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Meta-emotions can be short-term or long-term. The latter can be a source of discouragement or even psychological repression, or encouragement of specific emotions, having implications for personality traits, psychodynamics, family and group dynamics, organizational climate, emotional disorders, but also emotional awareness, and emotional intelligence.
Linkage to awareness and emotional intelligence
One of the basic emotions -- namely interest -- at meta-emotional level (or metainterest) that is defined as being interested in what one feels at the moment is also a locus of emotional awareness and emotional intelligence, enabling one not to be slave to one's own emotions, nor repressing them, but dealing with them with awareness, intelligence and creativity.
History of the concept
Meta-emotion as a new concept was first defined by Gottman et al. (1996) as encompassing both feelings and thoughts about emotion, not only feelings about feelings, but as Nancy Eisenberg (1996) noticed it was not a very good definition because "...it is likely that thoughts about emotions and feelings about emotion sometimes play different roles in parental behavior. As one example, parents may not always be aware of their feelings about their own and their children's emotions. Yet parents' feelings about emotions may have effects on their behavior - effects that are not consistent with some of their conscious beliefs and values about emotions. It may be premature to consider thoughts and feelings about emotions as complementary or equivalent processes, although their interrelations and joint effects are of obvious importance". (Eisenberg, 1996)
As Gottman writes in his book Meta-Emotion: How Families Communicate Emotionally (Gottman et al, 1997) before 1984 he "... visited Robert Levenson, who was then on sabbatical in Paul Ekman's laboratory, and Ekman introduced him to Hochschild's (1983) book The Managed Heart. This book inspired Gottman to think of the idea of meta-emotion, and to the development of a 'meta-emotion interview' in conjunction with Lynn Fainsilber Katz (Katz and Gottman 1986)".
In this first study we planned for our family psychophysiology laboratory, each parent was to be separately interviewed about their own experience of sadness and anger, their philosophy of emotional expression and control, and their attitudes and behavior about their children's anger and sadness. Their behavior during this interview was audiotaped and later coded with a meta-emotion coding system designed by a central member of our laboratory staff, Carole Hooven , a coauthor of this book. Initially, the goal of the meta-emotion interview was to examine each parent's feelings about being emotionally expressive, but this idea was later expanded.
In pilot work for our first study of the effects of the parents' marriage on children, we discovered a great variety in the experiences, philosophies, and attitudes that parents had about their emotions and the emotions of their children. One pair of parents said that they viewed anger as 'from the devil', and that they would not permit themselves or their children to express anger. Their child was quite docile in her interactions with her parents but appeared quite angry and bossy in her interactions with her best friend. A similar negative view toward anger was echoed by other parents. Some parents in our study said that they put their children in Time Out for being angry, even if there was no child misbehavior. Other parents felt that anger was natural, but ignored the experience of anger in their children. Other parents encouraged the expression and exploration of anger. There was similar variety with respect to sadness, and the information we gathered about sadness was not redundant with the information we gathered about anger. Some parents minimized sadness in themselves and in their children, saying such things as, I can't afford to be sad, and What does a kid have to be sad about? Other parents thought that emotions like sadness in themselves and in their children were important and viewed themselves as emotion coaches of their children about the world of emotion. In our pilot work there also appeared to be gender differences: Fathers seemed less likely to be aware of their own sadness or to assist when their children were sad; fathers who were oriented toward emotion seemed more interested in their children's anger than in their sadness. Mothers seemed to be more concerned with their children's sadness than fathers. These were our initial impressions.
In the same book, he acknowledges:
At that time we did not expect the concept of meta-emotion to become the centerpiece of our work. That result was entirely serendipitous. The data led us to modify our initial theorizing and to realize that we had a particularly appealing and parsimonious theory and set of initial findings. Once we made meta-emotion the centerpiece of our work, this became a data set that said yes to almost all the theoretical questions we asked of it in building our theoretical model. Lynn Fainsilber Katz's thinking was instrumental to the development of the theoretical models. We also wish to acknowledge the help and feedback of Stephen Porges in building our theoretical model.
Prehistory of the concept
Becker (1964) presented a 2 x 2 table of 'permissive versus restrictive' as one factor, and 'warmth versus hostility' as the other factor. Becker noted that specific kinds of child outcomes had been related to each of the four cells of his table:
- the warm-and-restrictive cell tended to have positive child outcomes,
- the hostile-and-restrictive cell had social withdrawal, quarreling, and shyness, with self-aggression as child outcomes,
- the warm-and-permissive cell was omitted or deleted, and, finally,
- the hostile-and-permissive cell tended to have noncompliance, aggression, and delinquency as child outcomes.
Later, Baumrind (1967, 1971, 1987) distinguished three parenting styles, authoritarian (restrictive and cold), authoritative (restrictive and warm) and permissive, where the first ones (authoritarian) had conflicted-irritable children (fearful, apprehensive, moody, unhappy, easily annoyed, passively hostile, vulnerable to stress, aimless, sulky, and unfriendly), the second ones (authoritative) had energetic-friendly children (self-reliant, self-controlled, cheerful, friendly, able to cope well with stress, cooperative with adults, curious, purposive, and achievement-oriented), and the third ones (permissive) had impulsive-aggressive children (rebellious, low in self-reliance and self-control, impulsive, aggressive, domineering, aimless, and low in achievement). Other research has found that the combination of permissive and rejecting is a good predictor of delinquent and antisocial behavior (Patterson, 1982), whereas the combination of restrictive and rejecting is predictive of withdrawn and inhibited behavior and other internalizing disorders.
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