Gabor Maté

“Like stress, emotion is a concept we often invoke without a precise sense of its meaning. And, like stress, emotions have several components. The psychologist Ross Buck distinguishes between three levels of emotional responses, which he calls Emotion I, Emotion II and Emotion III, classified according to the degree we are conscious of them. Emotion III is the subjective experience, from within oneself. It is how we feel. In the experience of Emotion III there is conscious awareness of an emotional state, such as anger or joy or fear, and its accompanying bodily sensations. Emotion II comprises our emotional displays as seen by others, with or without our awareness. It is signalled through body language — “non-verbal signals, mannerisms, tones of voices, gestures, facial expressions, brief touches, and even the timing of events and pauses between words. [They] may have physiologic consequences — often outside the awareness of the participants.”

It is quite common for a person to be oblivious to the emotions he is communicating, even though they are clearly read by those around him. Our expressions of Emotion II are what most affect other people, regardless of our intentions. A child’s displays of Emotion II are also what parents are least able to tolerate if the feelings being manifested trigger too much anxiety in them. As Dr. Buck points out, a child whose parents punish or inhibit this acting-out of emotion will be conditioned to respond to similar emotions in the future by repression. The self-shutdown serves to prevent shame and rejection. Under such conditions, Buck writes, “emotional competence will be compromised…. The individual will not in the future know how to effectively handle the feelings and desires involved. The result would be a kind of helplessness.” The stress literature amply documents that helplessness, real or perceived, is a potent trigger for biological stress responses. Learned helplessness is a psychological state in which subjects do not extricate themselves from stressful situations even when they have the physical opportunity to do so. People often find themselves in situations of learned helplessness — for example, someone who feels stuck in a dysfunctional or even abusive relationship, in a stressful job or in a lifestyle that robs him or her of true freedom.

Emotion I comprises the physiological changes triggered by emotional stimuli, such as the nervous system discharges, hormonal output and immune changes that make up the flight-or-fight reaction in response to threat. These responses are not under conscious control, and they cannot be directly observed from the outside. They just happen. They may occur in the absence of subjective awareness or of emotional expression. Adaptive in the acute threat situation, these same stress responses are harmful when they are triggered chronically without the individual’s being able to act in any way to defeat the perceived threat or to avoid it. Self-regulation, writes Ross Buck, “involves in part the attainment of emotional competence, which is defined as the ability to deal in an appropriate and satisfactory way with one’s own feelings and desires.” Emotional competence presupposes capacities often lacking in our society, where “cool” — the absence of emotion — is the prevailing ethic, where “don’t be so emotional” and “don’t be so sensitive” are what children often hear, and where rationality is generally considered to be the preferred antithesis of emotionality. The idealized cultural symbol of rationality is Mr. Spock, the emotionally crippled Vulcan character on Star Trek.”


Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress
Read more quotes from Gabor Maté


Share this quote:
Twitter icon

Friends Who Liked This Quote


To see what your friends thought of this quote, please sign up!

1 like
All Members Who Liked This Quote



This Quote Is From

When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Maté
2,083 ratings, average rating, 272 reviews

Browse By Tag