The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 12:30:59

The duty to show emotion

Katie van Schaijik, Jul 22, 2015

Among the duties we have toward one another, as individuals created for a communion of love, is the duty to express emotion. Kierkegaard explains, in Works of Love:

Your friend, your beloved, your child, or whoever is the object of your love, has a claim upon its expression also in words when it really moves you inwardly.  The emotion is not your possession but the other’s. The expression of it is his due, since in the emotion you belong to him who moves you and makes you conscious of belonging to him.  When the heart is full you should not grudgingly and loftily, short-changing the other, injure him by pressing your lips together in silence; you should let the mouth speak out of the abundance of the heart.

It's on my mind partly because of the Old Testament readings last month about Joseph and his brothers—I was struck by the mention of Joseph's loud sobs, which revealed the depth and greatness of his soul and helped his brothers achieve true contrition, which in turn allowed their relations to be restored.

If we were raised in a culture that prizes "the stiff upper lip" or that treats emotion with contempt, as weakness or irrationality, than we're not likely to realize this truth—at least not until personal disaster gets us in touch with our deep psychic wounds or confronts us with the wounds we have inflicted on our children by our reticence and affective neglect. And by that point, the realization is painful enough to be almost overwhelming.

Much better if we can learn to understand it and practice it sooner.