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Trusting The Tides - Self-empowerment through our emotions

by Anne Dickson

listed in mind body

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Anne Dickson's third book is a promotion of emotional literacy; in her own words "this book … explains how we can manage our feelings more effectively. Above all, it makes clear that emotion is part of everyday life and need not be seen as a problem."

This may sound like a very ambitious aim for a book of about 200 pages, but she makes a very creditable attempt to bring it off. The introduction sets out her basic premise: that most of us have learned to disconnect to a greater or lesser degree from our emotions, and have in particular learned to split emotions into 'good' and 'bad' ones. The rest of the book is divided into three parts. Part one, 'shaping the emotional landscape', sets up a model of our basic emotions and the sort of childhood scenarios that give rise to them; part two, 'a new approach: DANCE', addresses the question of how we can manage emotions that don't properly belong to an actual situation but rather to our past; and part three, 'the mind-body link in everyday life', looks at ways that emotional management might help in everyday stress situations and in psychosomatic illness.

I liked part one best. Her style of writing is, as in her previous books, very readable and lucid. She introduces, one by one, some simple but very useful ideas for making sense of basic emotions and for how different emotions might hang together. She goes on to explain how we spend our lives getting 'restimulated', i.e. having earlier, not completely digested experiences re-activated by current ones. Her model is basic enough to be easily understandable by laymen and free of psychotherapeutic jargon, yet it offers a lot of space for the reader to develop their own ideas.

Part two describes her solution for what else we might do instead of trying to suppress our emotions. The DANCE model is her own contribution but arises largely out of her co-counselling background. The acronym DANCE stands for the sequence Distress, Acknowledgement, Naming, Catharsis, and Evaluation. The proposition is that we should take the time and space to feel what we are feeling, let the feelings develop, talk about them in an undefended way, trust our bodies to express the feelings, and try to make some sense of the experience and see what we can learn from it.

Part three is perhaps the weakest. The author feels quite passionately that the process she describes must not be confined to 'special' situations like therapy but must become part of a lifestyle, an everyday activity to keep ourselves functioning optimally (and I agree with her). She does however attempt to draw together a lot of different strands that end up being very oversimplified; particularly her chapter on psychosomatic disease left me very unsatisfied.

Throughout the book, we find exercises that can be done by the reader, to help make the book not just a theoretical treatise but a journey through each reader's own experience.

On the whole, the book made fascinating reading for me. I found myself repeatedly wanting to point out a 'hole' in the simple models Anne Dickson was presenting, only to realize two paragraphs further that she had not missed the hole after all. In some places her train of thought could be a little more elaborated; the writing is quite dense for all its lucidity and seeming simplicity.

I like the book, but have two reservations about it. The first one is that only some people suppress their emotions, while others are constantly flooded by emotions that cannot be contained, and the sort of catharsis Anne Dickson proposes is not particularly useful for them. I would therefore regard the book as targeted at a specific public; this is however not defined anywhere in the book. My second concern is that by proposing that uncomfortable emotions are best discharged through some kind of bodily expression, I feel the author unwittingly buys into the very splitting that she deplores. I miss the concept of containment in the book, and the idea which forms the basis of my own psychotherapeutic practice: that by simply experiencing our feelings as fully as possible in relationship with another person, we allow for a profound transformation to happen, which gives us a chance to integrate past suffering into our present life.

Kathrin Stauffer, Ph.D.

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