The Cult of Feelings: Seeds of Emotional Pollution

The Cult of Feelings: Seeds of Emotional Pollution

Posted Apr 18, 2008

The popular psychology movement in the United States consists of hundreds of self-help books, magazines, Internet blogs, TV talk shows, and radio advice/call-in programs. The movement derives from an outdated form of psychotherapy based on the superficial doctrine that how you feel is who you are. Thus we live in a "cult of feelings," where what you feel has become at least as important as what you do. (Think of all the news interviewers who shove microphones in the faces of politicians, perpetrators, and victims alike to ask the overwhelming question, "How do you feel?") Our pop culture places greater emphasis on personal feelings than personal values, on expressing how you feel rather than doing what you deeply believe is right, and on blaming (relief of guilt and shame) rather than improving. Displays of aggressive emotions -- to justify aggressive behavior, violence, or political criticism -- dominate TV and movie screens. Self-help books claim that to be "real" you have to explore all your feelings, without regard to the fact that "exploring" feelings amplifies and magnifies, i.e., distorts them, not to mention the fact that "exploring" your own feelings makes it difficult to see anyone else apart from your reaction to them. People are now entitled to express every negative feeling they have, without regard to the effects on others, just as they felt entitled to litter a few decades ago and to smoke in public a few years ago. The result is a world rife with emotional pollution that divorces the superficial experience of emotions from their deeper meaning.

No matter how many self-help books and experts on talk shows insist that your feelings are "valid" and "appropriate," they cannot feel authentically like your own so long as they are mere reactions to someone else. If we allow the meaning of our lives to be subject to the vagaries of our reactions to the subtle emotional displays of others, we cannot help but fall into the present day quagmire of emotional pollution.

To feel genuine and empowered, like a person of substance, folks need to know more than whether their emotions are "appropriate." They need to know what they mean about the self. The meaning of our emotions cannot lie in how they feel, but in what they tell us about the current fidelity to your deepest values. No matter how "appropriate" our entitlement, resentment, or anger may seem as a reaction to others, the more important question is this:

"Is my entitlement, resentment, or anger reflecting the kind of person I want to be?"

If not, I am blaming my failure to be the person I want to be on someone else.

Steven's Amazon blog