Feelings — also known as emotions — are a natural and healthy part of being human. Feelings are far-ranging and diversely expressed, and include things like sadness, contentment, joy, happiness, embarrassment, overwhelm, confusion, playfulness, anxiousness, mischievousness, anger, grief, and sometimes, downright terror.
Many mental health experts use ‘feelings charts’ to help kids identify feelings, and I believe such charts are useful across the ages (as well for more accurately rating physical pain, also across the ages):
A more expanded range of feelings and emotions:
Emotions are normal, natural, healthy responses to our environment and whatever stimuli we are experiencing, or not experiencing.
For example, if someone assaults us, we will not like it. We will feel hurt, confused, angry, or scared. Some of us would reflexively self-defend and fight back, while others would freeze or run. Freeze, flight and fight are the standard life responses to danger among all beings, including humans.
American psychiatrist, researcher, teacher, author and trauma expert Judith Herman explains:
Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings, we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.
To begin an article by explaining and describing feelings and emotions as normal, natural human responses speaks volumes to how backwards the so-called “civilized” world is and how much it has devolved from being human.
The normal human phenomenon of feeling is getting so lost and misunderstood that we are being told our feelings are “disorders” or “illnesses” in need of “treatment.”
The human experience of having emotions is increasingly being judged, policed and punished.
There exists a cultural fear of, and backlash to people feeling and expressing their emotions. This is resulting in humanphobia and is especially the case in the world of psychiatry/psychology and its “mental illness” diagnoses and “treatments”.
Mental, emotional and spiritual pain is very real and requires tending to, but when it comes to treatment, it is nothing like treating a broken bone or other physical injury or illness. Sidebar: Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a real and serious thing, but they are not mental illnesses — they are physical injuries to the head which affect the brain and its functioning.
How did being human and feeling our feelings result in an explosion of mental “illnesses” and “disorders”?
So-called “mental illnesses” and “mental disorders” come from a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM”), which was created by a group of alleged experts (see image below). This book is currently in its 5th edition and grows thicker with each revision.
The DSM is a useless, harmful document based entirely on a PHILOSOPHICAL ASSUMPTION that “mental disorders” are medical conditions.
Why else would the DSM list homosexuality as a “mental illness” (only removed in the 1970’s and replaced with the more modern label “gender dysphoria”)? This is wholly philosophical mental gymnastics, grounded in homophobia and misogyny to boot.
To pathologize someone is to consider them or their behaviour(s) psychologically abnormal or unhealthy. The makers of the DSM have essentially pathologized the human experience — specifically, the part where we have feelings and reactions to the world around us. This makes it impossible to heal because WE MUST FEEL TO HEAL.
University of Toronto professor Bonnie Burstow, a radical feminist therapist and prolific author, explains that diagnosing people using psychiatry’s medical/biological framework “cannot do justice to the psychological misery of people’s lives, never mind the social conditions that give rise to the misery.”
Retired professor, feminist, writer and activist Georgia NeSmith succinctly summarizes:
In short, the “science” of psychiatry/psychology is blind to systemic conditions and interprets all psychological problems as inherent in the individual, rather than a product of the existing organization of power relations.
As Nazanin Moghadami, a Registered Clinical Counsellor in Vancouver B.C. so aptly puts it:
The DSM fails everyone, even the cisgender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied folks. And if you’re coming from any cultural background other than that, you’re just mentally ill. The DSM is sex-shaming, life-shaming, grief-shaming and emotion-shaming. I really hope that we can collectively move towards trauma-informed, healing-centered care towards all beings that includes animals, nature and our planet.
Trauma-informed, healing centered mental health CARE means a) caring about, and b) tending to people’s trauma wounds by 1) doing tons of genuine, empathetic validating of their story(ies), especially their traumatic experiences, 2) making and holding a SAFE SPACE for the expression of all the feelings attached to the trauma(s), and 3) collaboratively working to undo damaging scripts and behaviors that these wounds imprint on the psyche (e.g. shame, fear, self‐loathing), and gradually replacing them with kinder, more self‐compassionate scripts and behaviors.
Therapies other than talk therapy are diverse and powerful. Animal therapy such as equine (horse) therapy has long been known to be incredibly effective, especially for treating trauma. Art therapies such as music, body work, dancing, acting, writing, painting and drawing do wonders for people’s mental, emotional and spiritual health. Activism and social justice work can also be incredibly powerful, therapeutic and empowering.
The power of art is magnified when it acts as a connection and change agent, because it begins to break down and reverse the formula for dis-empowerment:
Telling our story — in whatever way comes easiest and most natural to us — helps us understand who we are, and hearing other people’s stories is how we learn valuable, transformative life lessons.
The power of connection and storytelling cuts across all cultures and binds us in our collective humanity.
As Hannah Gadsby says, *connection* is the focus of the stories we need.
Connection is a core component of healing, and support is critical to help us get through difficult times in life.
The world of psychiatry and other mental health spaces that pathologize human distress (by labeling people “mentally ill”) and then “treat” alleged “mental disorders” do so in two ways:
(1) Coercing people into taking brain-damaging psychiatric drugs (i.e. anti-psychotics and anti-depressants (SSRI’s & SNRI’s)) which INCREASE rates of depression, suicidality and homicidality (source), and (2) Coercing people into seizure-inducing electro-shock “therapy”, which is now called “ECT” — electro-convulsive therapy — a brain-damaging and incredibly harmful psychiatric assault.
SOCIAL CONTROL— not healing — is the bedrock of psychiatry. From this perspective, the DSM and its “diagnoses” and “treatments“ are highly effective because they render people POWERLESS.
Bonnie Burstow concisely summarizes the situation:
Psychiatry alienates people from their capacity to name, invalidates people’s conceptualizations, imposes a stigmatized identity on them, places them on paths not of their own choosing, deprives them of liberty, and imposes harmful treatments on them.
Ineffective, inhumane psychiatric “treatments” are traumatic and result in MORE distress and problems, and get people further away from healing, normalcy, health and balance.
The more that we accept the idea of mental illness, the more dis-empowering, emotion-shaming and human-phobic our culture becomes.
Our feelings are what make us human and alive.
Only by moving directly towards and into mental, emotional and spiritual woundedness with RESPECT, LOVE and SUPPORT, can we begin to reduce and heal it.
The late John Trudell, a mind un‐mining poet and Indigenous rights activist, has said:
This thing about falling apart, it doesn’t go away. Time doesn’t have that magic. Distance is one thing. But magic is something else. And there are some falling aparts there is no magic can fix.
Indeed some mental, emotional and spiritual pain is too deep and too painful to fully “recover” from. That said, the intensity of this suffering can be reduced — over time and with much patience — when RESPECT, EMPATHY and tons of SUPPORT is received — from others and from ourselves.
We need as much support as we can get, for as long as we need, in order to get through what we’re going through. This kind of connective healing support does not come from labels or chemical lobotomies or seizure-inducing electroshocks to the brain, it comes from respectful, thoughtful people with kind and open hearts who safely MAKE SPACE for one another’s pain.
Only after taking the time and space we need to heal, can we begin to restore balance between our deep fragility AND fierce resilience. This is the essence of being human.
NOTE: This article is for the vast majority of The People. It does not apply to ~5% (?) of the world’s population such as those afflicted with the very real dis-ease of psychopathy and sociopathy, and who inflict infinite terrors upon others (including whole cultures) and who need to be kept away from The People for safety. That is a separate article.