The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Emotional awareness

Sometimes people are taught, that there are good and bad emotions. Love for example would be a good emotion, whereas hate would be an undesirable one. What this approach tells us, is that social convention will welcome some emotions more easily than others. In reality, it depends on the situation and the people involved who will decide for themselves which one is welcome or not.

A different way to look at emotions is to see how they contribute to one another. In his article “Hate in the counter-transferenceD. W. Winnicott made the case that there is no love without hate. He explains this with the mother’s ability to experience her hate towards the child without doing anything about it. He also points out, that there are at least 18 reasons why a mother objectively has a reason to hate. Among these, he mentions the fact that a “baby is a danger to her body in pregnancy and at birth” and that “the baby is an interference with her private life, a challenge to preoccupation.”

Without hate, love would not need to exist.

Winnicott writes: “The most remarkable thing about a mother is her ability to be hurt so much by her baby and to hate so much without paying the child out, and her ability to wait for rewards that may or may not come at a later date.”

As an analyst, Winnicott paid attention to the impact of such dynamics in his work. Noticing that he too would have many objective reasons to hate his patients he saw the importance of being aware of these emotions. He writes “However much he loves his patients he cannot avoid hating them, and fearing them, and the better he knows this the less will hate and fear be the motive determining what he does to his patients.”

What he describes is that the denial of emotions inevitably leads to transforming the way we behave towards the other person. Whereas awareness will give the choice to choose between different options.

A leader who knows for example that he fears a team member can make himself aware of the reasons and address them. May it be by evaluating if this fear is grounded in reality. Or by using the awareness of his fear to pay attention to his reaction. The same is valid for hate, which will easily occur whenever a team member has a behavior that is not perceivable as respectful.

Reacting to his emotions may feel convenient. What it doesn’t do, is move the team towards accomplishing the work it set out to do. However, if there is objectively something happening in the here and now that prevents the team from doing its work, it needs to be addressed.

Just like the mother knows that some of the child’s actions cannot be prevented and don’t need to be tolerated to their full extent.

Without the interplay of emotions, it is hard for someone to keep his sense of belonging alive.


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