What is emotional authenticity?

The second main theme of the book is emotional authenticity. Authenticity is an elusive ideal. "To thin own self be true", advised Polonius his son Laertes in Hamlet. Yet it is not obvious what it means to be true to one's self. On the one hand, emotions are promising candidates for providing a standard of our true self as they often seem to identify our cares and values more reliably than evaluative beliefs. We may pay lip service to several values but if violations against them do not elicit any anger or sadness in us, our commitment to those values seems superficial at best. However, in this case, we face the question what grounds the authenticity of emotions themselves? Emotions are thoroughly infused with biological endowments, social and cultural norms, and contingent facts of our individual biographies. All these elements come together in Ronald de Sousa's notion of paradigm scenario, which involves two elements: "first, a situation type providing the characteristic objects of the specific emotion-type, and second, a set of characteristic or 'normal' responses to the situation, where normality is first a biological matter and then very quickly becomes a cultural one" (de Sousa, 1987, p. 182).Yet if my emotions are more or less fixed re-enactments of primal paradigm scenarios whose defining elements, formation process, and endorsement have been largely beyond my influence, why should those emotions be inalienable to the present me? Arguably emotions do not deserve the status of authenticity merely because they happen to be there, but only by virtue of conforming to some canon of value or rationality that we avow.

This brief discussion highlights two divergent intuitions about emotional authenticity. On the one hand, emotional authenticity seems to amount to spontaneity in one's emotions as they unfold and sincerity in their expression to oneself and others. Yet, on the other hand, authenticity seems more problematic than this. We sometimes find our spontaneous emotions curious or even unintelligible, and identify ourselves more readily with those emotions that emerge only later, after conscious reflection of the emotion-eliciting situation and our response to it. Feelings of insecurity, shame, or self-blame for instance may take us by surprise in social situations in which we do not recognize any reasons for those emotions. Our personal history may help us to explain the occurrence of those emotions but such understanding need not bring with it endorsement of those emotions as our authentic responses to the situation. These points suggest that spontaneity is not sufficient for the authenticity of emotions. However, spontaneity may not be necessary for authenticity either, because some emotions that emerge through conscious regulation rather than spontaneously may nevertheless qualify as authentic. Examples abound in our everyday lives where we skillfully adjust our emotions to social feeling rules that vary from situation to situation and from one social role to another. Discussion on emotional authenticity in other walks of life supports the impression that the notion of authenticity is shot through with paradoxes.

In authenticity has been associated with emotional labor more or less by definition ever since the concept was introduced by Arlie Hochschild in her modern sociological classic, The Managed Heart (1983). Hochschild argued that service workers such as flight attendants, debt collectors, and nurses alienate from their real emotions when they have to manage their emotions to meet the display and feeling rules of their occupational roles. If the expressed and experienced emotion do not match each other, the worker feels alienated by the emotional dissonance. Yet successful emotion management in a work role distorts one's spontaneous emotions and thereby engenders alienation from one's 'real' self as well. Other negative effects of emotional labour are mediated, in part, by the experience of emotional dissonance or by the sense of in authenticity that are often defined interchangeably. These effects include emotional exhaustion and job dissatisfaction, stress and distress, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, absenteeism and turnovers, and other health problems. Even so, there is evidence that emotion management in a work role may in some conditions facilitate job satisfaction, self-efficacy, self-expression, and feelings of personal accomplishment - even experiences of authenticity. These are paradoxical results because emotional labour associates then with both authenticity and inauthenticity, which suggests that there is something wrong with the concept of authenticity in this discourse.

Other discourses in which the paradox of emotional authenticity emerges include gender studies and clinical psychology. Feminist researchers have argued that women's 'outlaw' emotions such as anger, resentment, and fear, which emerge spontaneously and resist rational reconceptualization, are indispensable as symptoms of oppression (M Griffiths, 1997; Jaggar, 1997). Accordingly, outlaw emotions may give rise to conscious insights into the sexist, racist, and other oppressive frameworks and thus pave the way to emancipation from those frameworks. Nevertheless, many outlaw emotions are rejected in the process of emancipation from oppressive frameworks. The problem is, then, which emotions are authentic: the recalcitrant emotions that were eliminated in the process of emancipation, or the new emotions, such as pride, joy, and self-confidence, that are acquired in the same process? An analogue problem emerges in psychotherapeutic practices in which attention to the client's sincere emotions is an indispensable key to an accurate diagnosis of his problems. However, since these emotions are often part of the disorder, they become moderated or eliminated along the process of recovery. The question is, then, which set of emotions is authentic: the pre-treatment one or the one emerging along with a successful treatment? Intuitively, we tend to answer that both types of emotions qualify as authentic, albeit in a different sense.

The challenge is to follow the lead of this intuition into explicating the different meanings of emotional authenticity, psychological and normative. This theoretical task will occupy me in Chapter 4. There I shall distinguish between two senses of emotional authenticity, the sincerity view and the integrity view. In Chapter 6 I apply this theoretical divide to the discourse in which the paradox of emotional authenticity has been particularly salient, namely emotion management at work. I argue that my distinction between two senses of authenticity allows us to remove the paradox of authenticity from emotions experienced in a work role. In addition, it explicates the conditions, both internal and external, on which occupational emotions may qualify as authentic in the normative sense.

 
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