Wednesday, September 06, 2006

basement feelings

i use the expression "basement feelings" to refer to the emotions and feelings we have, which are the not-so-glorious ones. the ones we dont sing praises of people of for experiencing -like envy, murderous anger, depression, gloom...

it used to make me uneasy when people denied the existence of an emotion altogether, but i guess its an understandable reaction given the kind of baggage that we attach to some of them. there are so many implicit moral judgements passed on a person when they confess to experiencing something like jealousy, envy or sexual desire.

my personal take on it is that its futile, crippling and sometimes dangerous to deny the existence of what we feel. these basement feelings are as much a part of the human experience as happiness, love, idealism or altruism. its important to give them too space to exist. real maturity isnt in censoring them as much as in responding to them appropriately.

mind, im not saying we should glorify 'em the way ayn rand has made selfishness fashionable! but it is important to be able to admit to ourselves that we're feeling greedy without getting defensive - its the first step towards control or correction. denial only makes it another of the Things That Mustn't Be Talked About, and causes damage to the individual and society at large.

also, our ideas of "good" and "bad" are often as stereotyped as what's "progressive" or "cool". additionally, these often get reinforced or tangled with acquired cultural and religious beliefs, so reworking them becomes more challenging, and in the process can cause a spiritual or moral crisis. (for instance, as a kid i used to be very strong on the "sex is wrong" notion - and it certainly didnt help to hear politically loaded mainstream religion. i felt like a moral write-off when i was working my way to accepting sex.) however if we dont, we end up being pretty narrow minded and limited in our tolerance of people (which i certainly was). there's also a lot of unconstructive self flagellation.

in fact, the most mature and most compassionate people i know are all ones who are in touch with their "basement feelings". they are honest about having felt whatever it was and as a result, rarely morally crucify other people.

i know some folks regard dealing with basement feelings with the same distaste as they would dabbling in ditch water. sure it can turn out that dirty a job, but its critical to do it: for one thing, its gives one a fair idea of what one really is. and for another, if we didnt have bathroom cleaners the world would be a bloody filthy place, so i wouldnt ever look down on someone digging into their muck heap! its as much a part of personal hygiene as anything else.

an afterthought:

i was chewing over this subject some more today, and was reminded of something that used to bother me when i was working as a counsellor. its merely something i observed in my limited environment:

as counsellors, in training we we're all told that we shouldnt have any biases, shouldnt let our personal attitudes carry over to the counselling sessions etc. impeccable in theory i suppose, but it just isnt realistic an expectation in practice.

for one thing, we worked with terminally ill people. often, they wanted to talk about religion, death, the soul, god, karma, forgiveness, and other philosophical issues - things that really had no textbook answers. we each tended to naturally draw on our own belief systems and culture to share those ideas which we found comfort and solace in.

at times we also broke the "ideal practice" guideline of never bringing up personal experience - sometimes it helps to know what another person in that situation did. it could be for a simple thing like how you managed to make spinach more edible for yourself when you loathed it but had to eat it, or for something like coping with the loss of a loved one.

i noticed that many of us used to actually believe that because we were so earnest about doing our jobs properly, we also had managed to overcome all our prejudices and hang-ups. in my opinion, its not possible without the person also becoming a doormat of sorts!

its critical for counsellors to be able to honestly acknowledge an emotion or prejudice without getting defensive. as long as these do not greatly hamper the counsellors ability to deal with people in that particular field, the counsellor may still be fit for the job. (eg. being anti-allopathy when counselling primarily for sexuality issues.)

it takes a great deal of personal strength to say "i'm afraid i'm not comfortable dealing with this particular issue, but i'll try and find another person who is". a counsellor faces a special kind of pressure as a person who has to live upto a stereotype of whom infinite patience, tolerance and acceptance is both demanded and taken for granted. the counselling would be valuable and more sincere if on a personal level we did some regular basement checking and spring cleaning.

my life



Anonymous GautamV said...

Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man’s values, it has to be earned.

10:57 pm  
Blogger Sriharsha Salagrama said...

how hypocritical is it to contemplate hurting someone and then taking the stand that one resisted the urge, so it's ok? What sort of moral high ground would that be? Is it not truer to behave as one's self (whatever that means to the individual) dictates?

Or, is this kind of subservience required for GCG?

7:51 am  
Blogger m. said...

gautam v: hello :)

sriharsha: very hypocritical. i spoke of appropriate response. i should think that would certainly cover questions like 1. why do i want to hurt the person? 2. is violence an appropriate reaction to being thwarted? 3. even if i think it is, does it really help matters? 4. do i need help curbing my violent urges? do i have some psychological problem for which i need to seek help?
so no, its not truer. it simply has the limited merit of directness: it doesnt make what we're being direct about any less wrong.
finally, please - im a little allergic to the "greater common good" business. too much brute-forcing sanctimoniously happens in its name.

8:08 am  
Anonymous Varshini said...

Hello M.

I believe people with probs want others to listen to them rather than getting guidence or advice. If only they need different ways to deal with, they have "friends" and "relatives" to refer to. I would say, people should be made aware of what one can expect from a counselling person and that, counsellors are doing their "job" and are not doing "service".

8:59 pm  
Blogger m. said...

varshini: hey. first, please lets not allow the do-gooders to hijack the word "service". you dont have to be a martyr to ask "how may i serve you?" - a receptionist at a hotel would be the next mother teresa then :D

true, counselling isnt *punditspeak*. (its very irritating meeting someone like that at any time, not just at a clinic!)

but at times there is some specific information that we are supposed to check that the client is aware of. (eg. in HIV, transmission modes: you dont want the person to unknowingly infect other people. or it may be about medication adherence, N & D...)

also, what you do find in reality very often, is that the person comes, has so much they want to talk about, but has serious inhibitions about actually saying things. a lot of people also feel highly vulnerable and insecure, and so seek information, reassurance, feedback, validation etc. - so you even if you wanted to, you dont get to sit mutely through a session either.

additionally, a lot of basement feelings come up not when youre talking, but when youre listening. if i were uncomfortable with homosexuality i wouldnt bring it up. but my client may want to discuss it because it concerns him/her. being able to monitor my reactions honestly then matters a hell of a lot! psuedo tolerance stinks:)

9:14 pm  
Anonymous sfumato said...

Hello m.

I am a recent addition to the list of visitors to scribble pad.
It is such a wonderful thing when you find someone who comes around and puts your thoughts into perfect words.thank you!i think "Basement feelings" need to be acknowleged as much as the acceptable human emotions,because of many reasons.By snubbing these negative feelings,they surface in other forms like body language(which is an integral part of human communication and apparently even more important than verbal communication) and our actions(passive or active) etc.This leads to trouble in interpersonal relationships.Here's a simple example,if i were jealous of a friend and tried to hide that fact and be nice.i would probably be deriving secret pleasure in her suffering(which is nothing but a vent to the bottled up emotion)and this often than not,can be sensed by the friend.It spoils the friendship for no good reason.It leads to confusion and is damaging when it is applied to a set of individuals and society at large.What results from snubbing these forbidden feelings is hypocrisy and cynicism.

It is such a sad thing that these days everyone tries to be nice to each other on the outside,instead of just being genuine.If only basement feelings were given a place.The result of brushing them under the carpet is that,there comes a phase when you don't know what you feel.It eventually piles up and blows up one fine day.Most human relations are strained because of this.There's no place for honesty.The society advocates a false show of love and affection which is not a good policy in the long run.The worst part is that we are conditioned to be that way from our childhood,that a topic like this is usually not even considered seriously to be implemented practically.This belief of hiding so called negative emotions is so widespread,that now we can't imagine any other way of living in a society!!

2:28 pm  
Blogger m. said...

sfumato: It is such a sad thing that these days everyone tries to be nice to each other on the outside,instead of just being genuine.

er. let's hope everyone is, or at least most people are, fundamentally nice?! *lol*

welcome here :)

10:06 pm  
Anonymous sfumato said...

well,by "being genuine" i meant being frank about their actual feelings instead of feigning niceness!

12:54 pm  
Anonymous sfumato said...

well,by "being genuine" i meant being frank about their actual feelings instead of feigning niceness!

12:54 pm  

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