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Conflicting Emotional Culture

Societies have different norms for expressing emotions and vary in expectations for expressing these emotions and in regulating them. These differences are all part of what is known as an emotional culture. Cultural prescriptions for emotional expression and emotional control are passed on through various institutions in society. The family socializes us from early on and the media bombards us daily with messages on appropriate behavior and emotional reactions, for example.

One element of 21st century emotional culture – personal control over expression of emotion – plays an important role in the grief process. At this point, I provide background on how others approach the ways in which emotions are managed and expressed within the social environment. To understand emotional expression in contemporary society, I look to Hochschild’s (1979,1983) influential work that remains relevant today, that every society includes a set of norms to direct individuals on how they should behave and what they should expect concerning emotions. This is accomplished through ‘feeling rules’ which encompass the extent, direction, and duration of felt emotions for social situations. These feeling rules are recognized as significant because they serve as cultural teachings that form suitable emotional responses to one’s life events and experiences (Carr, 2006).

Individual feelings surrounding life altering events are now vitally important. Feeling rules for grief are similar to other rules for feeling emotion, although they tend to last longer than other emotional states (Stroebe, et al. 2001). As these private feelings are firmly placed onto the public agenda (e.g., in medical training, hospital routines, through a new wave of specialists for care, and as an interest to the media, etc.), they are center stage (Walter, 1999). Although informal support for life changing events has existed throughout time from family, church, friends, neighbors and work colleagues, along with some types of formal support from physicians, and religious figures, a weakening of traditional support systems has altered the landscape for coping with life events within the family and with close others.

With an increasingly fragmented society due in part to the geographic mobility of the family, transient neighborhoods and career and job changes, people may seek more formal guidance on how to express feelings and others may refer those struggling with grief to professional communities. Although the individual may choose his/her own approach, there is a curiosity in what the experts are advising. These experts come from a wide range of institutions with varying credentials and assist people with the expression of emotions, or provide guidance and empowerment for life changing events.

There is now a new wave of expert care providers. Life coaches, for example, became popular in the early 21st century, as the media note in reference to the new trend, “Personal growth is hot. Diagnosis is not” (Peterson, 2008). Life coaching emphasizes empowerment and partnership with guides who provide their clients with confidence to get unstuck whether this involves relationships, careers, or just simply pulling their life together. The goal is to define a better future for the client. If you feel ‘stuck’ or particularly ‘worried,’ a life coach is your new option. According to Patrick Williams at the Institute for Life Coach Training in Ft. Collins, Colorado, life coaching will, “change the face of psychotherapy, helping people live a better life without the stigma of needing a diagnosis or a visit to a psychotherapist they don’t want or need” (Peterson 2008:4). However, experts in the field of mental health are concerned because this new field is virtually unregulated and even though those who provide the assistance take extensive coursework, others are working without any credentials. David Fresco, a psychology professor at Kent State warns us “there are no qualifications, no unified approach to coaching, no oversight board. Basically they fly under the radar screen of any sort of oversight” (Peterson, 2008, USA Today Online).

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