DBT Peer Connections

Building Hope, Community and Skillful Means

PMS: A Threat or Culture That Devalues Emotional Experience?

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It seems to me the problem with PMS is not that it is something we need fear but that so many refuse to acknowledge and accept its terms of being a qualitative expression of unpleasant emotions. This not only negates a person’s real and subjectively defined experience, but also essentially reinforces the continued tradition of labeling emotions not by quality of experience but by the degree of social approval/disapproval they receive. What is it that makes American culture so emotion-phobic, and stigmatizing toward emotional expressions only admiring them when manufactured for entertainment purposes as in movies and other media?

If we were an emotionally accepting society, we would not likely be arguing about PMS because there would be no social framework necessarily interested in belittling emotional experience, an experience as essential to our existence as any of our other biologically defined sensory perceptions: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. When we attend to describing emotions as personal traits inextricable from the person, emotions become a flaw or defect in personality instead of simply another human behavior. Consider the following passage by Marsha Linehan who discusses how failure to acknowledge emotional experiences leads to further dysfunction in the person which causes the environment to become less supportive, which causes more distress in the person and so on.

Negative emotional expressions may be attributed to traits such as over reactivity, oversensitivity, paranoia, a distorted view of events, or failure to adopt a positive attitude. Behaviors that have unintended negative or painful consequences for others may be attributed to hostile or manipulative motives. Failure, or any deviation from socially defined success, is labeled as resulting from lack of motivation, lack of discipline, not trying hard enough, or the like … In any case, the individual’s private experiences and emotional expressions are not viewed as valid responses to events. (Linehan, 1993)

All judgment based assumptions do is fuel the fire of self-invalidation, misery, alienation and lack of acceptance of oneself and the world at large. Perhaps, American males are even worse off than women in the case of emotional expression as we live in a society that forbids males of expressing almost every emotion save for anger. Society has little tolerance for males expressing sadness, love, or fear without it being tied to a lack of masculinity. It is not that boys do not cry; it is that they face punishment and ridicule for expressing their human emotions, which are not qualities of gender at all.

I am an emotionally sensitive person. I cry; scream, yell occasionally, and I hated myself for many years because I had been convinced that my emotionality was a matter of choice, lack of will power. Strictly, from a perspective of someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD), I can tell you that having BPD coupled with PMS is hell, but is it something to fear? Emotionality: it is like a hurricane within me that destroys my relational ties by the ironic force of my polar nature. It manifests itself through a chaotic blend of intense desperation for love, the fear of losing it, and not having the self-esteem needed to love myself. I am often frustrated with how my fellow humans take their ability to regulate emotions for granted American society I have to go to therapy for a year to learn interpersonal skills that come naturally to others. This frustration is reasonable. However, is it reasonable to frame emotional responses in terms of danger? It seems unreasonable to me. What do you think? Either way, it is clear society is improving its acceptance of human nature’s emotional reality and still has a ways to go to come to a more wise state of mind that balances emotion and logic equally.

Since I cannot change the world; I can only change myself, to counteract my conditioned urge to hate and punish my emotions, one of the new skills I am recently practicing rooted in Zen Buddhism is Loving Kindness. I learned it at a 2 day mindfulness training with Marsha Linehan last year. I am using it to help create an opposing force, a dialectic, to my chronically accessible negative self-talk. I do this by acting opposite of my urge, sending myself love and kindness and radically accepting myself and the world, all as it is. Here is a mantra.

“I am an emotional person and I accept me and the world and all within it as is. I send love and kindness to myself, to my emotions and my emotional sensitivity and to all creation without judgment, but an open heart and mind.”

 References

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder (p. 50). New York: Guilford Press.

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Author: Rachel Gill

I am a survivor on mission to synthesize balance from division, to find dialectical healing, learn to love what I am feeling, live in the now, show my peers how.

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