This concludes a three-part excerpt series from Senior Editor Cyndi Suarez’s 2018 book, The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics. The first and second parts, “Effective Interactions: Supremacist Power and Liberatory Power” and “Interaction Patterns: Patterns of Domination and Patterns of Resistance,” ran on previous weeks. Please join us and 200 of your colleagues this afternoon for a “Meet the Author” online salon.
At the end of the film The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, the young king says:
There is a loftiness that does not come from fortune. It’s a certain air of superiority which seems to destine us for greatness. It’s a prize that we give to ourselves imperceptibly. It’s by virtue of this quality that we usurp the deference of other men, and it is this which places us above them more than birth, dignity, or even merit.
Recent research in the field of psychoneuroendocrinology, the study of hormones and their relationship to behavior, reveals that our hormones act on each other during interactions. What one feels about another is transmitted in one’s interaction and affects the other’s biological body. Like genes, memes are units of influencing information. While genes are currently understood as contained, traveling only down the biological line, memes are not contained. These units of meaning travel sideways, transmitted through interactions, challenging the Darwinian assumption of self-containment. This phenomenon is called affect: the act of producing an effect or change in another, in body, feelings, or mind.
Affect is perceived passively as a bodily emotion caused by another or the environment, in that the environment holds the signals we send each other. Some of this is not new. The concept of entrainment, the tendency of people to fall into synchronicity with each other, has been around for some time. Affect narrows the window down to micro-interactions—the small day-to-day interactions with others that shape us.
In understanding affect, the heart is key. Pheromones are olfactory molecules that carry one’s intentions and act as direction-givers. They travel between people through space. What one feels in one’s heart is communicated to another via the sense of smell. The other picks up this information, mostly unconsciously. In turn, the hormonal intentions of others can enter one’s body and influence, leading one to accept another’s intention as one’s own, again, often unaware. This challenges the assumption that intentionality has to be conscious.
Affect has two main states that are reflected in the body: anxiety and joy. Anxiety becomes stress and illness, and joy well-being and health. Thus, anxiety diminishes one’s life power, and joy enhances it. People toggle back and forth between anxiety and joy, seeking to minimize anxiety and maximize joy.
An interaction that triggers anxiety, a threat response, is emotionally overwhelming and mentally taxing. It lowers one’s personal productivity because it diverts and uses up oxygen and glucose, which would otherwise go toward other, more creative, uses. However, research in this field has also observed the plasticity of the brain, its capacity to remold, to recreate itself. This means that with attention and intention one can learn to respond to threats with something other than anxiety.
The human brain is social. One is constantly assessing how interactions either enhance or diminish one’s status because, in the dominant, or supremacist, worldview, status is associated with the ability to get the things one needs: love, power, and recognition. Low status is associated with exclusion. When one feels excluded, one’s body exhibits the same neurological activity exhibited during physical pain. There is heightened activity in the part of the brain that signals suffering. The more one feels excluded, the higher the level of brain activity. Realizing that one might compare unfavorably to someone else causes anxiety to kick in, releasing cortisol and other stress-related hormones. Feelings of low status induce cortisol levels similar to chronic anxiety. To be low status is to live in a state of chronic anxiety. Conversely, high status correlates with health. Affects, thus, have a regulatory function, helping biological organisms move away from death and toward optimal living.
One maintains one’s sense of self by projecting onto others the affects that interfere with one’s sense of ability to act, such as any sense of inferiority and the anxiety it invokes. Off-loading anxiety increases the likelihood of joy for the off-loader. These affective judgments are, in turn, usually uploaded by the other. Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously, the typical interaction between a dominant and a subordinate is one where the dominant off-loads anxiety and the subordinate uploads that anxiety. Therefore, one’s status in society overdetermines how much anxiety one is likely to upload.
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When uploading anxiety, one is driven by an intention that is not one’s own. The state of being subordinate is one in which one is more likely to show stress symptoms than others and less likely to have the opportunity to off-load. Further, affects have a cumulative effect. The fewer the negative aspects around one, the easier it is to resist them. The more there are, the harder it is to resist them.
Affect is a major site of struggle. Resistance is always a choice. Resistance begins with the ability to recognize, engage, and redirect affect. This ability is a core source of power. It is an ability that can be learned.
First, one must learn to note the arrival of an affect in order to understand its pathway. One does this through identifying and exploring impulses. Affect begins with an impulse. An impulse is both a sudden urge that prompts an unpremeditated act, and (over time) an inclination. If one follows one’s impulses without reflection, one will not be able to notice, much less change, the direction of the pathway. One can learn to have choice—to engage the impulse or to let it take one for a ride. There is a choice to be made between being active and passive, between choosing one’s behavior and unconsciously engaging in dominant/subordinate power interactions. It is worth noting that one may also consciously choose to engage in dominant/subordinate interactions for exploration, balance, and pleasure, as with those who practice bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (BDSM).
The ability to resist affect also requires discernment, the ability to distinguish between one’s own feelings and another’s affect. Feelings are sensory states produced by thoughts and articulated in words. Awareness of sensory sensation and the ability to put those sensations into words are necessary for feelings. One’s feelings have a logic that one can discern. Affects, on the other hand, are interrupting thoughts — thoughts that come from one’s environment, as opposed to emanating from within, as feelings do. Discernment also helps one distinguish between the pleasurable and the painful, which helps one understand the difference between life-affirming and life-draining affects.
Finally, an affect can be overcome by a contrary, stronger affect. Overcoming another’s affect depends on one’s ability to focus one’s attention. One’s attention is the currency with which one purchases the life one wants. The practice of intentionally directing one’s affect is supported by the seven classical virtues. Virtues are a spiritual form of liberatory social codes.
THE CLASSICAL VIRTUES
|1.||Courage||The strength to resist affect|
|2.||Prudence||The conservation of energy|
|3.||Temperance||The strength to resist directing negative affect|
|4.||Justice||Taking and giving what is appropriate|
|5.||Hope||The belief that the future can be better|
|6.||Faith||The assumption that one is the focus of a divine, loving intelligence|
|7.||Love||A unifying energy|
Love reorders aggression. Therefore, negative affects can be deconstructed and reconstructed with love. To love, to resist domination, is to remove oneself from negative affect loops. There is no clearer path to freedom.
Freedom is the ability to be free of negative affects, one’s own and those of another. Living freely is refusing to take on another’s negative affect. Living responsibly is refusing to project negative affect onto others. Justice is taking no more affect than is appropriate for one’s actions and giving the affect that is appropriate for what one receives from another.
Finally, while social codes provide direction, the practices of discernment are comparison, recollection and memory, and detachment. At first one may redirect affect in retrospect, as one reflects over interactions, discerns what one brought to it and what the other did, and think about how one might interact differently in the future. Over time, one recognizes affect as it unfolds, which increases one’s chances at redirecting it. One learns to have choice in interactions.
QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION IN RESPONDING WITH FEELINGS
|1.||What am I feeling?|
|2.||Where did this feeling come from?|
|3.||When did it start?|
|4.||What was happening at the time?|
|5.||How is it connected to past events?|
|6.||What are my choices now?|