• Jennifer Bullock

Emotions are Social, Don’t Take it Personally

Conventional understanding of our emotional experiences dictate that our emotions come up inside of us and happen to us privately, by a series of physio-biological mechanisms. Therefor, the best we can hope for is to individually change our biochemistry (medications) and learn how to respond to them effectively.

But what if we have that all wrong? And what if this is not just an interesting conceptual argument, but key to helping us humans find relief from debilitating depression and anxiety we suffer from, as well as finding rich, intimate and new ways to live with and relate to others?


The group therapy I practice, Social Therapy, sees our emotions and our lives as social. The meaning we place with life experiences like “I am depressed” is s a social construction, specific to our culture. That does not mean we are making it up, our emotional experiences and activities are very real, with real effects (look at the latest suicide rates). It means our method to helping is radically different: it’s social, relational, activity-focused, not private, biological, or static.


We can create together, through new interactions with one another, new ways of experiencing our emotions and new ways of responding to them.


I have a group client who identifies as having anger management and rage issues, which means she sees life through that lens and is seen by others as the anger person. We have been working in group to relate to her in new ways: Who is she other than the anger person? What other emotional experiences can we create together via our intentional interactions? Recently I challenged her in a way that was, looking back at it, insensitive. She, in response, became angry with me and started to do her anger person role, which involves being mean, rejecting, blaming. The group worked to respond with love and radical acceptance. I found what she shared helpful, and thought we could build with it. Throughout the conversation, the group and I refused to relate to this client as the anger management problem, and in the process she stopped being so angry. This is purely social. It’s our way out of the limiting trap that our emotions are private and personal.


Next time you are experiencing an emotion, consider thinking of the experience as socially created, and then do something social in response. Let me know what you discover.




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