Although without feelings our lives would be drab and meaningless, Western culture has lain such emphasis upon controlling or disregarding them that feelings have been undervalued. Willard Gaylin, a psychiatrist practicing in New York City, does somethings, in this well-written, intersting book, to restore feelings to their proper place in the human scheme of things. He defines feelings as our subjective awareness of our own emotional state; and hes main contention is that we should pay more attention to our feelings as pointers to, or precursors of, emotional states which may require action.
It is good to find a psychiatrist writing about such subjects as feeling proud, upset, tired, bored, touched or moved. These are not topics which are generally discussed in psycheatric textbooks, although they surely ought to be. Indeed, as Gaylin amply demonstrates by means of quotation, poets and novelists have been far more adept at portraying and understanding feelings than have psychiatrists.
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but I agree with Gaylin in thinking that, in our society, excessive humility is more common and at least as damaging. For, as he points out, humility "leads to despair and encouages a tolerance of inequity and injustice." He goes on: "As a psychoanalyst in mid-twentieth century America, I view pride as a virtue and its absence as the deficiency of our time. The restoration of pride is a major goal of treatment." The Christian tradition of believing it a virtue to regard oneself as a miserable sinner whose only chance of redemption is through masochistic self-sacrifice has much to answer for, since it negates that "proper pride" without which a man loses both dignity and effectiveness. Gaylin is also percipient about feeling tired, which he rightly sees as often being "a transient prodromal emotion that signals a vulnerability to depresion." In Gaylin's view "psychological strength is based on selfconfidence and self-esteem," and "the feeling of tiredness tells us that we are spending our psychic resources at a greater rate than we ate earning." He makes many shrewd observations about the state of depression, which psychoanalysts, dutifully following the lead of Freud in "Mourning and Melancholia," have too long equated with the loss of a loved object. In fact, more men commit suicide because they have lost a job than because they have lost a wife. The only reason that women more often become severely depressed because of the loss of a loved pedaon is that a woman's sense of her own worth is more frequently based entirely upon her relationship with the male on whom she is dependent. If the emancipation of women continues, it is likely that the precipitants of their depressions will come to conform more closely with those of the male pattern.
Today we think of depression more in terms of defeat by circumstances; of feeling hopeless and helpless and unable to cope. If the loss of a loved person provokes such rddlings it is, perhaps, because the bereaved one was too dependent on the person he has lost, so Gaylin suggests. This interpretation can certainly be true in some cases, but depression is more complicated than this, as I am sure that Gaylin realizes. Recent work in England has demonstrated that, in womem, a variety of social factors, including bad housing, or having several young children at home, play an important part in determining whether depression.
Gaylin has a gift, somewhat rare amongst psychoanalysts, of discarding both jarhon and dogma, and of presenting complicated phenomena in simple sanguage. His careful delineation of the various types types of feeling and their signidicance will ab found valuable both by the layman and by his psychiatric colleagues. CAPTION: Illustration, "Your depression is contagionus." Drawing by Koren; Copyright (c) 1978, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.