Put an end to the injunction to benevolence

“We are increasingly called upon to feel benevolence. It’s like the health pass during a pandemic, it must be produced systematically. Result, it is proclaimed, but more and more feigned. Including in a situation like parenthood where we are enjoined to experience exclusively generous emotions such as love, gratitude, joy or empathy.

Stéphanie Hahusseau does not go there by four paths. In Let your emotions live. Without guilt or anxiety, which has just been released by Editions Odile Jacob, the Parisian psychiatrist and psychotherapist challenges this contemporary refusal of the evil in us. “Any human being unable to discern in himself hatred, jealousy, envy, resentment, bitterness, anger or fear is a dangerous person for himself and for others,” she warns.

Embedding the Chaos Within

The idea for this book? Recognize your darkest emotions, consider them without panicking, because they are just a part of us, they do not define us, and begin to digest them. As a good therapist, Stéphanie Hahusseau does not stop at the observation. She gives techniques to integrate, then disintegrate this chaos in oneself.

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Like envy for example. The consumer society is hypocritical. It may well be based on competition – having more and better than its neighbor – but it asks the citizen not to drool over the successes of others like Tex Avery’s wolf and to show detachment. However, “when we are taught to be ashamed of a negative emotion, we double the psychological damage since shame is itself an emotion. From then on, our reactions are more and more toxic”, diagnoses the psychiatrist. In any case, impossible to repress an emotion. If the undesirable leaves the mind, it “manifests itself in the body” and eventually comes out uncontrollably.

The risks of alexithymia

This inability to recognize negative emotions has a name. Alexithymia. It is neither repression nor inhibition, for both of these actions presuppose a conscious restraint. People with alexithymia are unable to identify their affects. When they talk about an emotional situation, “they stay very general in their stories, are often a bit boring, get lost in factual details to the detriment of the feelings that animated them”.

Also read: Ruminating ruins health? How to get out of the downward spiral

Antiquity was already wary of emotions, notes the psychotherapist. Called “passions”, which comes from pathe (“suffering” in Greek), they seemed excessive or feigned to the philosopher Aristotle. Except anger, valued in men as a virile quality and (already) decried in women. Small shift, then, among the Romans. Inspired by Seneca the Stoic, this society began to “associate self-control and cold mastery with virility and excess of emotions with feminine nature”. The word “emotion” appears in the 16th century when, again, “impassibility or dissimulation” marked nobility, when excesses signaled popular anchoring.

dictatorship of humor

To reverse this tendency of stubborn control over the centuries, “we are now rocking into emotional overexpression by adopting positions that prescribe good emotions and moralize bad ones,” notes the psychiatrist.

Which also condemns laughter, even if it is dark. “Excessive use of black humor could indicate psychological distress.” As you can imagine, Stéphanie Hahusseau does not like bright laughter either. “Today you have to be light, not take things tragically, laugh at everything, etc. I wonder if we have not entered into a form of dictatorship of humor.

“Gone are the days of the guillotine”

So let’s stop censoring the worst in us, claims the shrink. Let’s stop thinking of ourselves as Jesus Christ. And above all, let’s stop “thinking that there are strictly physical evils and strictly psychic evils”. “The time of the guillotine is over: head and body are not separated”, ironically the author, who gives her advice to “feel and get out of it”.

Already, “to feel”. “It’s little talked about and yet not feeling plays a role in obesity, diabetes, learning difficulties, panic attacks, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism, substance abuse and more generally stress and anxiety disorders”, identifies the specialist. These self-deaf people lack interoception, that is, “deep perception of their internal bodily states.” However, in order to properly feel one’s emotions and process them rationally, one must first identify one’s feelings.

A bridge of affect

What to do when you seem cut off from your body? You have to practice, replies the psychotherapist, “even if you feel like you’re wasting your time”. Stéphanie Hahusseau offers three exercises. The first? Go through our body from the top of the skull to the tips of our feet and list on a sheet “all our places of discomfort, trying to describe the discomfort and define its intensity from 1 to 10”.

In a second step, you can place your hand on the painful area, without doing anything. The heat relaxes and the simple contact sharpens the conscience much better than an approximate massage.

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Finally, and this is the most elaborate and targeted phase, when one has excessive emotion in relation to a situation, one can “feel the most uncomfortable place in the body at the moment of this emotion, delimit contours while trying to perceive the breathing around and let come a memory dating from before our 10 years”. We then create a “bridge of affect”, informs the therapist. We catch the image that comes, we describe it with as much detail as possible, then we ask ourselves again where we feel the body the most. With this practice, “we erode tough traumatic residues, we change the emotional conclusions and we see changes”.

Judgment is constructive

Ok for dark emotions, but what about tense prejudices? “Already do not attempt to suppress them, because studies have shown that when you fight against these thoughts, they tend to grow.” No need to create counter-stereotypes either, continues the shrink. Going from “women are less intelligent” to “women are smarter” keeps said women in “condescending essentialization”.

Either way, she notes, judgments are “necessary to understand the world.” “Since we were children, we have grouped animals, people from the village, strangers, adults, children, by category… Unless you are a cow watching the trains go by, it is impossible not to have judgments!”

Ask the evil

Certainly, but what to do when these judgments limit us or limit others? You have to assume them, not be afraid to name them, then place them on a table and consider them without aggression, as a curiosity. “A study has shown that it is not aggression that best combats stereotypes, but the invitation to cognitive flexibility”, argues the therapist, insisting on the fact that we must be able to discuss everything.

Evil is within us and it has its legitimacy: it tells something about our affects and our past, says Stéphanie Hahusseau. It’s up to us to identify him, question him and coax him.

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