It is impossible to imagine the life of human beings without emotions. Every moment, event, object, and piece of information, people interact with provokes feelings that vary in sentiment quality and thereby differently affect our experiences and further life. Emotion is a principally unconscious mental reaction sent by the nervous system in response to the exciting fact that results in physical and psychological alterations of an individual (Tullman 19). It is an essential element of human nature that helps to survive and experience life in full. Sometimes feelings overwhelm individuals what causes socially dangerous behaviors and decisions. The Giver, a dystopian novel, discusses the notion of external emotion suppression and regulation as a tool to improve humanity and the world around it. Despite the unconscious nature of emotions, feelings perform intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social functions that give meaning to events and human life itself; thus, emotional suppression may lead to the loss of identity.
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Lois Lowry, an American science fiction writer, in her novel, narrated the adventures of a 12-year-old boy, Jonas, who lives in a utopian society that ultimately turned to be dystopian. In the world created by the author, people live in separate communities under the policy of Sameness that regulates almost everything. It initially seems that this approach provides people with equality, safety, and fairness as there are no significant conflicts, accidents, divorces, abandoned children, whereas everybody enjoys a proper education, the same quality of life, and individual professional assignments. For instance, Fiona, the peer of Jonas, demonstrated her compassion and care skills during her first 11 years of life and was assigned as a Caretaker of the Old. The Committee of Elders even forms families from thoroughly matched spouses and then selects children for them from those born by Birthmothers. Although society lives in conformity, security, and tolerance, members of the community do not have a choice, freedom of expression, or speech. They share the same skin color, see the world in the tones of grey, and live in a stable climate experiencing the same season.
However, more importantly, this society lacks emotional depth in their life. To maintain security, the Committee leads the exclusive policy of emotion suppression that saw people’s feelings being a parody of those experienced by humanity earlier. Jonas, who was selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, gained access to the knowledge and emotional experience of humanity provided by the Giver. As the story progress, memories, and emotions of the times before Sameness have awakened him to the unfairness of the system. He realizes that inhabitants’ lifestyles deprive them of genuine pain and feeling; it is “the life without color, pain, or past” (Lowry 60). People are obliged to use medication to eradicate sexual urges, and twins are not allowed to survive together as they are usually emotionally tied. The main protagonist finds his personality and decides to help others to achieve the same because it is cruel to leave in numbness. Jonas ultimately left those whom he loves, his community, to give them back all feelings that would teach them how to love in return.
As was earlier mentioned, feelings are responsible for intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social functions. Their primary intrapersonal purpose lies within the human ability to act quickly in response to dangerous stimuli without significant cognitive intervention. This mainly adaptive feature of emotion has always assisted people to survive in situations when the time needed for rational thinking is a luxury. Emotions prepare the body to act by activating certain systems and deactivating others to maintain a coordinated response to the external irritants. They also work as a neural glue connecting memories and thoughts. All attitudes, beliefs, and values are colored by the emotions they cause in the brain (Hwang and Matsumoto). It gives them meaning and impacts the thinking process. For instance, since citizens of the community live in an extremely secure environment and use medication to suppress any pain, they would not be able to respond quickly to unexpected danger when such emerges.
People tend to express their feelings with the help of gestures, facial expressions, movements, and words. Hence, emotion is an essential communication tool that transfers information to others about an individual’s intentions, perceptions, and relationships. This communicative signal value constitutes its primary interpersonal function. For instance, communication between Jonas and his friend Asher is always hindered by various restrictions such as the ban on emotionally charged words, questions regarding something private, and value judgments. When Jonas tried to show his friend the real color of flowers touching his shoulders, Asher was surprised because “it was extremely rude for one citizen to touch another outside of family units” (Lowry 36). In that case, restrictions on emotional expression adversely impact the quality of their interpersonal relations.
Nevertheless, culture plays an essential role in an individual’s identity formation by guiding how to show and use emotions. Cultural information and meaning reach its members with the help of worldview development that sets norms and guidelines for desirable emotions and for those that should be avoided. Emotions have important interpersonal and intrapersonal functions, and cultural instructions play the role of behavior motivators (Janocha et al. 185). Norms and worldviews of culture people belong to help the society to preserve social order and manage how they conduct. Without such social regulation, uncontrolled emotions may lead to various conflicts, destructive behavior, and the inability of society to function effectively. In The Giver, the community’s response is shaped not by culture itself as people even do not know their history, but instead was artificially set from above. Thus, their identities were formed not naturally in favor of excessive safety and order in society.
In general, emotions of an inappropriate degree and in a specific context can be destructive. In the realm of The Giver, people have reduced sensitivity and high tolerance that eliminated any possible adverse outcomes of interactions. In the real world, people rely on emotion regulation that helps to control which feelings they have, how they express and experience them (Ford and Gross 1). The process model of emotion regulation includes four stages that are identification, selection, implementation, and monitoring of regulation strategy.
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People apply emotion regulation both to themselves and others that are determined by their own beliefs regarding the controllability of emotion. For instance, if somebody believes the latter is uncontrollable, there will be more compassion towards others’ suffering. Such strategies as distraction, rumination, avoidance, cognitive reappraisal, or adaptability are used by socialized human beings to attain or avoid a particular emotional state. The evidence shows that self-regulation, support from others, and personal believes can successfully control the emotional state caused by stimuli (Ford and Gross 8). For example, the results of the study conducted to find out how emotion regulation influences interpersonal issues among students proved that it could be successful in avoiding harmful emotions (Ahmady et al. 76). Hence, although feelings are an integral part of human life, they should be regulated to some extent by culture and beliefs to preserve social order and security.
In the case of the mentioned novel, controlled and oppressed emotional life that enslaves society does not have any health consequences. In reality, deliberate emotion suppression applied by individuals may lead to well-being and health issues. Defense against the expression of emotions and feelings establishes the tension disorders need to emerge, while free and full expression of emotions positively influences mental and physical health (J. Patel and P. Patel 18). In general, suppression is one of the emotion regulation tools that is about pushing negative thoughts or feelings out of one’s mind and trying to mask its outward expression from the environment (Brockman et al. 95). In the short term, this strategy helps to avoid undesired situations and conflicts that may be caused by acting out.
However, in the long run, this strategy is not able to decrease the suffering of the inner emotional experience because it does not help to cope with the reasons for particular feelings. The cumulated feelings may lead to increased preservation and rumination that may trigger such downstream effects as depression, anxiety, and stress-related illnesses (J. Patel and P. Patel 20). According to Weststrate and Glück, exploratory and redemptive processing helps people to cope with hardships, specific emotional states and brings them wisdom (6). Even experience of negative emotions such as grief is vital for acquiring knowledge and skills needed for further life.
To conclude, The Giver showed the dystopian world in which the feelings of inhabitants are controlled and suppressed. It leads to higher Sameness, tolerance, and security, whereas people lost their real identity. Emotions play essential intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social functions that influence the way how people behave and interact, bringing meaning to everything they do. Although negative feelings may lead to dangerous situations, and emotion regulation is needed, excessive regulation strategies often result in mental and health issues. People should not be artificially deprived of memories connected to different feelings because it is a part of human nature. Cultural norms and proper self-regulation should instead guide emotions.
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Ford, Brett Q., and James J. Gross. “Emotion regulation: Why beliefs matter.” Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, vol. 59, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-14.
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