The History of Emotions (and a contest to celebrate the launch of a new book!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions lately, for a lot of reasons.

One was Veterans Day. Nothing makes our hearts swell quite so much as thinking about the sacrifice our troops make for us.

So first, let me say a huge THANK YOU to all the brave men and women through the years who have left home and family in order to protect and preserve our country! We owe you everything. Big HUGS to all of you!!!

The other day, I stumbled across this interesting tidbit. The English word, emotion, comes from the Latin word, exmovere, which literally means “to move out.” Ah, apparently the ancient Romans knew a thing or two about emoting. They got it that feelings needed to “move out” of us, not be suppressed or bottled up.

This made me curious, so I went cruising around the cybersphere to see how different cultures feel about feelings. Here are some of the random things I discovered that you can use to impress your friends at the next party you attend.

The Giriami people of coastal Kenya don’t separate reason from emotion, nor do they feel the need to segregate emotions from one another. Their word utsungu refers to bitterness, resentment, anger and grief–feelings that are often experienced together.

For the Ifaluk of the Caroline Islands, emotions are a social event. One of their emotion words is song, refering to justifiable anger at someone who has behaved inappropriately toward you. That person, when they find out you are experiencing song, is supposed to feel metagu. This word translates as fear/anxiety but it’s probably more about guilt and fear of social rejection. However, if the person who supposedly caused the song does not feel the anger is justified, then the two parties negotiate how they should feel, and depending on the situation, others may join the discussion.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. On the one hand, they’re talking–always a good thing. But on the other hand, emotions determined by a committee? Yikes!

Most Native American cultures view emotions as part and parcel of the whole human experience–body, mind, emotion, spirit and the social context are inseparable. One’s goal is to remain in harmony within oneself, and also with others and nature. Physical illness is viewed as evidence that something is out of harmony and the healer’s task is to help the afflicted person regain that harmony.

Hmm, very interesting. In other words, many very old cultures, that would be considered ‘primitive’ by the standards of modern industrialized society, view emotions as a natural part of being human that is inseparable from reason or even from our bodies.

So how did Americans end up being so–well uptight I guess would be the best word–about emotions?

A little more messing around with Google and I had some answers. Seems that started with the Romans as well, although they never intended to promote the suppression of emotions.

They pretty much invented civilization. The Latin word civilitas, from which our words civilization and civility are derived, has several translations: politics/government, citizenship, and the behavior of an ordinary person. The Romans believed that every person, in order to be a good citizen, should behave in a manner that would avoid social friction. (The key word being behave.)

Cicero Maccari--fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome

The Romans invented the Senate–now we know who to blame! (public domain in USA)

This concept of civilitas became one of the basic building blocks of European societies. Regardless of what one was feeling, the expectation was that one would behave in a civilized manner, i.e., exhibit self-control. Makes sense. We can’t be civilized if everybody is running around impulsively acting out every emotion!

So things hum along for quite a few centuries with most folks trying to be civilized, except when they were trying to conquer each other.

Then along comes the Age of Enlightenment, also referred to as the Age of Reason. There’s some debate about when exactly this age started, but it was somewhere between 1650 and 1700. A bunch of philosophers started to question two time-honored traditions, the authority of the church and the idea that monarchs were ordained by God to rule. They introduced the novel idea that all human beings could think for themselves. Wow, what a concept!

 A lot of great stuff came out of the Enlightenment, including the scientific method, democracy, free enterprise, the concepts of individual freedom and religious tolerance, the spread of literacy and the idea that books should be available to all people, not just the upper classes.

Unfortunately, however, as this movement took hold, the idea that reason should rule supreme evolved into a distrust of emotion. Emotions were the enemy of rationality. They were evil. Now it was no longer sufficient to control your behavior. Now you were supposed to control your feelings as well. It wasn’t enough that you refrained from hitting your neighbor or calling him names when you were mad at him; you were not supposed to feel that way!

The Age of Enlightenment gave way to Romanticism in the late 1700’s and emotions came back into vogue in Europe. But in the meantime, the British colonies in America had gone and thrown themselves a revolution and they were now the United States–a country founded on the concepts of the Enlightenment. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are pure Enlightenment philosophy.

The Romantic Era not only influenced art and literature in Europe, it had a huge impact on politics and nationalism there. American art and literature were also strongly influenced by it, but from a philosophy of life standpoint, the rugged individualists who’d braved leaving their homelands to settle in a new land still preferred the ideals of the Enlightenment.

So the attitudes toward emotion did not swing very far back toward the middle ground in the U.S. It was okay for poets and artists to be emotional but the rest of us were still expected to keep a lid on our feelings.

 Now as a psychologist and professor of developmental psychology, I know research has established that all human beings, regardless of race, culture or gender, feel the same feelings. We are born with the same basic emotions.

crying newborn

Indeed, we come into the world howling in protest, which is considered a sign of good lungs! (photo by Ernest F of his daughter, from Wikimedia Commons)

Tiny babies express happiness, interest, surprise, distress and disgust. Anger, fear and sadness show up around six months old. In the second year of life, pride, guilt and shame, called the self-conscious emotions, develop as the toddler realizes s/he is a separate entity from others, that s/he has a ‘self.’

Almost all other emotions are variations or combinations of these basic ones. We all feel these emotions. What varies from culture to culture is to what degree and in what way we express them. And how much we are allowed to acknowledge them within ourselves.

I also know, as a psychologist, that you really can’t suppress emotions. Pushing them down and trying to ignore them just makes them go underground, and then they’re likely to come out in unexpected and undesirable ways. One of my professors in college used the analogy of a volcano to describe the futility of suppressing emotions, especially anger. He said that if we manage to drop a huge boulder in the crater and stop the volcano from erupting, the pressure from the hot lava is still there. It will look for every crack and fissure in the sides of the mountain to come spewing out.

spewing lava

Lava spewing from side of volcano (Stromboli, Italy–photo by Wolfgangbeyer at German language Wikipedia)

So the Romans had it right, all those centuries ago. We have to move emotions out of our systems in some way, shape or form, but in a civilized manner.

Another reason emotions have been on my mind lately is because of the new book I’m launching today in my Kate Huntington Mystery series. Of course there’s an intriguing mystery to be solved, but the other theme of the story is what happens to the main characters when they are being hounded by the paparazzi (often not a very civilized bunch). How do they cope as their feelings of frustration and helplessness build up?

Check it out below. And there’s a contest to win free stuff! You even get a free e-book of the first novel in the series just for entering the contest.

And don’t forget to tell me what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we handle feelings in our society? And those of you outside the U.S., how do you think your culture’s approach to emotions is different or similar to ours? 

Celebrity Status, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Kate is now married to Skip Canfield, the man who patiently courted her through the last two books in this mystery series, and life is good. Skip’s private investigating agency may be doing a little too well, however. They’ve attracted their first celebrity client, a pop singer whose anonymous stalker has a twisted concept of love. Before Skip realizes just how twisted, he involves first his psychotherapist wife and then their lawyer friend, Rob Franklin, in the case.

Soon they are being hounded by paparazzi and someone is planting evidence to convince Skip that Kate and Rob are lovers. As they try to cope with this onslaught of unwanted attention and a stalker who will stop at nothing to remove the obstacles in his path, Kate and Skip struggle with the reality that you can’t always keep those you love from harm.

About the Author

Author Kassandra Lamb

Writing and psychology have always vied for number one on my Greatest Passions list. Since psychology was more likely to pay the bills, that’s what I studied (I’m partial to eating). But now that I’m retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, I can spend most of my time in an alternate universe in which my protagonist, Kate Huntington, is always the kind, generous and insightful person I wish I was. When not at my computer, transported in mind and spirit into Kate’s world, I live in Florida and Maryland, with my husband and my Alaskan Husky, Amelia. I hang out a lot on Twitter and Facebook as well, so feel free to track me down there.

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The prize: a $30 gift certificate from Amazon, a canvas tote bag and a signed paperback copy of Celebrity Status. EVERY person that enters the contest will get an ebook of the first book in the series, Multiple Motives.

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13 thoughts on “The History of Emotions (and a contest to celebrate the launch of a new book!)

  1. Andrew T. Kuligowski

    I’m always in for a new mystery (even if this is the 2nd in a series!). You asked favorite celebrity … it’d have to be the authors who take the time to communicate with their readers, either collectively or one-on-one. I’ve chatted with several, some relatively known, and some not so much – at least not yet.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      I wholeheartedly agree, Andrew. Most of the authors I’ve met at writers’ conferences are very down to earth, humble even. I’ve never met any who weren’t willing to talk to newbies like myself or to readers. Readers are our life-blood; without you all what we do becomes pointless. I’ve heard a couple horror stories though. May I never get so famous that I forget from whence I came. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Oh, Pat, I was so resisting the urge to go there when I was writing this! We have certainly lost the art of ‘civl discourse’ in that arena. Ironically, in our efforts, as a society, to separate emotion from reason (by suppressing the former) we actually all too often end up losing control of the emotions. We get blindsided by them when they come bubbling up. And then we’re trying to justify to ourselves why we’re saying and doing whatever we’re saying and doing in response to those feelings we don’t even understand ourselves. I have never before seen so many bright people say and do so many not so bright things as I have in the last year, both publicly and privately, politicians and private citizens! So glad the election is over!!!

      Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Thanks, Emma! So glad you enjoyed the post. My husband is a linguist so I have come to appreciate how much we can learn by looking at the origins of words.

      Reply
  2. Shannon Esposito

    As a very emotional person (no, I can’t even watch sad commercials) this has been one of my biggest struggles, how to let myself feel the emotions and then let go of them. Without stuffing them down or beating myself up for being weak or even acting on them. Meditation has been a big help with this for me. Great post 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Oh, yes, I am a huge fan of meditation, Shannon. It’s a great way to stay in touch with ourselves and get centered. Emotions are definitely tough to deal with–how do we let ourselves feel them without being overwhelmed by them. I’ll be doing some more posts on certain specific emotions soon.

      Reply
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