Feelings: Healthy Emotional Flow

Katie and the Balloon:Version One









In my first essay on Feelings it was suggested that the four basic human emotions are biologically based, energetic responses that prepare us for certain kinds of action.  Excitement motivates us to approach and consume or consummate.  Fear motivates us to freeze (so we won’t be noticed) and then to run like hell if that becomes appropriate.  Sadness is a response to loss, it motivates us to hold on to strive to reacquire, but if the loss is permanent, it leads to tears and sobbing that wash away our attachment so that we can return to full life.  Anger is our response to being blocked from a goal and it motivates us to fight against the barrier to get what we want or need.   Anger can also be the response to experienced or perceived attack and it mobilizes us to fight to protect ourselves.

That first Essay suggested that for us human beings our psychology greatly modifies the basic biology of emotions on both the stimulus and the response sides.  Our perception of  stimuli and what constitutes loss, threat, frustration of goals, and what is desirable is much more malleable and subject to learning by experiences of many kinds than is the perception of animals.  Furthermore we can remember stimuli from the past and imagine stimuli in the future that can evoke our Feelings.  On the response side, the more “natural” biological responses to emotional stimuli are seldom useful or appropriate in an unsocialized form and we have to learn all kinds of adaptations to integrate Feelings and our feeling-motivated behaviors into our highly interdependent social life.  Furthermore, such socialization experiences, can be functional or dysfunctional and can have many implications for our mental health and mental ill health.

The current Essay is centered around a fictional description of what healthy emotional flow looks like in a young (perhaps two year old) human being.  It attempts to show how emotions are evoked, experienced and expressed by a healthy two year old and how they naturally ebb and flow with free movement from one emotional state to another as appropriate.. Later essays will represent what socialized healthy adult human emotionality  looks like and will give more elaboration to some of the emotional problems we are prone to and what kind of healing and therapeutic work may be beneficial to solving or resolving these problems.

In this Narrative, the focus is on Katie and her existence.  Her mother’s responses are not given for the most part.  These will be introduced at another time.


                           Katie and the Balloon: Version One

Two year old Katie and her mother are walking through the zoo.  It is a bright sunny day, spring, a soft gentle wind is blowing, and all around there are bushes and trees, just beginning to show their new leaves—little spots of soft green here and there.   Katie walks along, mostly relaxed, open, no high expectations—her first time at the zoo.  She is alert, visually searching, staying within safety range of her mother in a new place.    They haven’t yet come to the animals. 

Suddenly, just up ahead on the wide walkway, something interesting comes into view.   A man with a blue shirt, brown pants and a gray hat is standing at the edge of the walkway.  Above his head, brilliantly colored large circular bubbles float in the air and dance gently in the breeze.

Katie KNOWS.   “Balloon”, she squeals.  “I want balloon” .  Her whole being and body stretches out and twinkles toward the man with his lovely dancing bouquet of smooth round flowers.  There is energy in her steps, direction, focus, dancing, skipping energy even though she is too young to skip.  She is ahead of her mother, striving toward the object of desire, an arm up reaching for string, face smiling, focused, hungry anticipation.   EXCITEMENT

Mother, reaches in her purse, $3 to the balloon man, Katie points to a big blue one.  The string is placed in her hand and she and the balloon dance down the path, moving up and down, side to side.  Katie has her head up, watching this lovely, lively blue balloon  that is hers and in her power.   Her face is now mobile, smiling, relaxed more than focused, enjoying, glorying in this thing possessed, moving with her, belonging to her.

Katie doesn’t see and wouldn’t understand if she did, the Hawthorne tree ahead, leaning over the path with so-far only teeny buds clinging to its slender branches amid the long sharp thorns.  Katie dances under tree, balloon follows, hits a branch and another, interesting to child—then, BOOM! (lurch, Whoosh).

Katie hears BOOM!, startles, alerts, tenses, freezes for an instant, then, turns to mother, runs to her side and clings.  Who made that noise, what danger lurks, is the world safe?   Head hiding in skirt at mother’s thigh.  FEAR

Nothing happens, there is no attack, head turns from skirt, child peeps out.  No monster, no darkness, still sunshine, a bird chirps, breeze still gentle.  Fear subsides, more visual searching.

Then discovery:  disaster for balloon.  Limp, wrinkled deflated rubber, dangling string,  lying unmoving on path.  This no object of delight.

Katie looks around.   Where is Blue Balloon, what is mine, what goes with me?  She walks, but franticly searching, looking, seeking, her fingers open and close, wanting the balloon to be there.  Gone, no more, can’t find.  Face clouds over, recognition, Balloon is broken, this dead thing, lying on the ground, can dance no longer.

 Tears come, arms empty, energy low, only weeping.   Loss and SADNESS fill the universe, the hole in the balloon creates hole in Katie’s existence, something full is now empty, there is no future, only the wanting that which was beautiful and exciting and full of energy.  The child can’t see the sun or budding trees and flowers, only what is not there and cannot be found.  The face is an open mouth, sounds of mourning “wah, wah, aaaahh.”  Heaving breast, sobs from belly, shoulders wracked with pain, shaking, tears spilling energy onto the path.

Balloon man is a moving store.  He has begun to follow Katie and her mother up the walkway.  As Katie’s mourning subsides a little, her eyes see the dancing balls come into view.  Within moments, eyes open, tears begin to dry in the gentle wind, arm lifts with renewed energy, reaching, pointing to the magnetic yellows and blues and reds, bobbing like inviting baits, asking to be freed from their bondage in the swarm and  taken for a dance.  “Mommy, Mommy, Balloon!   Want Balloon.  Want Balloon”. EXCITMENT and wanting.

Mommy says “NO”.   

“Balloon, Balloon. I Want Balloon.”,  Intensity, rising color, reaching hand toward string, body arching up toward dancing colored apples, all hunger, need to have, possess, restore, fill emptiness.   Face begins to tense, more pleading, rising energy, “Balloon. I Want Balloon.”  


“Yes!  YES!”.    Hand now pulls at mommy’s.  Dragging by force toward Balloons and man who holds the strings.   Goal directed, get what I want, do this mommy.  Mommy is a rock, immoveable, no balloon.

Katie’s face changes, lips curl, teeth come into view, some clinching of jaws, eyes narrow. ANGRY tears this time. 

Face red, arms thrash, feet stamp, Katie throws whole self down upon the path.  Mouth wide open, howl, shriek, feet kick toward mommy, arms grabbing, punching the air, back tense and arched, energy thrown at the universe, tear down the barrier, get me what I want, now!

“Bad Mommy.  Bad Mommy.  I want Balloon!”

More Kicking, screaming, thrashing on ground, shrieking, kicking toward mommy who stays out of reach of feet.

“I hate you Mommy!”

An eternity of a minute goes by.  Energy ebbing, something forced about the wailing now, doesn’t sound so urgent, not so real, deflating like the balloon, but more slowly, a limpness coming, the anger not so full.  

 Another minute. Receding, the eye lids soften, and start to widen, tears are on the checks still, but eyes begin to see again.  Body spent, relaxes some, back more mobile, arms and legs on walkway, not much movement, energy spent, resolution phase.

 Suddenly, above her head, a small point of energy and movement.  Katie’s eyes are captured, begin to focus.  A small spot of color, dancing on the still gentle breeze.  A teeny balloon?  No.   It is not only moved by the wind, it has its own life which adds to its dance.  Katie sees, interest up, sits up.  On feet, moves toward spot of color that is now approaching greening plants.  Katie is dancing again,  now,  beneath an early spring butterfly.  Face smiling, open, some desire, but satisfied to dance in rhythm with this new thing.  No strings, but inspiring, a companion to renewed EXCITEMENT.

                                    AN END     A BEGINNING

What stands out in the emotional life of the healthy two year old, is the FLOW  of emotions. Their appearance is mostly related to present external events or stimuli.   The movement from Excitement to Fear to Sadness, to Anger, and back to Excitement, is rhythmic, open, fluid.  Each feeling has its moment or minute, its special energy and expression, it is felt and released by outward movement of its natural dynamic.  And when it is spent, the child is free of it, and open to the next emotion.   Nothing is left, nothing is stored up to be dealt with later, it is over and done with in its own time, and the organism is ready for the next life event.