This post comes from a discussion I was having with someone happily unconnected to professional philosophy. It concerns something I started thinking about some years ago, when I first heard about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which was supposed to be the first effective therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder. I was very curious for a number of reason, not least of which was my perplexity at what could be called that. And I think the book I’m going to quote from was the only thing at the time that didn’t cost a huge amount.
Still, lots of incidents over the last several years, and recent cyber discussions have reminded me that lots of us use an idea of normal emotional reactions. And this idea has normative implications. The non-normal is wrong, bad, etc.
so it seems to me useful to remind ourselves that our baseline emotional reactions may vary a great. One person who has an unpleasant encounter on Thurs may be struggling with it still a week later (or more) while another cannot understand why they cannot get over it. So the empirically reasonably well-informed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy tells us
A lot of people struggle with overwhelming emotions. It’s as if the knob is turned to maximum volume on much of what they feel. When they get angry or sad or scared, it shows up as a big, powerful wave that can sweep them off their feet.If you’ve faced overwhelming emotions in your life, you know what we’re talking about. There are days when your feelings hit you with the force of a tsunami. …
There’s a fair amount of research to suggest that the likelihood of developing intense, overwhelming emotions may be hardwired from birth. But it can also be greatly affected by trauma or neglect during childhood. Trauma at critical points in our development can literally alter our brain structure in ways that make us more vulnerable to intense, negative emotions. However, the fact that a propensity to intense emotions is often rooted in genetics or trauma doesn’t mean the problem can’t be overcome.
This sort of reaction is still seen as a problem because one may well have better things to do. And if pathology gets mixed in, it can become very socially destructive.
***this ends the didactic part of this post. What follows might be a quiz. ****
The book is actually full of internet stuff about mindfulness, but I was quit flummoxed by an early exercise. It concerns practicing radical acceptance. This means just accepting what’s happened without judgment or evaluation.
Here’s part of the list:
-Read a controversial story in the newspaper without being judgmental about what has occurred.
-The next time you get caught in heavy traffic, wait without being critical.
-Watch the world news on television without being critical of what’s happening.
-Listen to a news story or a political commentary on the radio without being judgmental.
I actually manage #2. I’m tempted to try a transcendental argument for the impossibility of the others. What do you think?