Anyone interested in working with people where self-understanding and self-acceptance for oneself and one’s clientele is part of the quest will find this workshop relevant. The topic is toleration of affect, that is, the extent to which one is open to or closed to affect processes in oneself and others. I hope to introduce you to new concepts and help you view some familiar ideas through a bit of a different prism, thus perhaps creating new perspectives. The workshop is designed to provide you with a variety of opportunities for observing this intriguing process of toleration of affect in yourselves, each other, your clients, and the world at large. As an aid in this process, we will use video excerpts of characters from various films. Viewing ourselves and others through the prism of toleration of affect puts us at the center, the core, of the operating self. Entering through this passage puts our fingers at the control levers. I hope this workshop creates some excitement for you about the possibilities that this perspective presents. As we go along, you’ll come to appreciate how influential the process of toleration of affect is in controlling our communication, our behavior, and our lives; and further, as we progress through the workshop we will focus on creative and constructive ways to utilize this new knowledge.
Casual observation of ourselves’ and others reveals distinct patterns of preference and/or toleration for the kinds of feelings and
feeling states that we welcome, accept, reject, or avoid. Similarly, it is apparent that there are vast differences between people and between groups in their affect responses to various life situations. Some of these tolerances are transient and mood-specific, and other tolerances are profoundly abiding and consistent. Our tolerances of affect also vary in the degree to which they are consciously acknowledged, ranging from affirmatively asserted to avoidantly denied. Let’s look at some examples.
Sam, a 41-year-old marketing executive in an advertising agency, was feeling frustrated and depressed. He was being out-competed at work by an arch-rival for a partnership position in the firm. Seth, his oldest child, was feeling insecure and was acting disturbed in his first weeks in kindergarten, causing Sam to have to grapple with feelings of being ashamed of and rageful at Seth for being “a baby.” Concomitantly, Sam was flooded with guilt feelings and feelings of self-loathing for his critical harshness towards his son. His wife Sue struggled to suppress her critical blaming of Sam for his not being more self-confident, daring, and self-assertive. She was convinced that Sam’s overly developed sense of fair play cost him dearly in the competitive dog-eat-dog world that characterized his firm. She also condemned herself for being a rotten wife, Too preoccupied with Sam’s success and not concerned enough about boosting his sagging self-confidence and low self-regard.
Here we see two people, Sam and his wife Sue, who are experiencing feelings that they are telling themselves they shouldn’t be having. They are exhibiting low toleration of their own affect. In Sam’s case he is also showing low tolerance of his son Seth’s affect.
Are these rare and esoteric, or common place phenomena? Most of you undoubtedly recognize a familiar ring to these struggles. Of course, we all grapple with these kinds of tolerance of affect issues all the time.
Let’s look at another example.
Marty is a 38-year-old sales supervisor in a computer sales company in Atlanta. He thinks of himself as business like and tough. He refers to the industry as demanding the ultimate from the sales force – only the most aggressive and talented survive. In that regard, he thinks nothing of challenging and berating his sales people for less than optimum performance. The president of the company, Ed, is an ex-marine Colonel whose forte is technical rather than inter-personal competence. He likes Marty because he can throw anything at him without worrying about Marty “going soft” on him. Marty can take it and he does, but Marty’s subordinates, almost to a person, experience Marty as frequently being sarcastic and hurtful, and just not at all attuned to them as human beings. His implicit and explicit demands that they sacrifice their families and personal lives for the firm are ultimately experienced as a form of emotional abusiveness, and turnover of even top salespeople is high. An organizational consultant explores the situation and in the process of interviewing Marty it is revealed that Marty’s father was an alcoholic who emotionally and physically abused Marty. Marty’s denial of the pain that this pattern caused him has given him an abuse tolerance. He neither perceives the abuse entailed in the way Ed treats him, nor can he fathom what his subordinates might have to complain about regarding his ways of relating to them. A tolerance for abuse is in full operation.
Again; odd, uncommon? Of course not; we have adaptive capacities
that help us to survive one situation, but when these adaptations are transferred to new circumstances, they often become totally counterproductive.
Toleration of affect is a phenomenon that operates both on an inter- and intra-personal level, and it can be examined and studied from either perspective. That is, we can look at John’s response to Ann’s affect expressions or we can focus on John’s sequence response to his own affect state that Ann’s output stirs in him.
Furthermore, in the inter/intra-personal realm we are capable of, and do exhibit, both high and low tolerance consistency patterns. Some examples: if John held sexist attitudes and was Ann’s superior in the workplace, and if Ann expressed anger in any but the most indirect and disguised forms, John might easily react by finding such behavior intolerable and set out to punish and suppress it. On the other hand, his tolerance for his own angry, aggressive or emotionally abusive behavior toward Ann could still seem totally unremarkable or unnoteworthy to John. Thus, under particular circumstances and conditions it is possible that one can show very low tolerance for another’s affect expression and very high tolerance for the expression of the same affect pattern in oneself. Among psychotherapists as a group it is not uncommon to find the opposite tendency; that is, we are often highly tolerant of affect patterns in our clients and harshly intolerant of the same affective experience in ourselves.
For example, during a psychotherapy session, a client speaks of the shame he feels about his acting intimidated by his coworker, whom the client experienced as challenging him to match wits and force of wills as they vied for their boss’s favor. The therapist listens empathetically and is supportive as the client examines his guilty, harsh self-condemnation about acting intimidated.
After the session there’s a clinic meeting and the therapist faces his own sense of threat in response to a colleague’s seemingly brilliantly insightful analysis of the case presented. Not only does the therapist feel down on himself for what he perceives to be his own less adequate understandings of the case, but he turns anxiously self-condemning about feeling so competitive and so intimidated by his colleague. He does not extend the same loving, accepting toleration of his own his own flawedness as he did with his client a scant one hour ago.
A more common phenomenon is one where toleration of affect patterns holds more or less steady within the individual whether the focus is on inter- or intrapersonal issues. A housewife has low tolerance of her own anger or anger expressed by her husband, her children, or others. An engineer can’t stand to be around anxious people, ambiguous and non-familiar art or music, yappy high-strung dogs, Bergman movies and his own anxious uncertainty. In all of the examples presented, the people in question are prepared to go to great lengths to arrange and organize their lives to accommodate these tolerance patterns. The reason that we arrange our lives to accommodate our affect tolerances is that the way we do or don’t accept our own inner affect life is self-defining. Having feelings stirred that I define as alien means that either I have to acknowledge that I am who I can’t accept being, or that I am being forced to violate who I authentically am.
Let’s look at an example of each: Irene, a perfectionistic, image-conscious elementary school teacher, avoids allowing her class to engage in almost any form of unstructured activity in order to maintain her unflappable facade. Or case two: Peter, a father who coached his 13-year-old son’s soccer team, cares more about inspiring boys to challenge themselves and caring for them as individuals than he does about winning. However, he found the pressure to win from some of the kids and the other parents too intense to resist and he chose to make uneven substitutions in order to win the crucial game of the season. Now he anguishes about being able to coach ever again.
Let us turn now to review some basic concepts central to our study and indeed to any psychological consideration of human nature. What is affect? What categories or types of separate distinct affect patterns exist? How does affect operate in self-development?
I define affect as the conscious subjective aspect of a feeling emotion, feeling or intense emotional drive. The capacity to have affective experiences has survival value for the species. We find affective responses wide spread down the phylogenetic scales. In this regard we note that a broad spectrum of affective responses exists, with the widest range of different affective states belonging to the most evolved species, us human-kind. We can hate and love, laugh and cry, lust and nurture, grieve and celebrate, anguish and be blissful, gloat and have compassion: and this not the half of it. As we blend and mix and counteract via internal conflict, our possibilities as a species for experiencing subtle variation in affect tone and pattern are infinite.
Affect experiences also vary in intensity. The gradients have been studied extensively, particularly in the area of research on motivational states. Animals are starved for varying lengths of time, deprived of sex in the presence of suitable mating partners in heat, shocked with varying frequencies and intensities to determine strength of drive or in our terms, intensity of affect. The intensity factors show itself to be highly significant in the learning patterns that occur.
Intensity of affect interacts with area or type of affect to produce varying and complex results. The sailor whose ship just returned from six months at sea and whose shore leave begins with no promise of female companionship might well be more prone to get in to a fight in the local bar than is his married counterpart who sits next to him knowing that he will see his wife again the day after tomorrow.
A third parameter of affect-state, in addition to type of affect and intensity of affect, is duration of time that the affect state endures. We can have an emotional reaction such as sadness, a mood state as in feeling “blue”, an emotional trait or character pattern as in tending toward melancholic, or an emotional disorder as in being clinically depressed. Obviously, duration and intensity have combined effects greater than the sum of their parts. Intense grief experienced over a prolonged period can affect vital life functions; sleep and eating patterns, pulse, heart rate and blood pressure, and according to recent discoveries, immunological functioning, have all been noticed to react to this not uncommon affect pattern.
Consider Table I. This table is intended to be suggestive and representative rather than theoretically tight and exhaustive. It gives a flavor for the great variety and diversity of affect experiences that occur in all of us and it highlights the vast range of possibilities for human beings to exercise tolerance responses toward their own inner-subjective affect-life. Take a few minutes to study the list. Try a light-handed tolerance inventory. Stay open to what looking over the list stirs in you.
Let us turn to consideration of the significance of affective-processes in human development. We recognize that self-theory holds that parental support of the child experiencing affect-processes plays a determining role in the development of an autonomous, strong, individuated self. The mother who validates and nurtures the child’s delicate, vulnerable, tentative explorations of inner self as it relates to outer emotion or intense motivational drive. The capacity to have affective experiences has survival value for the world helps that child gain confidence in the use of inner experience as a reliable guidance system for navigating in the world. Affect processes are predominant in the earliest years of life when the foundation of self-development occurs. Furthermore, affect-tinged experience is so powerful and distinctive that developing patterns of non-judgmental openness to experiencing affect remains self-developing and self-defining throughout life. Stated simply: if you know what and how you feel and can accept your feelings as they exist, you have a basis for taking an authentic stand in the world. You exist as a self. Non-self-acceptance imposes the pressure to change yourself (or more precisely, the record of who you are) because the you that exists at that moment, as defined by your inner experience, is unacceptable. The accepted self may not be a liked self at any given moment but you have a greater chance of deciding to change to a way of being that you would embrace or truly like better of you can first acknowledge and accept the non-liked self. My rageful, rejecting inner response to my demanding, noisy child can be recognized, sympathized with (by me) and still not liked. In showing tolerance of my reactivity, I open the door to an authentic decision that I don t like that way of being and I want to change it. It may take time and work to achieve the transformation, but the tolerance of affect that opened me to exercising the option to change in the first place will hold me in good stead at various points along the road to the transformation I seek. To summarize, experiencing affect is a crucial developmental factor in the evolving of a sense of self. Warm, loving, nurturing support of the child in this process teaches the child to rely on his/her inner gyroscope as the foundation for evolving as a whole person. Conversely, neglecting, ignoring or overtly rejecting the child in these efforts drives the child into impeding his/her own self-developmental processes. Looking inward for direction becomes selectively or massively disrupted and a self-alienation occurs.
Table II represents an early effort at further theoretical development of this topic. I share it with you as much for what I might benefit from your input as to impart to you more about the richness and depth of the topic. (And as an aside – to those of you who are looking for thesis topics- here is yet an additional promising entry angle.) Questions like: Do affect tolerances within individuals cluster? Within groups? Which clinical groups show inter/intrapersonal tolerance consistency or inconsistency toward which affect patterns? What developmental factors associate with these patterns? So take a moment to lookover Table II and I would be most interested in any thoughts or reactions you would care to share.
A second central aspect of this discussion is the concept of tolerance or toleration. Tolerance is a word with both biomedical and psychological meanings. It is a word that connotes a continuum from zero tolerance to off-the-scale over-tolerance. It means:
-to be able to take or undergo without harm or pain-to permit without rejection, protest, or interference.
-to allow without hindrance or repugnance-the power to endure or resist discomfort or hardship
-to have sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing with or conflicting with one’s own
-in its negative manifestation, it means to resist the action of a stimulus – drug, chemical, or feeling.
Again, notice the bipolar and continuous nature of the connotation. We can tolerate to a minimum (i.e., zero, none), to good or ill effect; through the middle range to maximal tolerance which often entails over-exposure or endangering failure to reject; The term “tolerance of affect” is complex. It is important to indicate the distinction between high tolerance based on nurturing support and high tolerance based on insensitive or pernicious overdosing. The former leads to self-accepting openness to acknowledged affect experiences, the latter to imperviousness and/or unconsciousness
re: inner affect life.
In discussing tolerance I want to turn first to a consideration of how we come by our tolerances. At this stage of my thinking, I am interested in a broad, parametric overview rather than a lock-tight, internally-consistent theoretical view. There exists an extensive experimental and clinical literature on the formation of tolerances. Dramatic studies demonstrating that when animals’ tolerances for pain (shock) are ignored, apathy to the point of excessive, life-endangering tolerances can ensue to further shock. Or, once the animal’s efforts to escape the shock fail, a generalized apathy occurs (infinitely high tolerances) and self-preservation instincts themselves “are fatally compromised.”• The animals who can do nothing to *terminate the shock stimulus are far more apt to drown when dropped in a tank of water and have to tread water for an extended period, than a comparison group who could affect the shock stimulus in the initial phase.
Clinically, examples permeate our practices and our culture. A recent bestseller is devoted to studying the phenomenon and the dynamics of women who love men who hate women. This pattern represents a classic example of a developed excessively high tolerance. On the other end of the continuum, overreactive counterattacks to minimal threat represents the manifestation of minimal tolerance towards an affect-arousing stimulus – a fight-at-the-drop-of-a-hat pattern.
As we look into the question of how tolerances of affect come into being, let us acknowledge that there are important individual differences at work here from the outset, that are probably genetic in origin. Studies of newborns and young infants are demonstrating more and more clearly important and marked individual differences of tolerance of internal states and varieties of interpersonal affect-associated stimuli (e.g., mother’s voice, stoking, etc.). Thus at least initially we seen to start off differently in our capacity to receive, express, and endure various emotional and drive-focused experiences. Longitudinal work suggests the ultimate coming into prominence of nurture over nature as experientially-derived patterns come increasingly into play. At any rate, such are my biases and interests that it is in the realm of experientially influenced tolerances that I will focus.
What major paradigms influence the tolerances that we form? Coercion is an obvious category in shaping of tolerances. Where there is a coercive or punitive response to an individual’s expressing an affect response, that individual’s toleration of his own affect response is likely to change. For example, a child’s fear is ridiculed until the child feels shame over having expressed fear. The likelihood that the child will extend the sense of shame toward the internal experience of the fear which either preceded or was concomitant with the expression of the fear is high.
At any rate, the pairing of the shame with the expressing and/or the feeling of fear establishes a low to minimal toleration of fear expression and/or experience. Robert Duval portrayed a person who exemplified and perpetuated this pattern in the film “The Great Santini,” which we saw this morning. The character he played, Lt. Col. Bull Meechun, exhibited a full-blown denial of his own vulnerability and fear-associated affect patterns, and he was harsh in his criticalness of such patterns in his children and others. The movie avoids a two-dimential presentation of this pattern by trying to represent the heroic life-affirming humanistic potentials that can evolve even in the context of this highly stylized moralist stance.
Many of the most damaging tolerance-shaping experiences are situations where guilt, anxiety, or shame are effectively paired with the feeling of and/or the expression of an affect pattern. In our culture it is not unusual for parents and cultural institutions such as schools, churches, and activity clubs to combine to exert a negative shaping effect on many affect patterns, attaching anxiety, guilt, or shame toward the expression of and/or the experiencing of many affect patterns. Thus the impressionable young person is exposed to a strong affect-suppressing bias which he or she internalizes to greater or lesser degree depending largely on the crucial stance toward these suppressive forces taken within the family.
Tolerances of various specific affect patterns are heavily influenced by prevailing cultural and subcultural attitudes and values. This is clearly discernable about gender-specific issues, racial issues and political issues. As a counterpoint, to avoid oversimplification we live in a world of modernity where the trends are shifting and changing almost constantly and countervailing cultural forces often pull in opposite directions. For example, being a young man from a working class background pulls one way, and regarding oneself a modern man who is culturally in step with affect trends depicted in certain films and by certain musical groups can pull in a diametrically opposite direction regarding the acceptability of openly expressing tender feelings or emotional vulnerability. These complexities notwithstanding, tolerances are still heavily influenced by prevailing norms and stereo types.
Another cannon pattern for imparting tolerances is one where an individual’s normative developmental state is extreme by later adult standards, and the abnormality of the earlier state of affairs was ignored or lied about by all involved. Thus massive rejection was called love and concern, or normal unremarkable behavior. An individual raised under such circumstances is likely to display abnormally high toleration of rejecting and self- minimizing behavior from a spouse, a boss, a co-worker, or a friend. He is likely to feel puzzled and surprised when others appear appalled by the bad treatment he seems oblivious to, and he is likely to feel hurt when confronted with the hurt his own rejecting behavior causes others. Less extreme, non-validating patterns are prevalent and similarly formative of tolerances.
Parents who are highly accepting of their own inner affect lives and the affect lives of their children create what the object-relations literature refers to as the protective envelope. This pattern, also known as object constancy, is strongly associated with creativity, spontaneous self expression and high levels of self-acceptance, and continues to operate throughout a lifelong developmental process. Individuals from affect tolerant familes are more likely to resist internalizing affect tolerance biases fostered by linking affect expression or experience with anxiety, guilt, or shame.
Let’s turn next to the question of how to detect when someone is showing his/her relative tolerance for an affect pattern. The first and most prominent and prevalent manifestation of intolerance comes in the form of an all-too-familiar experience for most of us of being self-critical or self-condemning for a feeling or thought that we are having. The anxiety, guilt, or shame that is the affect component to the intolerance will show up first for some of us. For others it will be the judgments, the actual self-condemnations, the “I can’t believe that I could be so dumb as to (whatever – you finish the statement)” or “What a creep I must be to revel at her grief” or “You really are low to covet your best friend’s husband” or “How awful you are to get so angry at your own kid just because he expresses his neediness.”
So the cues are: having a feeling about a feeling. Typically the feeling would contain anxiety, guilt or shame, or self-criticalness. These are conscious and accessible processes, though we are to varying degrees defended against revealing these processes to ourselves and especially to others.
There is a relatively invisible counterpart experience on the side of the equation where we value and welcome experiencing certain affect patterns. People may or may not include in their self-aware sense of self the understanding that they find affect experiences enhancing and enriching to their experiential lives. Some do not “know” that about themselves, others do. Nonetheless, it is clearly apparent that affect-laden experience has a strong attraction and appeal to many.
There are other telltale signs that tolerance factors are at work. A paradigm previously alluded to is one where the person in question is the only one not responding. Others who hear his story or witness his predicament are strongly affected, and he is flat, bland, detached, or otherwise noticeably unreactive. This situation suggests extreme tolerance build-up.
Tolerance of affect is a crucial mechanism for determining the nature, shape, and direction of the development of the self. When people are undeveloped or have distorted development in their capacity to take accurate inner readings of their feelings and needs, they become at odds with or alienated from their own essence. Under these circumstances people become dependent on self-alien, external factors for setting their course and fixing their stand about who they can be and about who they will tolerate others being. The study of the process of toleration of affect offers an entry into the world of self-formation and maintenance. We can learn to observe ourselves and others struggle to become more open or to maintain the status quo, as the case may be. Knowing about tolerance patterns provides opportunities to know more than previously about the derivations of the patterns, to develop greater empathic self-acceptance and self-determination. Recognizing our rejection of our own inner affect life provides powerful possibilities for transformation in both the immediate and longer-term realm. Tolerances can be changed or shifted slowly, gradually by small increments, empowering the self to exercise increasing control of and responsibility for one’s own life. This can be redemptive. For a person to gain a sense that they have uncovered an entre into their own self-shaping process or the self-shaping process used by others, has an excitement about it that endures.
TOIZRATION OF AFFECT Frederick L Klein, Ph.D.
- What are you observing? e.g., What is the important psychological and/or emotional “action” as you see it?
- What feelings are the focal people (the ones you are focused on) having?
- What feelings are you having?4. How tolerating/accepting or rejecting are the people of their own feelings?
- Comment on the manner or style or way degree of tolerance is expressed.
Notice that you are not being asked to focus on the degree of tolerance shown by one character toward the affect of any other characters in the exerpt. If time and inclination allowed, we could focus on that phenomenon as well.
- What tolerance issues accompany your feelings? (in fragments or full-blown form)
To what degree are some of the feelings aroused treated by you as alien – not you?
- After the fact, that is, as you listen to others share their responses does it seem possible that you “have a tolerance” for some affective stimuli or patterns that you hadn’t been aware of? Can you share that with the group?
Toleration of Affect: Table I Frederick L. Klein, Ph.D.
Fear – Tension Anxiety Fear Panic Terror Horror Withdraw Cry
Anger Annoyance Irritation Anger Rage Violence
Violence –Hostility Contempt Shaming Humiliation Condescending Patronizing Dominating Sadistic Masochistic Haughtiness Arrogance Guilting Ruthless Viscious Murderous Suicidal Resent Reject Rebuff Withdraw Cry
Seeking Succor – Needful Seeking Approval Dependent Clinging Yearning Pleading Self-abasing Self-doubting Insecure Suicidal Cry
Happiness/Pleasure – Joy Delight Pleasure Comfort Playfulness Humor Excitement Rapture Bliss Triumph Laughter Happy Smile Cry
Shame – Guilt Anxiety Humiliation Shame Reject
Sadness – Disappoint Sad Blue Grief Depression Cry
Love – Love Cherish Care deeply Tenderness Vulnerable Nurture Cry Desire Yearning
Altruism – Cooperate Nurture Support Befriend Like Care-about Value
Competitiveness – Fear of losing Fear of failing Fear of humiliation Rivalrous Envy Jealousy Desire to dominate Desire to eliminate Murderous Triumph
Sexuality Lust Erotic Aroused Seductive Excitement Yearning
Anxious Insecure Anxious Shaky Nervous Self-doubting
TABUE II: CLASSIFYING SCHEMES FOR AFFECT PATTERNS
- Away from
Compounds and derivatives
SOCIOBIOLOGICAL – Establish hierarchy according presence-absence through phylogenetic scale, and thus observable survival value, i.e. which drives and emotions have survival value.
Male Tough Hard
Light Fun Pleasure ——————————————Dark Threatening Pain
Female Tender Soft