Tatiana Yevtushok

Psychotherapist. Gestalt coach

Positive and Negative Feelings. Embodiment in Space and Time

  • psychotherapy

A person is always more than he knows about himself. We are in the vast immensity of the world, and as limited as our body is, so unlimited is the power of our consciousness and thought. Everything exists simultaneously as a single (the image of the whole world) and as a separate (its details). In every period of time we are finite and infinite at the same time precisely because of the ability to think of existence in the space of the world concretely and abstractly. Events, circumstances, conditions, people around us, phenomena and objects from this space – everything with which we somehow come into contact in life-serve as an opportunity to become more by deepening knowledge about self through the experience of interaction, expanding consciousness/co-knowledge (from Latin conscius: con- “together” and scio “to know”). They are tools of communication between the world and a person and transform into co-knowledge in the process of cognition through the learning of the laws of our nature and its obviousness in the form of facts. In this way, a certain image is being formed. We can imagine it as a ball placed in space, which automatically causes the understanding of the expansion and filling of space, in other words, turns empty space into a denser, because it is meaningful. This process of expansion and filling occurs both through the external influence of the environment on us through sensory receptors (information that invades us from the world through sight, hearing, smell, touch) as well as through the perception and internal interpretation of this information by logical thought (perception). Gaining experience as a process of cognition occurs at the junction of these two abilities, and at its core it appeals to the sphere of feelings. In this regard, feelings give us a sense of the presence of something more meaningful, a sense of belonging to the world, they make us alive and support life. They are that mass of energy that is embodied in the space of the individual human body and in the space of its environment, but is embodied and unfolds in time. That is why the living through the feelings is a huge resource of co-creation (cooperative creation of reality), as they are at the point of contact of a person with the world and belong both to us and the external environment.

The world appeals to us through the feelings. Why does it appeal, you may ask? Since in the process of feeling and living cognition takes place, which is assimilated empirically into co-knowledge, expanding us and the world at the same time, it turns out that appeals to us for the purpose of developing life, of the depth of knowledge and for the expansion of consciousness. Thus, the ancient Greek expression-inscription at the temple of Apollo at Delphi “Know thyself” acquires meaning and appeals to the top of Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs – to self-actualization, only adjusted for the joint process of this cognition – co-knowledge with the space of the world in which we exist to create it through contact.

This space of the world is filled with existence, our existence, that which is greater than our essence. We are more than we know about ourselves. And if this greater appeals to us, then it needs this revitalizing co-knowledge and its expansion as much as we do, perhaps even more.

The world calls us to co-knowledge in many ways, mainly through relationships with other people. In this case, we can say that it is not laziness that is the engine of progress, but the feelings that overwhelm us in contact with others. A person, overflowing with them, as with energy, begins to act (create). They create a state and motivate to move.

It is important to note that in this case I call feelings a state of having emotions and sensations, as there is a lot of confusion in these terms. We are accustomed to call feelings everything that we experience on an emotional level. If we delve into the differences, it would be important to distinguish feelings from emotions, since emotions are just energy in motion, and feelings in psychotherapy and psychology are considered to be those states that have already been assimilated empirically, i.e. it is a kind of emotions that have gone their way through the cycle of contact and turned into a qualitative state of personality (therefore, some psychologists assert that there are only a few feelings, and everything else is emotions, for example, Watson asserted that there are only three feelings: love, rage and fear). But we will not go so deep into the differences in this article, and will call feelings situational emotions and sensations that arise in our contact with the world.

So inspiration and despondency, joy and sadness, love and hate, tenderness and irritation, passion and anger, delight and rage, gratitude and guilt, interest and fear, admiration and envy, hope and despair, embarrassment and shame, excitement and anxiety — they can be so polar and opposite. Some we characterize as positive, others as negative, or plus and minus, if you like. Some create a state movement forward from the present moment to the future, while other in their nature seem to change the vector and direct time from the future to the present. Eugene Minkowski (1933) unfolds this idea on the example of the state of activity as the unfolding of time towards the future and of the state of expectation as the unfolding of time back, when the starting point of our consciousness is not only the present moment, but also the future, in which we place a link to accomplishing something, and then expectation immerses us in time in a movement backward, and not forward. Thus, in those feelings that we perceive as negative, we set expectations and turn back time, instead of feeling an open and unfolded  into the world desire without specifying goals and planning (I simply want without reference to the result, by which I simply allow myself to be, and not just possess). The main conflict of a person in fact happens at the junction of these two needs: aesthetic (to be) and consumer (to possess). When we speak about space, we mean that it is incarnated materially and we are trying to take possession of it, because we own the space of our body. When we speak about time, we immerse into the tension of the process of existence, in which we make an effort to be in space. But since they are inseparable from each other and form a holistic picture of being, the integration of opposite directions is in the balance between these two needs. This is the basis of the paradox: we exist and move within time, but at the same time we are grounded in space and in a place where concrete and abstract needs are intertwined. Merab Mamardashvili wrote: “… dialectics is such a state (of tension between the opposite), only within which, without arising from one, separately taken, tension, a phenomenon can break out, which itself is not a deducible part, or element, of any continuous causal link.” (page 46). Within the framework of this polarity of opposite states, we argue about heaven and hell, good and evil, as about the principles of creation and destruction. Nietzsche called these two principles, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. We perceive positive feelings as happiness, negative make us suffer. We are striving for the positive, and we are trying to supplant the negative, which creates many problems, since only by accepting feelings (especially difficult to live through) as phenomena (as snow and rain), by realizing them, sensing them bodily, living through physically in time and giving them a place in body space, we can change the state, which entails the transformation of both relationships with others and certain life situations, charged with conflicts, pain, stress, anxiety and tension. Due to the power of transformation, this process of awareness and living is aesthetic in nature and creates the effect of catharsis, described by Aristotle in the doctrine of tragedy as the liberation and purification of the soul. At such moments, the subject-object boundary between the needs of “to be” and “to possess” is erased, and integration occurs. Thus, the ancient Greek tragedy contrasts aesthetic and consumer needs, personal and social, subjective and objective in favor of integrity and opens eyes to a wider picture of the world in which a person is a part of the world, and being a part, through atmospheric feelings the world shows him his place among others and responsibility towards the whole, as for example, king Oedipus found this middle way at the contact boundary with his people, and the self-blinding became a symbolic appeal to learn to see the invisible – not only space with its characteristics of possession, but also time as the piercing through this space engine of expansion and development. The main character in the tragedy is the chorus, which allows the viewer to be inside and be a participant in this tragedy on an aesthetic level. The chorus is a symbolic creation of the field. There is only one actor in the tragedy, which strengthens the viewer’s perception of him as a subject, and strengthens the subject-object opposition: there is only me and the world, and I do not just recognize myself from what is happening in the world, but I create the world with my background (with all that assimilated into my history in the past), and if I take responsibility and change myself, forming an aesthetic tool of cognition, then I also change the world around me by building a new space. The phenomenological field paradigm brings back this concept of tragedy in the work of the therapist. Therapy cleanses, like tragedy, by making it possible for a person to reach the boundary of contact and with the help of the ability to feel oneself within the field to see the invisible. Therefore, in the process of psychotherapy, by unfolding difficult experiences, you can observe the phenomenon of so-called “changelings”, when fear, for example, is not an obvious threat to security, but in fact, by being a terminated excitement to life, there is interest hidden behind it. A similar mechanism is the ratio of anxiety and excitement, where excitement serves as an advancing feeling, through which internal energy is invested in actions (as they say, only a bad actor does not worry). Envy, for example, is the reverse side of admiration, the ability to feel which has been lost for some reason. Shame blocks the embarrassment that advances us into the world as a sign of a meeting in which we become visible to others, and it expands our knowledge of ourselves, revealed and acquired new qualities in contact with other people.

The sensations that we experience are characterized by a middleness, which is expressed in the form of a grammatical middle voice and indicates interaction with the environment, as well as being at the contact boundary, which is automatically determined by sensitivity to field phenomena, that is, what happens in the atmosphere of a particular situation. At the same time, they are determined by the levels of contact and our ability to perceive and interpret information coming from the outside.

At the level of reception and perception, when the perception is synchronized with the external environment, and the information that we receive from the environment is interpreted based on our sensory response (inner sensations) to this information, the boundary of subject-object relations (I am the subject and object at the same time, I am and I have at the same time), indicating the active self (all of the functions of self are integrated, though at first glance we can say that the function of Id is more active, but it is not), what creates the integrity of space and time (the sensations are lived in time and in space simultaneously). For example: I am being happy, interested, angry, upset, sad, surprised, afraid, scared, admired, inspired, excited.

Other examples reflect a more pronounced appearance of an activated ego function and imply the presence of a creative act (I act), but also other self functions (Id and personality) in which the external environment appears as an object or other person in contact: I am confessing, laughing, smiling, giving up, trying, dressing, greeting.

The active position, however, speaks of an already assimilated experience, so the function of personality becomes more visible in it, and here it can be rigid, as an already established structure, since feelings become an active generalized action (I am the agent, the one who acts by feeling, who is responsible for this action by feeling, and therefore – there is a  possibility of making mistakes, if there is no reliance on Id, on sensations at more specific intervals). In this case, the whole does not reflect a specific contact, but becomes a whole in its generalization, and can be a relic of a certain experience as an embedded introject, which is projected onto further actions unconditionally and does not have reliance on the sensations of the Id function. For example: I am being jealous, envious, grateful, I love, hate. The following position, which is often found in therapy, can serve as a confirmation: “I love him/her (for example, a child), so I can not be angry with him/her”.

Let us look at this kind of rigidity with the help of the example of opposition envy-admire. Let us suppose that it is the disturbances in the middle voice of living through admiration that have led to envy. This means that there was premature transitivity in the past, when we did not transit from the passive state (they act on me, I do not feel inner responsibility, how I create a situation of impact on me – because this impact is not direct and does not imply interaction, I perceive myself as an object for the outside world, not as an acting subject, I only observe the other from outside, and make a conclusion that they impact me) to the middleness, where admiration could be laid, and I could turn myself into an active subject, recognizing my part of the volitional action and my participation in creating a tense situation. Such a return to the middle voice does not necessarily have to be accompanied by an awareness of some habitual consumer need to “possess/have” (if I envy, I want something), it may just be an aesthetic need to live through a lot of energy of feelings and sensations in time, and be just a nourishing life energy. When we admire a work of art, for example, a painting, it does not mean that we want to paint, but it definitely satisfies our aesthetic need to “be” and gives pleasant life energy. Therefore, it can be considered a deception to believe that when we envy or admire, we necessarily want something, and that a specific consumer need to “possess” something lies behind this.

That invisible that is hidden behind the visible sensation can be seen by our aesthetic sixth sense, shaping our being as a union of space and time inside and around us with the meaning and sense of unity of mind as time, and space as body, as our individual physical body, and the body/space of the world in which we live. This is an integrated state in which we do not ask questions of meaning, since it is already present in the moment here and now. This being can be schematically represented as a circle. Mamardashvili gives an example in which the house is visible only from one side, but thinking complements the rest in a way that being emerges inside it, and we imagine this house as a integral, even if we do not see its other side. That’s how the middle voice works, it appeals to the aesthetic need to “be”, which develops the skill to integrate the parts and feel the integrity. It is curious that in Gestalt therapy the group work takes place in a circle, and in the moments when individual work is carried out, the therapist and the participant are in the very center of the circle, thus, for the circle of other participants, as a whole, they are visible from all sides, which symbolically reflects being in space, while the work that takes place in the therapeutic interaction always contains an active figure, which affects all the participants forming the group.

It is generally accepted that feelings that are difficult to experience, those that we often characterize as negative, are mainly aimed at recognizing our consumer needs, and indicate a lack and a desire to capture something in space. In this sense, it is possible to create, work and engage in any activity because of shortage. But on the other hand, if we move with these feelings to a different polarity of positive emotions and being filled with them, then we can say that our activities can unfold from excess, from the overflowing with joy, admiration, interest, excitement, etc. They say that the therapist must be fed, clothed, etc. (i.e. satisfied in terms of physiological needs), so as not to project his dissatisfaction on the client, but they also say that the artist, for example, must always be a little hungry, which activates the aggressive energy to take and destroy (like to destroy food and assimilate it), in order to capture the space of the world with his creativity. As we can see, these are all controversial statements, since their origin lies at the heart of the conflict between the aesthetic and consumer aspects of our nature. The artist takes from the world and gives his creations to the world by assimilation with the help of the sixth sense at the aesthetic level of the process of experiencing sensations and emotions. Excess, as a result of already satisfied needs, forms a “torment” in time for a person for him to give to the world what he has already gained, and shortage forms motivation and aggressive energy to take faster.

Keeping in mind the integration and the middleness of the feeling, as well as the human tendency to polarise and contrast them, along with the fact that in Gestalt therapy we learn to close gestalts, we also learn to open them. As they say, a time to cast away stones and a time to gather them together. This is almost a detective story. Studies in the field of human memory by Daryl Bem have shown that people remember words better when they first perform tests, and only after that they learn these words. This is based on the learning process as recognition, where we first do it through practice and then assimilate, closing unfinished gaps, closing gestalts. In this case, the opening of gestalt is the ability to do and go into experience through action, so that then to come to the closing of the gestalts. Here the importance of withstanding the stress of ignorance and meaninglessness comes first, and it is important not to know before acting, since energy comes in the process of acting and leads to post-acquisition of knowledge. Opposite feelings (emotions) serve as the basis for two different models in the approach to activity. Negative feelings limit and narrow perception, mental activity and our behavior, which helps to increase concentration of attention and the ability to keep it on something more specific. This way we can focus on the figure and are more influenced by time. Positive feelings, on the contrary, expand perception, thoughts and behavior, which creates a rich background, which, overflowing us from the inside, helps to expand the space through the ability to gush from the inside out, to think and act in a diverse, spontaneous and creative way. Therefore, negative feelings help to learn, while positive feelings help you be creative. Positive feelings help to open gestalts through activity as a creative process, and we move towards giving and reproducing action to the world, and thereby – towards being, and negative feelings help to close gestalts through pressure and uncomfortable tension, and we are moving towards taking. This is a very important technique for practicing and understanding how to deal with feelings and emotions: pleasant feelings generate creativity, and unpleasant ones generate energy for learning. You can get to know more about the learning system, as well as about the balance in the raising of literacy and creativity, in the brilliant, full of humor,  speech by sir Ken Robinson during TED on YouTube.

We can talk as much as we like about these opposite feelings as polarities, but this does not negate the fact that they are inherent in a person as the energy of two forces that interact, replacing each other and pushing us forward in the development of both individuality and social embodiment. They flow from one another in the process of life, and to wonder what comes from what is equal to searching for the answer to the question of the origin of the chicken and the egg. They determine the cyclical nature of our life, and in this case the cycle of experience (contact cycle) acquires meaning not in itself as a circle, but as a continuous development of cycles arising one after another, which can be concluded in a spiral of infinity (note that even in utero the child develops from a point in a spiral). For example, if we come from negative or simply uncomfortable feelings that mobilize energy to realize a real need, then it is important for us not just to recognize it, but also to make an effort to find ways (to learn) how to satisfy it. When we have done this, the further process is automatic: the state of satisfaction and positive sensations and feelings give the energy to do something, and we, without much thought, begin to do something, very spontaneously and automatically, this is a creative process that applies to any activity, whether it is professional development, whether it is a relationship with people around us. These cycles follow each other on a spiral of interaction of time and space, and feelings have atmospheric character, as metaphors of gods in Homer, and are that mass of energy placed in space and sustained by time, which allows us to create the world together with it, by developing, expanding and moving forward infinitely, but with a support for each moment in “here and now”.


For further reading:

Aristotle “Poetics”

Bem Daryl, research studies

Homer “Iliad” and “Odyssey”

Mamardashvili Merab “Lectures on ancient philosophy”

Minkowski Eugène “Lived Time. Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies”

Nietzsche Friedrich “The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music”

Sophocles “Oedipus The King”

Sir Ken Robinson “Do schools kill creativity?” – TED talk speech

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