Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HfC day 16 Fat is not a feeling...

This prompt made me laugh because, about a year ago, there was a big to do in the ED unit where I was receiving treatment. Two nurses had started a body image group (compulsory part of the group programme). The trouble was that neither of them had experience of running this group ... and it's the group that tends to cause the most anxiety and distress among patients. I stated outright that I would not attend, having previously had very bad experience of such groups but after the first session, all my friends came out fuming.

The session was based on the very same statement as this prompt. But when the girls (and all the patients on the unit at that time were female) offered their thoughts on alternative feelings in a brainstorm, the nurses claimed that things like 'guilt', 'fear', 'disgust', etc, were not feelings. Apparently they'd read a book that stated that there are only 4 human feelings. Therefore, they wanted everyone to fit their emotional experience onto one of the 4 feelings that are "correct". I think we can all agree that fat isn't a feeling, even though feelings of fat are incredibly real when one is experiencing them. But to tell people that they aren't experiencing guilt or fear or self-disgust because those aren't "correct" feelings is bizarre, to say the least.

I spoke to a psychologist about it to try to get to the bottom of this '4 feelings' theory. He said that perhaps it was a correlation of a few different bits of psychological research. Generally, he said, there are something like 6 or 7 accepted "feelings" and it's usually possible to plot all the variations and distinctions of individual emotion onto one of those 6 or 7 basic notions. And there's also something complicated going on with how we distinguish between a 'feeling' and an 'emotion'.

I'm not sure where this post is going, except to say that the following week, that incarnation of the body image group ended in acrimony with a rather large argument between the facilitators and the patients. And that, obviously, it is a crucial step in the long recovery process when you realise that very real feelings about your body are, in fact, the way that your brain is coping with very real feelings and emotions about other things, especially when those things are simply too painful to cope with.

My difficulty has always been that I can grasp the intellectual concepts behind theories of illness. I understand it all perfectly on an intellectual level. The problem is in the disparity between intellectual knowledge and emotional belief. One of my uni supervisors (who is a very wise man) talked about this in relation to affective piety in the medieval period, i.e. that sitting through a dramatic version of the Crucifixion can shift someone from understanding the Christian story in theory, as an interesting story in a book, to a place where they believe emotionally in the pain of the sacrifice.

We all have to keep trying to move towards truly believing that fat feelings aren't true, simultaneously attempting to find other ways to cope with the real emotions that we experience.

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