Human beings constitute a large part of the world. A world full of various living beings, their subspecies and a constant cycle of life and death. Plants, animals, insects and humans all live together on this same planet earth and yet humans are starkly different from the other species of living beings. What makes them different? How do we classify them as evolved? Why are humans more complicated despite belonging to the species of animals? Aristotle first distinguished between humans and other living species over 2000 years ago, as we humans were the ‘rational beings” who pursue knowledge for the sake of seeking knowledge. The human ability to communicate using language, create a community, have a culture of our own, think, pursue knowledge, etc makes us different from any other living being. Some of the most important features that make us distinct are human emotion and the evolved brain structure.
Humans are filled with emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, fear and many more. Although emotions may be an internal process, they are the external depiction of how an individual may be feeling internally. It is the “feeling” aspect of consciousness that has three aspects: physical arousal, behavioural reaction and inner awareness about the feeling. The physiological reaction is in the form of an increased heart rate, dilated pupils, perspiration, etc. The behavioural aspect involves their facial expressions, body movements, gestures, voice modulation, tone and pitch. This behavioural expression of emotions differs from one culture to the other. Some facial expressions, gestures, body movements tend to be universal but cultural differences are an important consideration while understanding emotional expression. It depends largely on the type of culture of the country: individualistic or collectivistic. For most people feelings and emotions are similar but there are distinct differences between the two. Emotions are physiological states that are generated subconsciously. On the contrary, feelings are subjective experiences of emotions that are driven by thoughts and reflections.
During the 1970s, Paul Eckman identified 6 basic emotions that are universal across cultures. These include happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and anger. He further added pride, shame, embarrassment and excitement to this list. Robert Plutchik has proposed a wheel of emotions that resembles the wheel of colours. According to his theory, emotions act like building blocks that go from basic to more complex emotions.
This is the feeling that most of us are chasing. Happiness is defined as a pleasant emotional state characterized by feelings of contentment, gratification, joy, satisfaction, well-being. Positive psychology is a field, introduced in 1998 that studies happiness in detail. Happiness can be expressed through facial expressions such as smiling, blushing and sometimes even tears. The tone of voice when one is happy tends to be pleasant, joyful and happy. Happiness is heavily influenced by culture with respect to what makes people happy or how one expresses it. Research suggests that happiness and physical health are closely related. It has been found that happiness leads to better physical and mental health, increased longevity of life and positively affects most areas of one’s life.
On the other end of the spectrum of emotions, sadness is typically known as a negative state of being that is characterized by feelings of disappointment, grief, hopelessness, sorrow, etc. Every individual experiences sadness in some capacity but if this sadness persists for a significant period, one may be diagnosed with mental illnesses like depression. Expression of sadness can be in the form of crying, lethargy, isolation, withdrawal from social activities, etc. The causes and expressions of sadness differ from person to person.
This emotion is another basic and primitive human emotion. Fear is an important emotion for survival and is felt in situations that pose any danger, threat and can lead to a fight or flight reaction. It can lead to a visible physical response like increased heart rate, perspiration, increased rate of breathing, muscle tension, etc. Such responses can help to deal effectively with the threats posed by the environment. Every individual has a different response to threats and situations that may trigger an individual. Fear is the emotional response to an immediate threat. Repeated exposure to fear due to environmental pressures can induce anxiety.
According to Paul Eckman, disgust is a feeling of repulsion or being unpleasant. It can be a result of various stimuli such as unpleasant tastes, sights, smells, etc. Poor hygiene, blood, infection and many such stimuli may also induce disgust.
This is one such common emotion that is often looked down upon by society. It is characterized by feelings of hostility, agitation, frustration, irritation and antagonism. It also has physical responses similar to that of fear. It can be expressed through facial expressions like glaring, facial flushing, frowning, muscle tension. Behavioural expressions can include aggression, hitting, kicking, throwing objects, etc. While anger is usually looked down upon, it can sometimes be extremely useful. It can be an honest expression of one’s emotions in a particular situation and help one to express their annoyance, stand up to injustice, put across a point and even sometimes be a response to a threat to someone’s life. Anger, gone out of proportion, can lead to aggression, abuse and violence. Anger is also often associated with physical ailments like heart diseases, stress and diabetes. One is also at an increased risk of substance abuse, violence and injuries due to anger.
This is a brief and physiological response to an unexpected event. It can be a positive, negative or neutral reaction to the stimulus. Facial expressions such as raising of eyebrows, open mouth, grinning, widening of eyes, a physical reaction such as jumping, startling, yelling, gasping, etc can all be indicative of surprise. Surprises can trigger a fight or flight response as one may experience a burst of adrenaline due to a sudden, unexpected event. This is why surprises tend to stand out in our memory.
There have been several theories of emotions that characterize emotions as basic or complex ones. These include amusement, contempt, excitement, guilt, satisfaction, relief, shame, embarrassment.
Biologically, humans share traits with the great apes, wherein, they have large brains, large body size, long lives and long childhood. We share the same ancestors who had the same characteristics and this process of evolution is called homology. Focusing on the brain, like all other vertebrate brains, humans too have three sections: Forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain which comprises ventricles and neurons. The forebrain develops into the cerebrum, midbrain to the brainstem and the hindbrain develops into the regions of the brainstem and cerebellum. The brain is divided into two hemispheres, connected by nerve fibres called the corpus callosum. The left brain is responsible for controlling all the muscles on the right-hand side of the body and the right brain controls the left side. The popular notions about "left brain" and "right-brain" qualities are not well supported by any scientific evidence. The left brain controls speech (Broca's area) and language (Wernicke's area) and is also responsible for mathematical calculation and fact retrieval. The right brain plays an important role in visual/auditory processing, spatial skills and artistic ability.
The function of the brain stem is to regulate the most primitive aspects of life. The limbic system is responsible for memory and emotions, which includes our responses to reward and punishment. The limbic system is the area in the brain that is located between the brainstem and the two cerebral hemispheres and is responsible for controlling human emotions and memory. It is made up of the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the hippocampus.
What differentiates humans from other animals is the presence of a larger cerebral cortex which is the outer layer of our brain that governs our language abilities, helps us acquire complex skills, create tools, and live in social groups. In humans, the cerebral cortex is wrinkled and folded, rather than smooth as seen in most other animals. This creates a greater surface area and size that increases the capacity of humans for learning, remembering, and thinking. The frontal lobe is responsible for thinking, planning, memory, and judgment. The parietal lobe controls bodily sensations and touch. The temporal lobe is primarily responsible for hearing and language and the occipital lobe is primarily responsible for vision. The other areas of the cortex are association areas, responsible for the integration of information.
These complexities of the human mind and body make human beings different from other living beings. We have many physical, cognitive, academic needs that satisfy many human wants. The majority of the time, these needs are not in isolation but are present together. The individual, based on individual requirements, prioritizes these needs and organizes them in the hierarchy of importance. If the need is fulfilled, the individual achieves satisfaction but sometimes, these needs are interrupted by some external stimuli. This hierarchy of needs was understood in detail by various Gestalt psychologists. The fulfilment of needs was thought to be in a cyclical order that proceeds in a rhythmic pattern to meet the needs of every individual. Every new emerging need becomes a part of this cycle and remains to be a part of it until attended to and then fades into the background. This is known as self-regulation. This need for achievement of satisfaction comes from the tendency of humans or any other organism to seek balance. All organisms have the need to attain an equilibrium that can be achieved by the fulfilment of these needs. This state of balance is known as homeostasis. Homeostasis may be an internal or external experience that an individual may attain through psychological, physical or spiritual experiences related to oneself or others.
Gestalt psychologists have devised a “Gestalt Cycle” or “The Cycle of Experience”. One is always a part of this Gestalt cycle, as long as one is aware. This cycle goes from sensation to satisfaction and involves intermittent “blocks or interruptions”. Boundary disturbances or blocks can be seen as repeating patterns in the individual which interfere with the healthy functioning of the self at the organism/environment boundary. These boundary disturbances can also be seen as self-regulating acts and could also have protective functions.
The Gestalt cycle offers a representation of human to environment contact. According to Siminovich and Van Eron (2006), “awareness of the COE [Cycle of Experience] provides the skilled Gestalt coach with a way of identifying more precisely where processes become ‘stuck,’ thereby preventing learning and change, and for creating interventions that help clients recognize for themselves the habitual locations and patterns of becoming stuck”. The stages of fulfilling these individual needs to achieve a state of balance and the intermittent blocks include:
The sensation can be an internal or external stimulus in the form of a need or demand that an individual wants to fulfil to achieve homeostasis. This is the first stage of the Gestalt cycle where an individual feels something, an emergence of an imbalance but one is unable to articulate this feeling. For instance, Jane hears a growling in her stomach and a feeling that resembles hunger. Desensitisation occurs when there is a shutting down of numbing of sensations. The individual neglects or disregards their sensations. Desensitization is the resistance in the cycle of Gestalt at the sensation stage which acts as a block in the process of acquiring balance. Here, Jane is likely to ignore this growling in her stomach as it is bedtime and she would rather sleep than tend to this feeling in her stomach.
Being aware is the next stage in the cycle in which the individual becomes aware of their need. In this stage, Jane becomes aware that she is hungry. She realizes that the growling in her stomach was due to hunger. There can be resistance in this stage too which can cause one to be unaware of the need. Deflection means to turn aside from direct contact so as to reduce one’s awareness and feedback from within oneself, others or the environment. For instance, Jane will try to distract herself by watching a movie or trying to sleep, to distract herself from the discomfort of her growling stomach.
In this stage, the need becomes more and more significant. The need becomes clearer and generates energy in the direction of satisfaction. Considering Jane’s situation, she will most likely think about what food to have in order to satisfy her hunger. Introjection is a block that may occur in this stage. It is the “swallowing” of an experience without questioning. Jane will probably try not to think about getting food because she has already had her dinner and she shouldn’t eat anything past dinner time.
At this stage, a person actively reaches out for possibilities to do whatever is necessary to achieve the balance. One may try to overcome obstacles and experiment with different forms to achieve an end. At this stage in the cycle, Jane may go to the kitchen and decide on what to prepare or what to heat up from the fridge. One may experience resistance at this stage which is known as Projection. This is a trait, attitude, feeling, belief or behaviour that does not belong to oneself. It involves attributing one’s feelings or desires to another, anticipating behaviour from someone else which originally has roots in one’s own fears or flaws. In Jane’s case she may not get up to satisfy her hunger because her mother would get angry at her but in reality, she refuses to get out of the comforts of her bed out of laziness.
5. Final Contact:
In the final contact stage, a person feels fully motivated to achieve their need and hence act on fulfilling it. Jane will, in this stage, actually eat the food that she heated from the fridge. The contact boundary in completing this stage of the cycle is known as Retroflection. Retroflexion occurs when a person turns his stored up, mobilized energy back upon himself instead of out into the environment. We choose to forget that once an action is taken it can reach satisfaction and that hampers completion of the cycle. Taking an example of a student, they need to attempt an exam but due to the fear of failure, they simply don’t go to the exam centre, only to fail regardless.
After the final contact stage has been fulfilled, one experiences a sense of satisfaction as their need has been fulfilled. Jane feels satisfied after eating the food and now that her hunger was sufficed. The contact boundary at this stage is known as Confluence which is when we choose to go with someone else’s need. We choose others needs to be more important than ours and act according to their needs. Considering the example of the Covid-19 Pandemic, much like many others, Ajay decided to hoard groceries due to the fear of lockdown as his wife and neighbours told him that was the right thing to do. Despite his internal objection to this, he decides to go along with others.
This is the stage when one closes a cycle. When the cycle is over, one would return to sensation and wait for a new need to fulfil and restart the cycle of experience but with a new need to fulfil. Jane is satisfied, not hungry and neither uncomfortably full and will now go back to her bed. The block that might hamper achieving complete satisfaction is known as Egotism. This contact boundary takes away the satisfaction that we may feel after fulfilling our need and hence we may not be able to attain withdrawal from the gestalt cycle. For instance, Jane has had her food and is no longer hungry. But, after consuming her food, she immediately feels guilty as she thinks that she has eaten so much and has evaded her mother’s rules of not eating past dinner. She thinks she is now going to gain weight because of her overeating.
The most important consideration here is that one needs to be aware of the need that one has to fulfil in order to achieve balance and satisfaction. One needs to be conscious of what the need is and then take steps towards fulfilling it. But, it is only fair to say that one may not always be aware of these needs due to various environmental factors or these environmental factors may cause a delay in fulfilling the need. In Jane's case, she may have faced various blocks in fulfilling her need due to environmental factors such as her mother’s annoyance about eating food at night, weight gain or sometimes even her own laziness and hence she may have to suppress her need of hunger.
Theoretically completing a cycle to fulfil the need seems easier but in reality, one may have to encounter quite a number of resistances. These resistances show internal defences which may affect satisfaction. These blockages in the path of achieving homeostasis are what causes negative consequences in our mind and body. Repression of urges, which is an interruption in awareness, can cause anxiety. According to Gestalt Psychology, the mechanisms of defence Gestalt that Fritz Perls labelled as "neurotic mechanisms" - refer to those disruptions or barriers that block awareness. Gestalt therapy considers them as the remainders of previous tendencies that avoid taking conscious actions and behave in a certain way to protect oneself from the threat of the environment. They are self-interruptions in the cycle of experience. If a need remains unfulfilled and one is unable to achieve the desired result, the individual may experience negative feelings such as anger, confusion, annoyance, resentment, disappointment that will divert their energy to a certain number of possibilities that will not allow them a full interaction with the environment but risk behaviour only based on these neurotic-defences. The dissatisfaction that is caused by the unfulfilled needs, may also have a physical manifestation that may not be a conscious response.
Taking the example of Aditi, who claimed to suffer pain in her chest. She told her therapist that she felt a sense of pressure in her chest and it would intensify during certain situations to an extent where she would almost feel like she can’t move. She had visited several doctors who had found nothing biologically concerning, in her case. She was finally advised to visit a therapist to analyse her mental health. After therapy, Aditi was able to connect with herself consciously only to understand that she has been feeling these overwhelming emotions since her father’s death about two years ago. She started to understand and accept the grief and accepted her emotions for the first time. Upon further analysis, she was able to understand that her emotions were suppressed due to cultural factors such as one has to be strong and get over one’s emotions. She often used strategies for deflection such as she should not cry as she has to stay strong to support her grieving mother. She was able to release her suppressed emotions and return to a healthy, conscious state of body and mind.
What are Neurosis and Psychosis?
Neurosis is the disturbance that may arise from the inability of the individual to find and maintain a proper balance between themself and the world. If the cycle of experience flows smoothly, the individual has met their needs and is healthy. But if it remains unfulfilled, the energy is blocked within oneself and thus results in anxiety. Many Gestalt psychologists regard this anxiety as an emotion that blocks awareness of what is going on inside an individual.
Neuroses are mental disorders that are generally characterized by anxiety, stress, depression and unhappiness. Neurosis involves some facets of the personality that are affected by the disorder but the contact with reality and insight is still retained by the person. The starting point of neurosis involves some form of stress and there is often a close relationship between the personality of the individual and the illness itself. Symptoms of neurosis may include fatigue, emotional disturbance, inability to cope with stress, anger, etc.
The various types of neurosis are as follows
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: It is characterized by unwanted and irresistible thoughts, ideas or feelings.
Somatoform Disorders: It involves the manifestation of psychological distress in physical form when in reality physical illnesses may or may not be present.
Anxiety Disorder: It is a negative mood state that is characterised by bodily symptoms of physical tension and by apprehension.
Depression: It may be described as feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and a loss of interest or pleasure which affects an individual’s life.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This is a syndrome that can be diagnosed among individuals who have endured or witnessed a highly traumatic event.
Psychosis and Psychotic illnesses
Psychosis is a more severe form of mental imbalance which involves emotional, behavioural and cognitive disturbances and a radical loss of touch with reality. Psychotic disorders often tend to have genetic causes. Some other causes tend to be brain trauma, abuse, extreme stress, etc. During psychosis, one's thoughts and perceptions become distrustful and disturbed. One may have trouble differentiating between reality and hallucinations. Psychosis is not an illness in itself, rather it is linked to underlying mental conditions. Those with psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are more likely to have psychotic episodes (psychosis). Drugs, including cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, LSD, etc can also trigger psychosis. During an episode of psychosis, one may experience changes in thinking, behaviour, perception and emotions. One may have disorganized thoughts, ignore personal hygiene, experience hallucinations and delusions, lack of motivation and a general difficulty in daily functioning.
Types of neurosis
1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:
This disorder is characterized by unwanted and irresistible thoughts, ideas or feelings into one’s mind (Obsessions) that causes extreme anxiety and behaviours followed by these thoughts, ideas or feelings that are repetitive and performed by the individual almost ritualistically (Compulsions) to avoid this anxiety. Obsessions may include fears, inappropriate thoughts, violence and repetitive behaviours may include repetitive hand-washing, checking the locks, etc.
2. Somatoform Disorders:
These were previously known as hysterical disorders, conversion neurosis and involve the manifestation of psychological distress in physical form when in reality physical illnesses may or may not be present. These physical symptoms may include paralysis, deafness, blindness, aches and pains.
3. Anxiety Disorder:
Anxiety is a negative mood state that is characterised by bodily symptoms of physical tension and by apprehension about the future. It is the sense of subjective uneasiness, a behavioural or physiological response leading to increased heart rate, muscle tension, restlessness, fidgeting, worrying, etc. There are several types of anxiety disorders such as Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobia and social anxiety disorder.
Depression may be described as feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and a loss of interest or pleasure which affects an individual’s daily life. It is the experience of a depressed mood for at least 2 weeks. Individual experience with depression differs according to the severity of the disorder which could be mild, moderate to severe depression, which when is neither excessively severe nor prolonged, is regarded as a neurosis. A depressed person feels sad, hopeless, and pessimistic and maybe listless, easily fatigued, slow in thought and action, and has a reduced appetite and difficulty in sleeping.
5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
This is a syndrome that can be diagnosed among individuals who have endured or witnessed a highly traumatic event such as an accident, a natural calamity, abuse, violence, etc. The symptoms include nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety and guilt. One may experience frequent flashes of that event that they have experienced or witnessed.
Types of Psychosis
People with this illness have changes in behaviour and other symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations that last longer than 6 months. It usually affects their daily functioning and causes disturbance at school, work and social life.
2. Schizoaffective disorder:
People who have the symptoms of schizophrenia and exhibit the characteristics of a mood disorder simultaneously may be diagnosed with this disorder. An individual who has experienced delusions and hallucinations for at least two weeks along with the presence of a mood disorder at the same time may be said to exhibit this disorder.
3. Schizophreniform disorder:
Schizophreniform disorder is diagnosed for those individuals who have the symptoms of schizophrenia for one to six months and they can resume their normal life. The symptoms may disappear due to successful treatment or even due to unknown reasons.
4. Brief psychotic disorder:
People with this illness have a sudden, short period of psychotic behaviour, often in response to a very stressful event, such as a death in the family. Recovery is often quick, usually less than a month.
5. Delusional disorder:
Delusions are irrational and rigid beliefs. This disorder is characterised by the absence of any other symptoms of schizophrenia except delusions. Delusions are of several types such as grandiose ( delusion of inflated worth, power, knowledge, identity), jealous type (the belief that one’s partner is unfaithful), persecutory type (the belief that one is being treated malevolently), somatic type ( the person feels that they are suffering from an illness or have a physical defect) etc.
6. Shared psychotic disorder (also called folie à deux):
This illness may be diagnosed to a person when one develops symptoms of delusions simply because of a close relationship with an individual experiencing delusions.
7. Substance-induced psychotic disorder:
This condition is caused by the use of or withdrawal from drugs, such as hallucinogens and cocaine, that cause hallucination, delusions, or confused speech.
8. Psychotic disorder due to another medical condition:
Hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms may happen because of another illness that affects brain function, such as a head injury or brain tumour.
This condition has symptoms similar to schizophrenia but the symptoms start later in life when people are elderly.
Treatment options in Gestalt psychology focus on gaining awareness and encouraging the individual to live in the present moment. Through therapy, clients tend to learn about the suppressed feelings that the individual may find to be threatening or difficult to accept. Therapy can help the individual accept these previously suppressed emotions and gain a new sense of self as the awareness increases. This focus on here and now helps the individual to stop dwelling on their past or anticipate the future which may lead to anxiety. Therapy encourages dialogue between the individual and the therapist which leads to introspection.
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This article on 'The Resistance of Commerce' has been contributed by Smruti Pusalkar, who is a graduate Psychology student from Fergusson College.
Smruti is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas.
Smruti wishes to develop herself to be a more patient listener and a sharp observer to understand the happenings of the world and grow increasingly empathetic. She is passionate about mental health and well being and plans to pursue a career in this field. She is extremely curious about psychology and wants to spread awareness about mental health problems to help those in need.
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification.