Why is it that some give thanks for gifts, while others quietly mutter a mundane “thank you”? Why is it that someone is openly proud of his son’s successes, and someone else advises him not to rejoice before his time? Why do people look composed and unperturbed when a completely different reaction is called for?
We can assume that these people suffer from anhedonia and have a decreased capacity for pleasure. They really don’t feel joy, euphoria, elation, elation of the moment-and that could be a sign of depression.
But the subject of our interest is something else – feelings of warmth, gratitude, delight that for some reason are difficult or impossible for a person to feel, even if he hits a huge jackpot at Casino Woo. Any practicing therapist will confirm how common this phenomenon is – to contain the joy, not being able to express the feeling naturally and easily. Let’s look at why this is the case.
Poise, restraint, equanimity are the characteristics of socially approved behavior. In society, they are considered a true virtue. Being an adult means being able to express feelings in an acceptable and safe way, but sometimes something goes wrong, and there is an unconscious choice between “expressing in an acceptable way” and “not expressing at all” in favor of the latter.
Basic personality patterns are formed in the early years of life, and so are the first skills of holding back your emotional impulses. This correlates with one of the phases of psychosexual development in which parents accustom the child to the toilet.
Imagine a toddler who is made aware that there is something about him that requires his personal effort to hold on to. The reward for such an effort is high; it is an honor and a serious step toward becoming an adult. The child feels that the emotional explosions also come from within, as does what is left in the pot. It all has to be controlled or else shame, embarrassment, and general disapproval. He is forced to give up what is natural in favor of what is acceptable.
If the fixation occurs at this stage, the person develops an obsessive-compulsive personality organization with conflict played out between restraint of anger and fear of retaliation. Emotions that the child is forbidden to express, he or she still experiences, but fears punishment – and so learns to control.
Magical thinking prevails in the minds of many adults, and it is difficult to cope with it on a conscious level. It is about the belief that good emotions cannot be shown because they will end or immediately turn into bad ones. Of course, none of the adults say directly that joy is not allowed – they ask the child to calm down when they are overexcited, for example, by a holiday or a gift.
Some parents see the child as an extension, as part of themselves. They think he already knows what emotions the parent is experiencing, so there is no point in praising, expressing pride and joy. Also, in adulthood, the partner can feel like a part of himself, which does not need to explain anything – he, this part, understands everything anyway. This greatly impoverishes the relationship and complicates communication in the couple.