive in a very punishing environment that, by the way, is still very punishing just made more pretty by suspended ceilings and bridges that are just as easily swept away by tsunamis’ and earthquakes.  That is our punishing feelings tell us what is “wrong” at the moment and that we should take care. As babies these are what keep us alive. They are the only way we have of communicating with our care givers that something is wrong but boy can we get on their nerves! But so again we become the “bad” ones.

 We have evolved ever so slightly from this idea that children are bad. The idea persists because it has always been a very difficult balancing act to raise children; to make a go of it. 

Lolyd DeMause, a founder of what is called “Psychohistory,”’ delineated six stages of child rearing all of which persist today. They are infanticide, abandonment, ambivalent, intrusive, socializing and helping mode and he feels the last mode which takes into consideration what the child wants for his life only to have arisen around 1950 and he claims that it is only practiced by a minority of parents.

The mother that “has” to emotionally abandon her children or worse for fear of her own life as the father demands that the mother follow his orders or she is beat or worse. One outcome: “look what happened to your mother because of you!” The adult result of this is overwhelming guilt and shame.

My point here is to concentrate on this legacy of us as children bearing the burden of the family’s emotional pain.  The theory goes that it has just been inevitable as the world is not perfect. Things only will get better slowly. Parents “have to” dissipate negative feeling somewhere. Yes, terrible thoughts and yes not “excuses” just fact. Can we do better tomorrow?

Then what are the consequences of this legacy for all of us? It is that we grow up with many ideas that we are to blame for much of our own problems and everyone else’s. Simply “I am a bad person.” Why would I not think so? Since I am been told so all along?

I cannot give many examples here but they come in all verities. Just recently someone was very enthusiastic about getting a job after a long hiatus and focusing on all their attributes and the positive aspects of the job, the good hours and low stress that the job was presented as offering. Unfortunately, the job did not work out and when they came in the next time some of the very first phrases where self accusatory phrases such as “I was not ready for that job.” “I was not right for it.” I stopped the person and made them realize this was not at all the case that it was, according to what they had said to me, simply not true.

Or the seventy year old who calls me late at night devastated and “ready to die” as she still hears her father’s voice every time she tries to fix something. “You’ll never be able to do anything.” “You’ll never amount to anything.”

This self blame becomes a way of “fixing” all kinds of problems it “avoids” all kinds of problems and “stuffs” severe emotional pain. It helps us “affiliate” with others so we “at least have someone.” We end up buying too many of the rounds. We are the “sucker” or “mark in the room.” It is a deep belief that I believe I deserve to get “screwed.”  

I once read a small study done on the general population in a Family Practice waiting room and it asked if patients in anyway had done something to hinder their care. My own analysis of the data was that a good 2/3 had; they had missed an appointment, not changed a bandage, skipped a medication dose, something, all of these things with some conscious element. We that is somehow are punishing ourselves.

All of this is to say nothing of what I believe to be the case as a medical doctor that the majority of what I see as “physical” illness is greatly influenced if not caused at some level by our “subconscious” affect system diverting “negative” affect places it might better not be. We end up in doctors’ offices.

Brian Lynch
Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

Friday, July 30, 2010



If we go through life not thinking much about our emotions, which is the ax I am continuingly grinding, then it is for certain we do not think about our five senses much. Our senses are our sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These are the portals by which we experience everything.  Each is a type of “feeling” that we are not meant to notice so much as they are to seamlessly integrate us into our every moment. Stimuli enter through these portals. We know of the famous that lack in significant ways some of their senses but have yet succeeded. One of the most famous is Helen Keller. Born a normal infant  she lost both sight and hearing at the age of 19 months  and so form that age she could only know the world through touch, taste and smell.

Silvan Tomkins teaches us that we become “conscious” of something only when we first “feel” something about it. And by “feel” he means something “emotional.”  But yet we “feel” through our senses. All senses share a type of feeling in that they are based on nerve endings reaching out and interpreting the world. So taste is a type of feeling as is smell but then we have to “feel” something about those feelings. We can be interested in a touch, or fearful of it or disgusted by it, so too a smell.

All this is by way of introducing you, for the first time, or yet again, to “feeling” as was discovered by Silvan Tomkins.  That feeling he calls “innate” or  a “born with” emotional network he  first observed in  his newborn son and then by studying the anatomy of the human face in detail and taking thousands of pictures and video taping thousands of hours of the face.  In this process he observed what no one else seemed to have observed and that was a new expression and that was the head drawn back and the upper lip drawn symmetrically curled up as we see here which he called “dissmell:”

                                                                           From "Shame and Pride," Nathanson p.123
Originally, along with Paul Ekman, Tomkins thought “contempt” covered disgust and dismell but then decided “dismell” was a unique entity.

Disgust and dissmell then go hand and hand and would seem to have their origins deep in the reptilian brain. It is well known that we are naturally protected from most poisonous food due to our sense of smell and of course taste and smell do a great job of saving us not only form other poisonous food but from  rotten and spoiled food.

This all sounds pretty benign and in fact efficient, useful and beneficial and  is. There is a big downside, however, as the system is to tell us what is  “disgusting” and “dismelling”  as time went along we started to generalize, abstract and project into the future and anticipate what would be dismelling and disgusting to us and thus be began to make errors. This is the case with all of our emotions. It is the case with say, anger; we can start to get angry at all kinds of things that in the end make no sense. With “dismesll” and “disgust” it is a bit more complicated and interwoven with our senses. Focusing on the sense of smell and emotion of “dismell” we are  reminded that we have, then, the sense of smell and that to experience that  we have to “feel” some emotion about it but one of our emotions is directly related to the sense of smell and that is “dismell”, “to get away form a smell.” We don’t have an emotion related to “to get away form” touch or to get away from seeing something. Of course all of these “to get away form” would come under “disgust” or “fear” maybe “what I see is disgusting.” But “dismell” is directly related to “smell” and “disgust” is directly related to taste when we are talking about food. 

To try and be clear I am simply saying “dissemll” and “disgust” would seem to have a special place in our emotional network as they are specially anchored having  roots not only in our senses but also in our hunger drive and yet having their own unique facial expression.

All emotion, however, in humans, has been generalized in “thought” we can apply all emotion to anything or anyone.  We can, that is, treat another person “as if they smell bad’” or "taste bad." We can also have come to have thought of ourselves as smelling bad. This is a quite common problem in general medicine. People become convinced that they smell bad. There are, of course, real physical problems that do cause body odor but then there are situations where there is no problem other than the patient convincing themselves that they have an odor.

All of this becomes much more complicated as we are so unawares of the concept of “shame.” It being this vague and poorly understood concept that we are just now becoming articulate about. But until which time that we are better at recognizing shame and even when we do it will just be a beginning to untangle the linkage that builds up among shame, dissmell and disgust.

Brian Lynch

Brian Lynch
Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)