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Why People Get Emotional at Happy Endings?

Autor:   •  January 6, 2019  •  Essay  •  759 Words (4 Pages)  •  37 Views

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Why People Get Emotional at Happy Endings

The Paradox of Watching Sad or Distressing Films and TV

Published on September 3, 2014 by Michael Bader, D.M.H. in What Is He Thinking?

Psychoanalyst Joseph Weiss, M.D. made many profound contributions to the theory and study of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis (e.g. How Therapy Works). But perhaps his simplest but most profound insight was captured in his 1952 article “Crying at the Happy Ending.” It explains a wide range of phenomena and I use it all the time in my work as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst.

Weiss attempted to explain the ubiquitous phenomenon that people watching movies cried at happy endings. Commonly, the film depicted danger, loss, and grief, but rather than cry then, the viewer cries when the ending presented some form of reconciliation, reunion, or otherwise successful resolution. Weiss asked: Why doesn’t the audience cry when loss and tragedy are actually occurring, but only when they are over or otherwise resolved in a satisfactory way?

His answer lay in the concept of safety. The viewers feel too psychologically vulnerable and imperiled to express feelings appropriate to the situation while that situation is actually occurring. These feelings are held at bay. When the dangerous or painful situation is over, it’s safe enough to express what was there all along—for example, sadness. It’s not the happy ending that causes the crying to occur, but, instead, makes it safe enough to feel what was always there but had been repressed.

A useful parallel might be seen in the experience of being in an extremely cold environment and then entering a warm house. It’s only then that the person begins to shiver and “recognizes” how cold he or she has been. When someone is in danger, his or her ego is oriented toward surviving and mastering that danger and the emotions that were appropriate are repressed, only to emerge when the danger is over. In PTSD patients, we can see an extreme version of this phenomenon. Prolonged and threatening danger in relation to which an individual is relatively helpless is traumatic. To survive it, feelings and thoughts have to be repressed. It is only when the person returns to safety that symptoms appear—repetitive nightmares, startle reflexes, panic attacks, etc. All of these were actually appropriate during the period of the trauma but couldn’t safely be expressed.This is a powerful insight. So many of my patients grew up feeling loss and lost, unprotected and unloved, ignored and neglected. But these feelings are dangerous to know about, to feel too strongly and to express it in real time. Children, after all, are dependent and incompletely developed and will go to any lengths to protect their attachment to their caretakers.


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