Sunday, May 31, 2015


I will now look at the data we currently have on how we organize ourselves around feelings of disgust.  I have discussed shame as an organizing principle of development of human beings early primitive processes and later intrapsychic processes, When these processes become structuralized they can be imagined as being in a desublimated state. Sublimation, in the psychological sense, is the process of transmuting our urges into acceptable thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

A sense of coherence, congruence and compatibility requires us to construct easily followed internal guidelines for behaviors related to our most primitive instincts. This becomes problematic when we need to develop habits to survive which conflict with our sense of values and beliefs.  Imagine a healthy baby using distress vocalizations enough times for her caregivers to recognize her primary concern.  Caregivers have been doing this guessing/intuitive game for ever.  If the infant cannot get across this felt threat to their going-on-being they eventually act more panicked or become indifferent (dissociation).

The pivot point of healthy sublimation is processing the affect of disgust.  Left desublimated, disgust has us rapidly categorizing input as to its possible poisonous effect on us.  At the worst, we portray rage or “non-doing”.  Better to be safe-than-sorry from a “going-on-being” perspective.  All of us, emotionally healthy, and emotionally unhealthy, constantly scan for scenarios resembling previous threats to our safety.  Healthy parent/caregiver’s help us separate real threats from imagined by responding to our distress vocalization and facial expressions of disgust.  Therefore we learn to sophisticate our distress expressions in socially appropriate ways.
If our caregivers cannot help us differentiate safe from unsafe data we build patterns of reactions to supposedly ensure our safety.  These defensive/fear reactions tend to draw us toward situations within which we can utilize these exaggerated skills.  Our defenses also tend to provoke those around us to feel a deep sense of danger, thus drawing aggression or withdrawal from them.  The patient and therapist who can hold onto a realistic image of one another, while observing heightened defensive states, can do much toward learning together novel behaviors when feeling threatened.

Healthy Disgust and the Death Instinct

Nourishing, mourning and social play are moments of acting at the dew point or the freezing point of feeling disgust and/or the death instinct.  Our 'Death Wish' seems like an answer to all our deep fears.  Murder will also feel like an ultimate solution to a lack of wish fulfillment. The Death/Murder instincts can healthfully remain flexibly sublimated by a desire to 'fit in' and to make sense or meaning of our impulses.  Sublimation has us imagining the future of these moments.  Unhealthy desublimation keeps us in the solid patterns of our history of coping with our fears.  Fluid responses can emerge naturally much like dew forming on a frosty leaf.  Containing these moments in low arousal in the therapeutic environment allows even riskier exploration in our jointly sublimated future.

Sublimation is always moving forward and backward from the present moment.  When psychological sublimation takes place interpretation is impossible, and not desirable.  Our job is to imagine the observed (our patient), a coherent being in past and future states having grown from; and growing into organizations around primal urges. This produces an affective resonance necessary to all mammals.  Cues of many types are used in the processes.

Affective resonance is necessary for mammals to grow.  Growth happens around primal urges.  A different type of resonance takes places when an observer imagines an infant’s strategies for “feeling safe-in-the-body and seeking meaning making.  Mother’s exuberant responses to Baby’s squawks are great examples that require sublimation.  When she gets the message, their eye contact and his joy at sharing his skills verifies the accuracy of her imaginings. She could be holding two images of her son: one, staring at a blank wall and obediently falling asleep; and two, imagining a healthy form of his uniqueness acting in the world.  He has a deep sense of seeing her seeing him in earlier moments of his enlivenment in his agency in the world.


(Schore, A. 2012, p. 99-100) “In my 1994 book I also discussed the developmental origins of another parasympathetic affect that is perhaps even more overlooked than shame: disgust, an affect associated with olfactory processing.  Disgust, a basic emotion (Darwin, 1872/1965), is expressed early in infants as distaste (Rozin & Fallon, 1987, and in rejection and avoidance behaviors (Izard, 1991)……..At later points in the life span, disgust is a central threat emotion associated with distress and avoidance behavior in reaction to psychological contamination and violation.  It is triggered by body odors and rotting, death, offensive and contaminating body products, inappropriate sexual behaviors, and body envelope violations (e.g. blood, injuries, gore, mutilation)………Krusemark and Li (2011) assert that parasympathetic disgust states, like sympathetic fear states, are associated with threats to survival, yet they incite divergent autonomic mechanisms in the human defense systems.  Their research demonstrates that disgust at the autonomic physiological level increases parasympathetic responses, reducing heart rate (bradycardia), respiration and blood pressure, thus suppressing activity and initiating a state of inhibition and passive coping……….disgust provokes immediate suppression of visual attention and sensory rejection…….modulating visual and olfactory sensors with widen versus narrowed eyes and nostrils, increasing sensory intake of fear and dampening in disgust. (Krusemark and Li, p. 3434)….. Using visual event-related potential indexes, they show a rapid discrimination between fear and disgust as early as 96 milliseconds after presentation of a threat stimulus……..Rusch et al. (2010) note that pathological (dysregulated) disgust is associated with eating disorders, phobic and obsessive disorders, schizophrenia, sexually traumatized individuals, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD)……..their study reports women with BPD and/or PTSD exhibit heightened disgust sensitivity, and more disgust-prone implicit self-concept.”
The conscious transcendence of an alienating existence-“a higher level” or mediated alienation.

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