Background Emotions, Proximity and Distributed Emotion Regulation

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (2):271-292 (2013)
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In this paper, we draw on developmental findings to provide a nuanced understanding of background emotions, particularly those in depression. We demonstrate how they reflect our basic proximity (feeling of interpersonal connectedness) to others and defend both a phenomenological and a functional claim. First, we substantiate a conjecture by Fonagy & Target (International Journal of Psychoanalysis 88(4):917–937, 2007) that an important phenomenological aspect of depression is the experiential recreation of the infantile loss of proximity to significant others. Second, we argue that proximity has a particular cognitive function that allows individuals to morph into a cohesive dyadic system able to carry out distributed emotion regulation. We show that elevated levels of psychological suffering connected to depressive background emotions may be explained not only in terms of a psychological loss, but also as the felt inability to enter into dyadic regulatory relations with others—an experiential constraint that decreases the individual’s ability to adapt to demanding situations.

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Somogy Varga
Aarhus University


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