The Strange World of Emotion

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Reversal  of  Values
during Catharsis

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Disgust and Shame in the Subconscious Mind

Sometime in the summer of 1987 my self-analysis had began (there was no definite start to it that I could identify afterwards). It began slowly and I only later realised that it was happening because my daydreams of the autumn started to feature unusual sexual thoughts. At times I became quite excited about ideas on sexuality that I had previously disapproved of. This was my first major catharsis and it confused me. [¹]

At this time I did not understand the concept of catharsis and so did not realise that I was experiencing it. But why did I phantasise about themes of sexuality that used to be repugnant to me ?  Why did my sexual values seem to change into their opposites ?

Sub - Headings
Role and sex reversal
Disjunctive states
Ways of adaptation
Ideal mother image
Love of humanity

Catharsis produces a reversal of values. What is the usefulness of this ?  A person is unlikely to change his existing conscious values until he realises their limitations. During catharsis the repressed values within the subconscious mind are brought into normal consciousness. These values highlight the limitations of current preferred values. When this effect is understood, the person can choose to replace out-moded and unskilful values by more suitable and harmonious ones.

Note on Terminology.
Our ordinary consciousness, as when we are conscious of something, I sometimes call the surface consciousness. The aspects of consciousness that are normally hidden from our awareness I call either the subconscious mind or the unconscious mind.

I give an example of values reversal.

1988 opened exceeding well for me. I was precipitated into more sexual excitement !  On 8th January began my second major catharsis of my psycho-analysis. Its contents had the theme of  Disgust and Shame.

For some time I had begun to feel threatened by pretty women wearing miniskirts. The sight of them was generating antithetical thoughts in me. [²]. This was the effect of a slowly-intensifying sense of puritanism in me. Now when the catharsis began, all this hostility in me vanished as if by magic, and I began to be entranced by the thoughts of miniskirts – I longed to see women in them. Unfortunately it was winter, and no one wore them any more!  By the time that warmer weather, and miniskirts, re-appeared, my catharsis had long since ended.

Never mind. I made up for it in my phantasies. For three weeks I obsessively dreamt of myself as a beautiful woman wearing miniskirts and being sexually alluring. Whatever had formerly repelled me in Disgust and Shame now appeared very exciting to me. I had swung to the opposite extreme of my puritanism.

What I was to learn repeatedly is that during catharsis there is intense pressure to phantasise, and to phantasise on the forbidden. For someone of a puritan nature, that which is forbidden has usually become centred on aspects of sexuality. Hence the lonely puritan becomes entangled in exciting sexual phantasies. The drama of catharsis generates confusion in the unwary. (In the puritan times of the 16th century onwards, married puritans often produced very large numbers of children per family. Obviously an effect of many catharses!)

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In my excitement over the catharsis I considered that for me sexuality had been freed from desire, as well as from fear in particular. My burden seemed lightened. Removal of the fear of sexuality means that I can now be completely truthful and honest in any relationship, whether sexual or non-sexual. To be able to voice affection and to acknowledge my feelings in the reception of affection – this to me was something that I had never been able to do before. It put freedom in my relationships. Once sexuality ceases to be a burden then life becomes exciting. I felt that I had confidence and self-command at last.

I became euphoric. Now I can journey into the unknown for the sheer joy of doing it. I no longer need to act from expectation or reward. No need to accomplish anything. Simply to act from joy. Joy becomes my criterion for doing, for living. This euphoria carried over even into my daily meditation: it produced dis-orientation and crying – crying from joy and confidence, crying from the joy of the unknown.

However, when the catharsis ended I returned more or less to my previous attitudes, and resumed the burden of sexual fear.

Sexuality has numerous aspects to it and so requires numerous episodes of catharsis in order to resolve its difficulties. Each episode will have its own theme. Catharsis allows oneself to have certain insights into one’s past experiences that are not possible otherwise. The excitement temporarily dissolves the fear associated with the subconscious mind. This temporary removal of fear allows oneself to view the dark side of one’s past, the dark side of one’s desires, the dark side of one’s personality, without a simultaneous condemnation. Only in this way can a person develop their understanding of sexuality (as opposed to just wanting either to express it or repress it). Only when a person has become fully aware of his limited attitudes to sexuality can he begin to replace them with more harmonious ones.

The euphoria of catharsis presents a difficulty with one’s social image. If a person has become staid and conservative in their worldly outlook, then they need to refrain from communicating their reversed values to friends and work-associates. Otherwise they will be highly embarrassed once they return to ‘normality’. In particular they need to refrain from making sexual jokes – their conservative friends will not appreciate them. The best tactic is to keep silent about the effects of catharsis whilst one is undergoing them. If the person wants to talk about the experience to friends it is best to wait till it is over, when he can be sober about it.

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Role and Sex Reversal

In general, the reversal of values occurs when aspects of the social conditioning of the child are not in accord with its deepest attitudes and feelings. The intensity of these reversed values indicates the intensity of the child’s rebellion against its conditioning. I focus on the reversed values of my sexuality and of the relationship between the mother and the male child.

One day I realised that in my sexual day-dreaming I was merely replaying the sexual relationships of my 20s, but with role reversal and sex reversal.

What do these reversals mean?  These reversals are ways of handling the anxiety and guilt produced by unpleasant memories and poor social skills. Another common way of handling such anxiety and guilt is to create a compulsive ritual ; the anxiety and guilt produced by the memory are channelled into a physical practice such as obsessive hand-washing. So when an unpleasant sexual memory cannot be repressed, or does not lead to a compensatory compulsive ritual, then it is handled in phantasy by a reversal of values and even by sex reversal. What was unpleasant in sexual relationships becomes, when reversed, very pleasant in phantasy. What satisfactions I failed to achieve as a man I dream of achieving as a woman.

For example, to compensate for occasions when I was impotent (because of an intense state of anxiety) I dream of being a woman who helps an impotent young man – this phantasy contains both sex and role reversals. I also had an Oedipal phantasy of being an older woman who sexually liked younger men : this was one of sex and role reversals as well. Another example is that given above, when I dreamt of myself as an attractive woman who loved wearing mini-skirts – this is only sex reversal.

Looking back on my phantasies over the years there seems to have been two main stages to them:

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Disjunctive States of Mind

When a man undertakes a psycho-analysis he begins to explore his values, and these include sexual ones. Therefore in the course of the analysis his sexual phantasies will change as his sexual values change. As his sexual values change, so the sexual polarity (male or female) and the sexual roles in phantasy will change, and will even reverse, as traits of masculinity and femininity are explored. The changing values reflect changing needs.

This reversal of values is a fundamental distinction between the ordinary surface consciousness and the subconscious mind.

Hence the subconscious mind is not a linear extension of ordinary consciousness ; the two states of consciousness are usually different in kind and so are disjunctive. By this statement  I mean that the subconscious mind cannot be explored adequately by an examination that is purely rational, as ordinary consciousness can. Because the values are different, so the ground rules of each state of mind are different. Rationality alone is only useful when it is analysing states where the values are consistent, compatible and non-disjunctive. Disjunctive states of mind require the ability to be intuitive in order to detect and understand them.

As an example, suppose that we want to analyse the various states of madness, which are disjunctive to ordinary consciousness. First of all intuition has to be used in order to establish the ground rules (such as the relevant unconscious ideas and emotional dynamics) and the values that create the forms of madness. Then we can use rationality to analyse the experiences of madness. [³]

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Ways of Adaptation

The reversal of values in the subconscious mind is a way of adapting to sexual problems.  I list some other ways as well. [4]

Sexual guilt
This can be handled by:
a). Reversal of role and sex in phantasy.
b). Masochism.
c). Changing from heterosexuality to homosexuality (or vice versa).

The fear of sexuality
This can be handled by:
d). Switching to transvestitism.

The hatred of sexuality
This can be handled by:
e). Preferring trans-sexuality.
f). Sadism.

Why is there reversal of values between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind?  There are two main factors to this circumstance.

The first factor reflects the child as it is in itself.
The child is usually amoral (an attitude of non-responsibility). To have an amoral attitude to sex is more fun than to be bound within narrow social conventions. In the adult this attitude underpins the desire to experience sexuality as an exciting event. In order to become excited about sexuality, any past unpleasant memories have to be neutralised or transformed, otherwise they will generate anxiety or guilt. Therefore, role and sex reversals are ways of subconsciously manipulating unpleasant memories so that they can now produce exciting phantasies.

The second factor reflects the child’s relationships to its parents.
The reversal is generated as a compensation to an insufficiency of love in childhood. The need to portray myself in phantasy as a woman derives from the mother-child relationship. I portray myself as the loving, exciting woman that mother never was to me. This phantasy is a symbolic re-creation of my mother, that is, I am symbolically creating the mother that I would have liked to have had, and simultaneously identifying with that creation. In phantasy I create the ideal mother.

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The Ideal Mother Image

The male child has a psychological need to identify with the mother. If the actual mother does not come up to the level of need and expectation of the child, then one means of compensation is for the child, when he has become an adult, to create an ideal image of the mother. Then he can identify with this image. The problem here is that if the ideal mother image is confused with the actual mother then the man cannot recognise the faults in the actual mother as faults ; instead he blames himself, he accepts that he must have deserved the badness of the mother.

The child’s or the man’s identification with the ideal image of the mother becomes a fact once he begins to portray himself, in phantasy, as a woman, a woman who is symbolically the ideal mother.

The reversal of role and sex  in phantasy portrays the need to change past sexual failures into ‘successes’. The meaning of role reversal is that it is an attempt to neutralise guilt feelings that are attached to sexual memories. The meaning of sex reversal is that it is a means to the creation of an ideal mother image.

The reversal of values in phantasy  generally denotes the reversal of the values of the actual mother, and these reversed values become attached to the ideal mother image. In other words, the ideal mother image has the reverse values of the actual mother. Hence any puritan sexual values of the actual mother are transposed into the contrary permissive sexual values of the ideal mother. The child needs to relate to a beneficent mother, even if he has to construct that mother in his imagination.

This need of the child for a beneficent and permissive mother is the cause of the reversal of values between the conscious and subconscious minds.

This is true at least as regards sexuality. Perhaps a similar reversal of values happens in the male child’s relationship to his father, who usually represents authority.

This need causes problems for ethical development.
The child needs a beneficent mother, but it also needs rules and boundaries in order to contain the confusion of childhood. Moral boundaries are induced by the harshness of social abreaction, which generates resentment and bitterness in the child. [5]. In turn, this harshness highlights the need for a beneficent and permissive mother. The failure of the actual mother to be such a figure sensitises the child or the adolescent to the effects of social abreaction. Morality is felt to be divorced from goodness. So the adolescent sees nothing wrong in sexual explorations. This viewpoint relegates ethics to the sidelines. When this happens, ethics can only be cultivated by rising to a higher, idealistic view of humanity. [6]

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There can be constraints and variations on the reversal of values. I give some examples.

There is an additional factor that helps with the creation of the ideal parent image. This is the predilection towards romanticism.

A non-materialistic idealism and romanticism can link together. The ideal mother image is a romantic production, as is the ideal father image. These two ideal images generate all noble feelings. Perhaps only people who are dissatisfied with their parents’ shortcomings are likely to become romantics. In other words, idealism as a motivating force in a person’s life originates romanticism and the romantic production of the ideal parent. [7]

Romanticism is the concept that life is a heroic task –
and the hero needs ideal parents !

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The Love of Humanity

Each person has two identities, but one of them is usually preferred at the expense of the other. The socially-centred person is anchored to a social identity and often represses his /her individual identity. Whereas for me my individual identity is usually dominant – this has been so from early childhood. [8]

What I did as a child (from about the age of eleven or twelve onwards) was to try to repress my actual social identity some of the time so that I could create an ideal social one, in similar fashion to the creation of the ideal mother image. This was the beginning of my political idealism (though at that time it had a right-wing base and was focused on power). In the education system I had to compromise; at school I had to accept a non-ideal social identity, but when school finished for the day I usually preferred to return to my own self-absorption and my ideal social world. The stresses of puberty made this dichotomy permanent.

Perhaps the reversal of values in the child’s subconscious mind reflects the influence of creative imagination or of idealism, whether political, ethical, or spiritual. It is primarily these characteristics that require a mother who has an abundance of love.

An idealistic child who does not receive sufficient love can create the aspiration to love humanity as a whole (for example, the 19th-century followers of Saint-Simon in France) or the aspiration to attain the mystic love of god. There is no drive in the non-idealistic, non-imaginative child to do this ; such a child will become an adult with a similar disposition to the parents (the child’s social identity will be a realistic one, not an ideal one).

The love of humanity, if it arises, always arises as a compensation
to childhood problems.


The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it.  For the addresses of my websites, see the Links page.

[¹]. Catharsis is the subject of the third article on Abreaction : Catharsis and Suggestion. [1]

[²]. See the article Antithetical Thoughts. [2]

[³]. I introduce the term "unconscious idea" in the first article on Emotion. I use the term "emotional dynamics " to mean the principal emotions that drive any particular state of mind.
There are articles on the various forms of madness on my website Patterns of Confusion. [3]

[4]. There are articles on various forms of sexual fixation and orientation, such as sadism and masochism, and transvestitism, in section 3. [4]

[5]. Resentment, bitterness and social abreaction are described in the fourth article on Abreaction : Resentment and Bitterness.[5]

[6]. I make a distinction between morality and ethics. I consider that morality is induced unwillingly on a person by social conditioning, whilst ethics is a system of values that are adhered to by free choice and rational consideration. This contrast is described in the third article on Abreaction : Catharsis and Suggestion, section Morality and Ethics.
A more extended analysis is on my website A Modern Thinker, in the section on Belief. [6]

[7]. There is a short description of the dynamics of romanticism in the article Romanticism and Evangelism and Abreaction on my website Patterns of Confusion. [7]

[8]. For a general analysis of the two identities of a person, see the article Confusion. For a more detailed analysis, see the article Two Identities on my website The Subconscious Mind. [8]

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Confusion - snags and pitfalls of the idealist ; beginning a new quest.

Antithetical Thoughts - voices and unpleasant thoughts.

Alienation - effects of living in a society which is spiritually poor ; stupor.

Justification - from old identities to new ones ; causality & motivation.

Character Transformation - from instability to stability to flexibility.

Reversal of Values - disjunctive states of mind ; ideal mother image.

Rites of Passage - escaping nihilism by using emotional rituals.

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Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
London, UK

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