How Do You Feel? Why Emotions Matter in Psychiatry

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This article argues for the importance of investigating emotions
in psychiatry. In a time dominated by striding naturalistic explanations
of mental illness, phenomenological psychopathology
provides a crucial investigation into the subjective aspect
of the disordered mind. Emotional phenomena are Janus-faced
in the sense that they bring out the complex interplay of impersonal,
biological and personal features of mental illness. We
propose a framework for understanding emotional experience
that is grounded in four key points: a general concept of “affectivity”,
the definition of “emotion” as felt motivation to move,
the distinction between “affect” and “mood” according to their
intentional structure and the dialectics between affects and
moods. The reason why emotions matter in psychiatry is that
mental suffering brings out an emotional fragility that we argue
is constitutive of personal identity. Emotional experience reveals
an intimate alienation at the heart of our mental life. What we
feel is our own experience, but in this experience we may feel
that we are not ourselves. To be a person is to live with this affective
experience of selfhood and otherness. Emotions disclose
an inescapable fragility at the heart of our identity that plays a
significant role in our vulnerability to mental illness. We propose
a model constructed upon the theoretical assumption that
the fragility characterising human personhood stems from the
dialectics of selfhood and otherness at the core of being a person.
These dialectics become particularly evident in the way our
moods challenge our sense of personal identity by complicating
our relation to norms and values. In fact, we argue that moods
are the most conspicuous epiphany of otherness in human life,
in that they, more than other experiences, complicate our sense
of being who we are. By way of conclusion, we illustrate our
model with a phenomenological and hermeneutical analysis of
the experience and meaning of shame.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychopathology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)381-392
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2014

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Theology - Philosophy • Personhood • Emotions • Moods • Naturalism • Shame

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