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Gendlin, E.T. (1973). A phenomenology of emotions: Anger. In D. Carr & E.S. Casey (Eds.), Explorations in phenomenology: Papers of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, pp. 367-398. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. From

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Eugene T. Gendlin

Although verbally and recognizably there is some small list of common emotions and sentiments, experience is vastly multi-faceted. Innumerable aspects, barely distinct, course through each other and breed others, utterly defying any thin scheme, logical system, or dictionary of kinds. Experience is not just packaged units. The seeming units—experiences, emotions, perceptions, ideas, feelings—which seem to stand still and stable always also involve a myriad flux. We will develop some ways to think about this myriad, hopefully so successfully that the question will then turn about and, if anything, we will be puzzled at how there can be something seemingly stable, recognizable, and universal. How is it, for example, that, with the myriad facets of any moment and the vast variety of what may make us angry in each different situation, when we lose our temper the stomping, hitting, or kicking of anger is always the same? Or is it? We must ask about both the myriad and the stable.

At first one puzzles most about the myriad flux. One is inclined to accept more easily the common and familiar, seemingly stable and recognizable experiences such as anger. We can describe what anger is like, after all. But if we do this, we miss the point. How are stably recognizable experiences like this even possible? What is experience, and what is "an" experience? And what kind of experience is an emotion like anger?

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When Max Scheler wrote on the phenomenology of love, [1] Husserl criticized it as not being proper phenomenology. Husserl meant that phenomenology is philosophy. It must look into the basic ways we experience and think, and must do any specific study through such an inquiry. You can study anything—love, or anger, the present topic—but only with the job and power of philosophy to undercut and open up the supposedly packaged units supposedly given. Supposedly stable things like emotions, perceptions, images, ideas, and experiences cannot be used as a beginning. To accept these deprives any specific inquiry of the power of philosophy. We cannot begin with these givens as if we did not need to see into what they are. For example, concerning this supposed class, the emotions, we will have to distinguish and define a number of processes quite different in kind. To do that we will need a new kind of term and method to make concepts in a way that stays in touch with experience as we are and have it. I have presented this new method elsewhere, [2] and what I say here can only include a little of the larger work on which it leans.

Let me say a few words about this new philosophical method of experiential explication. One would not want to talk of emotions or experience without such talk touching upon experience. But there is no question of a simple flat truth when we make schemes to think about experience. We have had too much of the sort of thinking which wants to substitute thin schemes for concretely lived experience. Let us agree from the start that we will not confuse thin schemes with experience. Then no one need fear that philosophical thinking may lose him in abstractions. We will cling to concrete living and feeling. If what we say shows up something we then concretely see or feel or have, we will respect that thinking and saying. All else we will let go by, or we may consider it good tool-sharpening. (The man who makes an intriguing abstract scheme deserves our respect still. Toolmaking [Page 369] can be useful, but only later, in relation to something concretely experienced.) I do not have time here to discuss or justify this method of experiential thinking, which so fundamentally distinguishes the effect some (fairly rare) step of thought can have experientially.

The relation between conceptual patterns and experience is basic to the impasse in which philosophy currently finds itself: we must go beyond schemes, beyond substituting abstractions for life and experience, but to do so we must understand those rare occasions when what is thought or said has a concretely experiential effect. I call such a step of thought "explication," and I talk of it here as when thinking or saying "shows up" something which is thereby experienced concretely and sharply. This explicative "showing up" doesn't make the conceptual scheme and verbal assertion "true" in an old-fashioned way. It is characteristic of explication that one may later find a better way of thinking or saying, and from that later vantage point the earlier true statement will now be false. Nevertheless, it is also characteristic of explication that one is glad to have each step of explication come, and that there is a continuity of what one claims to have meant. [3]

The justification or validation of what I have to say rests in whether or not my assertions have, for you, a concretely experienced effect. Keep not my words, then, but this effect; perhaps from it you can formulate it all better, and go much further.

What we go through is much more than we "have," though we call both "experience." Any moment is a myriad richness, but rarely do we take time to "have" it. When we have, what we are focused on is usually only some specific. Going through a simple act involves an enormous number of familiarities, [Page 370] learnings, senses for the situation, understandings of life and people, as well as the many specifics of the given situation. All this goes into just saying "hello" in a fitting way to a not very close friend. We go through, we are all this, but we have only a few focal bits of it. The feel of doing anything involves our sense of the whole situation at any moment, despite our not focally reflecting on it as such. This is the myriad multiplicity of which I spoke. We have it only when we turn from being focused on some specific, and focus on our feel of all that. When we do, we cannot have each facet separately or we are again focused only on a specific. We can only have a feeling of it all.

Since we get angry in many different situations, we could have, if we focused on it, the feel of the situation, and this would be different in each situation. There is a basic distinction between anything "specific," and the myriad experiencing. I call the myriad experiencing "felt meaning" or "experienced meaning." (We always are felt meaning, but we do not always have or focus on it. Therefore, when I talk of felt meaning I may mean either just being it, always, or I may mean not only being it but also focusing on it, feeling all that.)

I can now make a first point about anger: it is "a specific." Emotions are "specifics." My wanting to stomp, hit, kick, my blowing up, or wanting to blow up—this is the recognizable specific pattern. It is always the same. But what of the whole situation which has gotten me angry? This is each time unique. It might take a long time and a lot of factors to explain, to say, what and why I have been made angry, but I can feel all that. If I didn't, I would have forgotten why I got mad. Usually we haven't forgotten, we "know" why. Without laying it out in all its many factors and the many words it would require to say, we feel why.

I began by asking whether and how anger could always be the same if the situations that make one angry are so different. Now we have a beginning answer to this question. There is the felt meaning of the given whole complex situation, which is different [Page 371] in each case. And there is the specific stomping, kicking, blowing-up pattern, which is always the same. Both are said to be "felt," and that makes for confusion. However, it is true that we have each as felt. Since I want to use "felt meaning" for the myriad sense of a whole complexity, I will use the word "emotion" for the specific that is always the same.

Now we want to understand these two, and what it is to feel. To feel is bodily, and we therefore need to think about the body. We cannot leave the body out of phenomenology and let the physiologists keep it. Feeling and experience generally cannot be understood as some mysterious kinds of "things" "in" "consciousness," nor is anyone ever conscious without body sense.

For many purposes it is a good thing that the physiologists study the body with their own conceptual model, but for us talking about the body need not mean talking about it in their way. They treat the body as a machine studied from the outside. Although they do also mention the functional and interactional aspects of the body, they tend to do so at the beginning and at the end of a book, as a sort of general avowal. Few concepts have been made for this aspect of living bodies, hence we must make some. Let me present this aspect of living bodies in more detail.

A theory of experience and emotions cannot be formulated without this broader basis which I can give here only in outline. Two basic characteristics of the body must be understood: it is functional and interactional. When, in biology, functional systems are considered, it is clear that "hunger," for example, is not some simple, self-contained, circumscribed state, but leads to feeding behavior and perhaps also to hunting, tracking, killing, tearing, chewing, defecating, scratching the ground and burying feces, resting, and also getting hungry again. I want to use the word "implies" here. I want to say that when hungry, the body "implies" tracking, feeding, defecating, that feeding "implies" scratching the ground to bury feces, and so on. The body thus "implies" many behavior sequences which are not now going on, [Page 372] although only one behavior is now actually going on. The body "is" both the specific behavior now going on, and it "is" also the implying of all these other behaviors. "Implies" is exactly defined by the way in which all these behaviors are in the body when it is hungry (or at any of the other behaviors listed, for when any of them is present, all the rest are "implied"). I don't want to set up an explanatory scheme to "explain" this meaning of "implied," or any of my other terms. Rather, I will define my terms always as I just did, by giving a name to some experience or relationship we have had already, and never imputing anything more or different to it than it has already. You can judge later how this method develops concepts. So far we have only tagged a known but puzzling relationship.

I can now use the word "is" to include both the now-ongoing behaving and the implying. I don't want to say "the body is this, and implies that"; I want to say "it is this and is the implying of that," for it is both. I want to overcome the old model according to which everything is a perfectly actual entity which has no past or future in its "is." The body's "is" is always also an implying.

This functional concept of the body already implies interactional concepts. The body implies not only the many behaviors not now going on, but also the environments in and with which these implied behaviors can occur. For example, if feeding is implied, that implies food. If burying feces is implied, that implies a scratchable ground. If a baby squirrel is raised separately from its mother in a metal cage, so that it has never seen other squirrels or trees or nuts or the ground or anything outside, it will nevertheless at a certain age "bury a nut in the ground." It will sit up holding a nonexistent object, place it on the metal bottom of the cage, scratch the bottom of the cage, pick up the nonexistent object and place it where it scratched, then scratch again as if to cover the spot with earth. The whole sequence of behavior is "implied" by any squirrel's body. And, of course, along with the behavior, the environmental aspects of nut and ground are also implied.

The "interactional" aspect of the body is that its implied [Page 373] behaviors also imply the environment. Always, other species members are the most important "environment" for any creature, although of course other aspects are important too. You need only think of the shape of your own body, for example, to note that it is structured to fit with one of the opposite sex of your own species. Both sexual intercourse behavior and a mate are "implied" by your body, and these are the functional and interactional aspects of the body.

The living body thus "implies" a whole vast maze of behaviors and the environmental circumstances in which the behaviors would occur.


If we so consider the living body, we can bring together the myriad facets of felt experiencing, the fact that this myriad experiencing is felt bodily, and the fact that both behavior and speaking sequences are "implied" in felt experiencing. Speaking is also behaving, although of a special kind. Even without actually speaking, even while the speaking sequences are only implied, we are and "know" these implicitly.

If we focus on the felt meaning, the sensing of all behaviors and speakings the body implies just now, we can draw from it many possible behaviors and speakings we might actually do. Thus focusing on the felt meaning can give one alternative ways of acting and speaking.

For example, if I am angry and focus on the felt meaning of the whole situation, I may find something to do or say, which might take account of all the facets of the situation.

Felt meaning is "focaled," something I cannot go into here. I mean that despite its being so many possible sequences, it can be a whole from which only one sequence—if any—will emerge, and one that will take account of all the facets. Sometimes no such sequence can be found. The many implyings interaffect each other, and what happens results from this interaffecting. [Page 374] You can see this focaling operating, when you notice that your felt meaning shifts in accord with what you say, for example: How do you feel these days? How do you feel right now? How do you feel about this philosophy, so far? What is your felt sense of the word "felt meaning" as we have been using it? Each time it is a different whole. From the felt meaning or felt sense of a given situation as a whole you can get a course of action or a sequence of words which arise from that whole, from the feel of all the facets of it.

In contrast, if you focus on the anger, you will get stomping, hitting, kicking, and fighting. The felt meaning implies a vast number of behaviors and speakings, and focaled, it may imply one suited to all this. The emotion of anger implies fighting, or fighting-like behavior. If you focus on it you will get madder and madder.

Animals fight. This fighting itself is not an emotion, of course. But when animals are about to fight, they get ready to fight, and that involves a gamut of processes and behaviors. In cats, for example, thickening of the tail, rapid blood circulation, stiffening of the muscles, and so forth occur. We humans, looking on, say the cats are angry. There is no doubt that a sentient body going through these changes feels the changes, and in this sense fight-readying is anger for the cats. However, cats engage in this only as being about to fight. They do not sit at home feeling and brooding angrily, they cannot become angry alone. This fact is part of a large human-animal difference; humans can behave in reaction to situations they are not physically in at a given time.

Before we can speak of anger in the human sense, we must add this human capacity to take situations along, to take them home, to be in many situations not present.

Animals do not react to pictures. The cat will react to the picture of a cat as to a flat cardboard object. If it did respond to the cat aspect of the picture at all, it would respond to it as a real cat. Animals have no way of responding to pictures as pictures.

This capacity to respond to gestures, sound patterns, and visual [Page 375] patterns such as pictures involves a new type of process, one in which in one way the situation is not changed, not behaved in, and yet in which in another way allows one to process the situation.

How the body looks and sounds, the patterning of face and posture and sound, we call "expression." The living body's expressive patterning affects others of the same species even in animals, although for them such patterns are part of behavior, of situation-changing. Only humans make a separate level of patterns with which to live in a situation and yet not behave in it. As gesture-sequences and interactions develop (by a derivation I cannot go into here), the body implies them along with the many other implied sequences. Thus some of what a felt meaning implies are behavior sequences which, if sequenced (made ongoing), would change the situation, and others than can be engaged in without changing the situation. The difference is not between doing and speaking (or gesturing) but depends on the way our situations inherently involve gestural patterns. Thus if I yell at my boss, "I quit," I have acted. But if I do it when he is out to lunch, or when I know he can't hear, the same behavior was "only" expressive. I might even have an understanding with him that this doesn't count as an act but only as an expression. Similarly, if I write a large check but don't sign it, it is not an action, or if I sign it but don't send it, again, it is not an action. Human situations are thus shot through with elaborations in which expressive sequences are part of action, and can also, under specific circumstances, retain their role as "only" expressions. (The word "only" is in quotes because expressing is a kind of behaving too, but it is a special kind, and we save the word "behaving" for what changes the situation.)

It is important to see that expressive sequences cannot be distinguished from action except in context.

It is thus possible, with a few moves of the limbs or a few sounds, to run through behaviors whose context—the felt meaning—is a situation not physically present. We do not need [Page 376] the situation physically present to do this, we have our limbs and vocal chords with us.

Thus we have the power to speak, gesture, or behave in the situation privately, without acting to change it.

Elsewhere I deal with this in detail. I do not wish to sound as if I accept this "symboling" power of humans as an unexamined given, but I cannot say more of it here.

What counts for our discussion is that an "emotion" like anger involves much more than the simple fight-readying of the animal. We can take the situation which rouses our fight-readying home with us, and become fight-ready even when the opponent and context aren't present. Thereby we can have the fight-readying as such. The animal will either fight right now, or its fight-readying will subside. We can nurse our anger, have it every time we put ourselves gesturally into the situation, although it isn't present. Thereby man has an inner life.

Thereby we can also have anger covertly even when we are in the situation. We can feel angry privately, even when we are directly before what angers us. Thereby it becomes an "emotion," something of our inner life which we may or may not express or act on. Instead of directly fighting or subsiding, we can keep our fight-readying to ourselves even in the situation. We call it an emotion, and we need not show it or act on it.

Most human action, like expressive gesturing, is deliberate or, if you like, mimicked. We act in the situations we have taken along with us, and we act by performing motions which are fundamentally gestures. Only rarely (when we do) do our motions or words carry us bodily into them. If this is at the expense of sensing the whole situation, it isn't usually very good (some exceptions will be noted later). We blow up, get mad, "know not what we do." For, as I have said, it is felt meaning which, as the implying of many symbolic sequences, makes up our implicit knowing of what we do. However, when this bodily continuity into behaving can occur with all of our sense of the situation included, then it is spontaneous and fully expressive [Page 377] action, the kind which has taken account of all the facets interaffecting each other. That rare sort of action isn't a return to animal impulsivity but a regaining of animal wholeness and spontaneity for the whole of man. It is a new bodily whole manner of action. However, most human action is symboling, deliberate, and quite often, speaking. In human situations some of the most situation-changing action is done by speaking, and much physical moving about is really taking no action. There is thus no basic difference between speaking and doing.


We thus far have discussed five different kinds of processes: (1) animal behavior sequences; (2) spontaneous action which takes account of a whole situation; (3) action and symboling of the ordinary kind; (4) emotions, i.e., fight-readying had in a sequence of symboling; and (5) felt meaning, the bodily feel of all the body's implying of sequences not now going on.

It is characteristic of the last two that we cannot make them deliberately. We can deliberately put ourselves into the situation, deliberately act, gesture, say or think in the situation, and this then may make you angry. It also may not. If it doesn't you can't help it, if it does you can't avoid it.

Putting yourself into the situation is what you do. When anger comes, it does that. What is this independent coming? It is your body getting ready to fight, hit, kick. Similar are other emotions such as fear (flight-readying), sexuality, crying, laughing, coughing, yawning, throwing up, hunger, pain, and sleep. Crying and laughing stick out in this list as things animals don't do, which nevertheless have this "must come" characteristic. But later I will discuss other strictly human processes which involve it also. Indeed, our basic criterion of which concepts we will accept is this kind: We can fashion schemes deliberately, but if they have an experiential effect "showing up" something concrete, that "must come."

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Felt meaning, as had and focused on, also "must come." You may be so fight-readying tense that it would take some time for it to come. Felt meaning as we "are" it is of course always there. Whether focused on or not, what it is isn't up to us. Thus, while we can act or symbol as we choose, we cannot feel what we choose to feel, neither emotion nor felt meaning. It is true, as I will mention again later, that anger can be mimicked but it cannot thereby be had. It may come, or may not. You can fool others about that, but not yourself.

We defined felt-meaning as the body's implying of not now ongoing sequences. Whatever sequence is going on, it also changes the myriad maze of implied sequences. Thus any specific sequence is not only itself but also the changing of the implied ones.

To feel (either emotion, or felt meaning), some sequence must be ongoing, and in life some sequence always is. But to have, or to focus on the felt meaning, one cannot at the same time be engaged in some specific sequence. Similarly, to feel an emotion, say, anger, one cannot at the same time be having the felt meaning, all that made one angry, and all the difference it makes to blow up now. Thus emotions make us act in ways we may regret later because while we blow up we have little reflective sense of all that is involved. And, blowing up angrily is very rarely that behavior which takes account of all of the situation (though as I will show later, it may).

In order to feel anything, there must be some sequence. What we feel may be unreflected, felt in-the-behaving. However, anything we can call "a" feeling, a "this," is always reflected. Therefore I have said that "anger" isn't the fight-readying alone, but the sequence of symbolings or actions in our taken-along-with-us situation.

Thus there is always a sequence. Felt meaning is either the felt change made in the maze of implying by the present specific sequence, or it is a symboled deliberate set in which the whole situation is to be felt, and a feel of all that "comes." Either way [Page 379] the sequence now going on will change all that—we will seem to get it as an object, but this very getting is also a changing of it.

The scheme I have developed renders psychological events such that only change is felt. Rather than viewing feelings as static entities, the opposite conclusion results: if something were unchanged, it would not be felt. Feeling, or sentience, is the change made in the body, i.e., in the implying.

A given sequence, behavioral or symbolic, makes a myriad of changes in many of the other implied sequences, the implying of which is the body. Hence one could not possibly keep up with the felt knowing by making actual sequences, behavior or verbal. Each sequence makes myriad changes and if only one of these were sequenced, that again would make another myriad of changes. Thus sequences, even if they are novel and not, as so often, only repetitious, are much too slow to keep up with the felt effects they themselves make.

Felt meaning and emotion are thus on opposite sides, so to speak, of a developmental continuum, yet they are both bodily and not symboling-gesturings or actions. The felt meaning is not symboling or action because it is more: it is the body implying of many, many sequences. The emotion is not symboling or action because it is less! It is—so far as the fight-readying or fight-readying goes—only the implying of this one sequence of fighting.

We must now add some more detailed considerations.

So far we have found that anger is always the same, but this applies only to the blowing up, kicking, and stomping behavior, which is a physical fight-readying.

When humans keep their anger to themselves, symbol-gesture it without or outside of the situation, they can control it in the situation. The patterns for controlling anger and symboling it when one is alone vary among cultures and individuals. In this sense even anger, the emotion, is not universal (and we did include the symboling-gesturing as part of the emotion, and not only the fight-readying). This now explains why we were inclined, at first, to deny that anger is always the same in the so-different [Page 380] situations that make us angry, or that it is the same for different people and cultures. It isn't the same. But the fight-readying, "must come" aspect is the same.

Sheer anger feels and looks somewhat similar in all humans, but different cultures provide somewhat different gestural patterns. That is to say, when a man totally loses control over sweeping anger you have a particular species of primate—the human—readying for bodily fight, adrenalin coursing through him; he gets red in the face, hits, stomps, thrashes, kicks, and his musculature shows high tension. If there is something breakable around it will be broken, something throwable will be thrown, something kickable kicked.

Patterns of controlling anger differ even more. Even Germans and Americans differ in what they look like when they are angry-and-controlling-it, although when they blow up they look similar. Also, humans exhibit a great and increasing degree of individual differences in controlling anger (although even individual fish of the same species differ). [4] If you know a person well you know what he looks, acts, and sounds like when he is angry-but-controlling-it. Some get very quiet, some walk up and down, some chain-smoke, some take Tums, and so on.

Long term patterns of controlling anger differ even more, and can be pathological—by which I mean that the fighting force of anger affects the organism instead of leading to the implied fighting. But before we can discuss these (resentment, guilt, depression), we must add some more items to our distinguished set of different processes.


So far we have found only one aspect of anger to be universal (the bodily "must come" physical fight-readying), regardless of different situations, cultures, or individuals. And even at that, [Page 381] the emotions of which this is true are very few. Anger, fear, and sexual and parent-child love are perhaps all of them. And even these differ in the symboling-gesturing, without which they would not be emotions, but simply the behaviors or the about-to-behave.

We must therefore add quite a lot between these few "general" emotions, and the totally unique felt meanings. As our situations differ in different cultures, so do our so-called emotions

There has been little specificity in how emotions have been discussed. Let me save the word "emotion" for the generals. We must make distinctions. In Java, the American anthropologist Geertz found people having an "emotion" he said he couldn't feel and couldn't find people having in America. This emotion is a peculiar kind of awe and respect. Geertz concluded from this and other findings that emotions are not universal for humans. While anger, fear, and a few others are universal, the emotional vocabulary varies. Anthropology began with the idea that human nature would be definable once many cultures had been examined. One would then see what was common less than for any animal species. In the last twenty years the results have come in, so to speak, and the answer from anthropology is: just about nothing is common. There doesn't seem to be a human nature. But let us look more closely. When do the Javanese feel this peculiar type of respect? Geertz says they feel it when they are in the presence of a spiritual saint. Naturally, then, Americans cannot feel this emotion since (at least up to a few years ago) there were no spiritual saints in America—no such situation, hence no such emotion. It doesn't quite feel like our veneration emotions of great people, authorities, or geniuses. The functional and interactional nature of the human organism cannot be defined as a given set of patterns, for these vary in different cultures and even individually. We must define it one level of generality higher. What is felt is the change in the ongoing change in the whole body which is made by a given activity, and an activity is always in (and a change of) a situation. The [Page 382] activity is a certain organized pattern of change called for by the situation, and this calling for, this requiring, really is what we call situation. A situation isn't a flat set of circumstances, but a set of circumstances that calls for certain actions, and that will have different consequences depending on whether the action or something like it is done or not.

We thus arrive at three kinds of feelings where before we had two: in addition to the multifaceted "felt meaning," and the universally patterned "emotion" (such as anger), we have the variously patterned "situational emotions." It makes very good theoretical sense that differently patterned activities-in-situation should feel different in the body and hence that situationally various "emotions" should be different.

Not only the general emotions (anger, fear, love) are reflected on and gestured in the "situation" one takes home. Many action sequences other than these "general" emotions have attained to gesturing sequences one can do alone. Thus they have become named and recognizable, and even when one is present in the physical situation, one has them as "emotions." I call them "situational emotions"—all those many, except the generals.

It will be seen that either sort of emotion is a datum to us, "an" experience, a "this," only because there is a sequence of action and/or gesturing which makes the "emotion" a focal object. There are not only the "situational emotions," but many more ways of feeling-in-action which have not developed routine sequences of action or gesturing in one's taken-along way of having situations. This is particularly true in modern urban cultures in which during even one day one often finds oneself acting in novel ways, the cultural routines not sufficing. Routine ways, on the other hand, are usually capable of being sequenced into one's imagination, giving rise to routine ways of feeling. This close tie between action-routines and situational emotions can be seen in the fact that we don't have words for many of these; hence we say, "I feel as if I were . . ." doing such and such in such and [Page 383] such a situation, and this communicates the situational emotion, if it has no name.

Thus what can be sequenced without behavior is an emotion, and enables us to have it as an emotion even when we are in the situation.

Even if anger or a situational emotion leads spontaneously to action, without a sequence that can make the emotion a felt datum as such, even then we say we had the emotion because such a sequence was bodily implied. Thus it is possible to say in retrospect, "Yes, I was angry," even if at the time only action was focused on. Similarly, it is possible to say now, "Yes, you're right, I am angry," in answer to a query that focuses one's attention.

Thus the sequence of acting-gesturing in the taken-along situation makes anger or situational emotions the data they seem to us to be. This is so whether the sequence is actually gone through, or remains only implied.

It is important to see that felt data, such as emotions, aren't simply given; they are made in the gesturing or acting, or not made but implied in implied gesturing or acting. For humans, when anger comes and the body is in fight-readying, gesture-sequences are always implied.

But didn't we say that the bodily feel of a situation is a felt meaning? A "situational emotion" is not the feel of the whole situation, it is an emotion sequence in a situation. The felt meaning of being with a spiritual saint will be different for each different person. The felt meaning will involve "respect" as only one of many, many sequences, whereas actually having this emotion would be just that sequence. So I have now explained the difference between "felt meanings" and "situational emotions."

Emotions, general or situational, are "stock"; they are repetitious, they are what we feel in the situation, not the feeling of the whole situation.

I will illustrate this in a moment with examples in which we [Page 384] want to see all three: felt meaning, situational emotions, and anger.

To the extent you have got beyond the culturally patterned stock patterns of behaving and gesturing-symboling "stock" sequences, to that extent your situational emotions are different in different situations. Even if always unique, they are not the felt meaning of the whole situation.

Situational emotions, like generals, "must come." There is a sense in which we make the emotion—we do it by acting and construing the situation a certain way, we put ourselves into it by symboling and by action with imaginary verbalization, gesturing, picturing, bringing it home to ourselves. But then what we feel comes of its own and overtakes us. We can help how we define and construe our situations, but only with work. We are not free to imagine our situations any old way; it takes hard work to construe them even a little differently—and still truly (that is to say, still in a way in which the actions implied would actually work if we acted them as well, so that the different way we wish we felt would actually come in them).

It would be convenient now, again, if we could say there is no such single emotion as anger, each case being different depending on the situation. But this isn't true. It is the situation which makes me angry and each situation is different, but the anger is in the sense we said always the same. What about the situation makes me angry? For animals it is fight-readying, but what is its general situational significance for humans? Does it relate not at all to the specific situation? And if it does, why is it not different in different kinds of situations?

Animals may fight when attacked. The male fights when another male enters his territory. Thus the animals spread out and seek new ground. However, in those animals which live together in societies—for example, monkeys—the fighting between males is still incipiently present but is obviated by a system of gestures. A male animal is superior to certain others in the tribe and inferior to certain others, and this hierarchy is [Page 385] determined by fighting strength. A male animal turns his back to another to indicate submission. If he does not perform this gesture then there is an actual fight, at the end of which one of the two animals will finally turn his back and submit. Thus the origin of this gesture can be guessed as the submitting end of a fight. When the end gesture occurs without a fight, the fight is skipped.

This can be taken as a model for the more complex human social patterns which also, when performed properly, skip actual fighting despite our living so much on top of one another. This makes understandable how social patterns precisely do not involve anger and yet sharply indicate where anger would break out, by structuring exactly what one must do on both sides of an interaction which, if not done, fails to skip fighting, or fight-readying.

Conversely, when, despite an indicated pattern of behavior, an individual gets mad (i.e., finds his body readying to fight, and especially if he begins to fight), this of course breaks the social fight-avoiding pattern. Thus we fight when the situational pattern breaks down, and we break down a situational pattern by fighting.

Therefore you are likely to get mad when you and the other person or persons have already failed to handle the situation within the assigned patterns (or, for humans, failed also to devise workable new ones). It is a silly notion that anger is some sort of hostility fluid that is simply in people and has to be got out by catharting. If you are living in an intolerable situation, no amount of catharting will exhaust your anger; it will arise anew every time you are in, or put yourself into, the situation. You must devise ways of handling that situation—or break out of it entirely. Anger may help handle the situation because it may make the other change or back away. Anger can also help the situation because it may break it entirely and thus give you new circumstances, In the animal case anger will result only in either the other animal backing off, or in a fight which ends with one of [Page 386] the two backing off. The social animal does not leave. But the human situations, especially in an advanced culture, are so complex that a situation can be broken and change into a new one. While you may not have the funds or the courage to quit your job, your losing your temper may do it for you. You may then find a better or a worse job, or you may be forced to steal, but at any rate you have broken out of your old situation.

When we get mad we are readying to fight—it means that the fight-obviating situation-making patterns are breaking down, that in a moment these patterns (which are the situation) may have broken down. This will change "the situation."

With humans' anger, it isn't always fighting that marks the breakdown of a situation—you don't fight the boss physically, usually. Saying "I quit" loudly is enough, and stomping out and slamming the door isn't necessary to break the situation, although it is likely. The anger comes from the situation, your job is intolerable. But the stomping and slamming come from the anger! You may feel like hitting him, and may even do so. The anger implies the behavior of physical fighting.

For humans and animals, the situation determines when anger arises—but anger implies physical fighting. Our situational patterns have largely elaborated and multiplied the different situations we can be in, as I already said. Thus if a man were to talk at you nonstop for twenty minutes without letting you say a word, you might well get angry, but you aren't angry at me because this is a "lecture situation," one of the many symboling-elaborated situations in which what I call "action" goes on. The same behaviors are different and feel different in different situations (action-context). Thus both anger and the more specific situational emotions come upon us depending on the situational patterns implied in our bodies.

It may seem strange to say that anger is the breaking down of a situational pattern, and yet also to say that the situational pattern decrees when anger will come. But on second thought [Page 387] that is natural; only the pattern determines when the pattern has been violated.

Anger may also serve to maintain a pattern by threatening its breakdown in time; it may make the other back off, mend his ways.

Anger is thus quite important for getting oneself out of a situation, altering it when no good way can be found in advance of getting mad, or maintaining it by threatening anger in time. You do not get angry for nothing. But it is also worth focusing on the felt meaning of the whole situation. You may have gotten angry on the basis of a situational pattern which, when you sequence it as such, you may then choose not to endorse. Only the felt meaning of the whole situation enables you to make such an individualized shift; otherwise, you can only act from the emotions. Emotions will always be worthy of our attention, but men have, in felt meaning, one more way of changing the patterns implied in their bodies. But no "talking yourself out of it" can work. If from your felt meaning and choosing you have devised a new way to behave or symbol, it must work: it must have a changed emotion that "comes"—not only when you are alone but when you are in the situation. You can talk yourself out of your anger when you are alone, perhaps, but when you go back to the situation you blow up all over again. This is healthy because whatever you did to make your anger dissolve or change so that another emotion came was done with some falsification of the situation. You managed by gesturing-symboling to make yourself react to something other than the situation.

It will be unhealthy if you remain in the intolerable situation without changing it effectively and without getting angry. What are the alternatives if one neither changes the situation nor gets angry? There might be resentment, which some people confuse with anger, but which is a smoldering corroding within. (Resentment and hate are two different forms of long term implied and controlled anger, both involving a failure to change the situation or break out of it. Anger is healthy, while resentment [Page 388] and hate are detrimental to the organism. Anger is fresh, expansive, active, constructive, and varies with changes in the situation. Resentment and hate are past-oriented; what happens now is too late to affect them. They remain and remain, working chiefly on and against oneself, rather than breaking the situation or one's opponent. One of the worst results of oppression is the sickening hate it forces on the oppressed. When one respects oneself more, anger increases and hate and resentment decrease.)

I now want to look at an example of these three: felt meaning, situational emotions, anger. Let us say a policeman stops you. You feel toward the policeman a situationally patterned emotion, whatever your subcultural pattern may be. (In a varied society such as ours, it is subcultural groups which have the role that cultures have in more traditional regions or periods). Now, depending on your subcultural situational emotion, certain behaviors of the policeman will make you angry so that you will either lose your temper or will have to work hard to control it (either way, the bodily emotion of anger has come). Or your situational pattern may be such that you never feel bodily anger coming when talking to the police. It is clear from this example that the two are distinct, the situational feeling pattern, and anger which, whether it comes or not, is always the same, anger. You may "respect" officers of the law but blow up or have to control yourself if you are unjustly accused, while someone else may feel contempt and distaste for policemen and blow up or have to control blowing up when he isn't dealt with respectfully. Still a third may hate policemen for brutality he has experienced or seen and may blow up or nearly so when the policeman puts a hand lightly on his shoulder. The reaction will be at least highly similar. A fourth may view policemen as having to be conned out of making trouble, and may never even come near blowing up when dealing with them. We note that anger will "come" at points indicated by the situational pattern. The pattern itself will include "situational emotions"—aspects of the interaction which are routine and felt, such as "distaste" or [Page 389] "respect"—which are not unique to each situation but are also not general for all people and situations but exactly only the feeling of this routine pattern with policemen. Differing from both situational pattern and generals, like anger, is the felt meaning. One gets past routine pattern or anger when letting oneself feel the whole situation. Only here is uniqueness. The felt meaning is also patterned, but so multiply patterned and so richly related to so much else, that it can only be felt as a whole, and not via given sequences, however many. The felt meaning too is bodily, and to be focused on it too must be let "come." It comes when I put myself into this whole situation I am up against, rather than just this already thinly defined routine pattern. Thus I may feel not only "policeman stopping me," but the whole thing: some of its facets might be that I am on my way to something important; that I don't have enough money on me and so could get delayed badly; that I like being able to deal with whatever comes up, that power is often in stupid hands; that so many people have to do without pride so maybe I can too; that I have trouble learning this; that I care about learning it partly because it's hard for me; that some pride is false and some is self-protective and humanly important for everybody, and I can't tell which is in me; that this policeman's face is odd and he is trying hard; that they train policemen to look at identifications and then to call a person by his first name to assert authority, so this isn't necessarily this policeman treating me so; that he is a working man doing a little better in this job than in a factory, and I can't stand any middle-class self-righteousness on my part (my experience in the US navy and in hitchhiking on trucks has made for thousands of facets that are now familiar to me in dealing with a man like this and a man in a role like this), that I'm cold; that I wish I hadn't just done what I did which brought the policeman on; that I know the specific ugly feeling which I now have and get when I know I did something I wish I hadn't done and yet want to fight that off and blame somebody; that I hate to be put down; that people are watching; [Page 390] that this is strange country and no one I know is likely to be watching; and on and on, involving endlessly many more facets than one could possibly separate out. But I don't think all this. I don't think any of it! I am listening to what he is saying. I cannot use or have a felt meaning if I think any one of these facets as such alone. I can have the felt meaning only if I let it come as a bodily felt whole. If I were to explicate this felt sense, some of the above and many others could be sequenced. Without experiencing, I feel it all and could call it "all that." A few of the above scraps might go by in words or images, but very little. Most of it cannot be had in sequences such as I wrote above, because then one would have again only what is focused on.

Without the felt meaning made to come home to me whole, I would simply be in the routine patterns. If we stay within our roles neither of us will blow up and lose his temper, but these same roles will also indicate where we are to lose our temper, or come close to it. For example, if the policeman insults me very much, rather than only calling me Eugene and lecturing me, I may become angry. Similarly, he will get angry if I insult him, rather than merely hinting that he can't see straight or is lying. If I say, "You're wrong, you didn't see me do that because I didn't do it . . . ," that's all right. The cultural pattern indicates that I can say this without his getting mad.

The more uniquely you have individualized your behavior and situations by additional sequences, the less "stock" your emotions are. The emotions are still, even at that, culturally various, since, for example, whatever way you feel about being stopped depends on where you were going—probably a situation possible for Americans and one that would be impossible, or at least quite different, for New Guineans. The culture patterns our situations and only these can we then individualizedly pattern further. Culture is not a set of patterns added on to the individual, rather the latter develops as further structuring in and out of culture's patterns. Don't think, therefore, you have left situational emotions behind—you have only varied them further.

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The felt meaning consists of all implied sequences, even some which have as yet never been sequenced. Thus, if some aspects of what you have sequenced are novel, then also other sequences may emerge differently as a result. Thus novelty breeds more novelty. By focusing on felt meanings, such implicit novelty can emerge.

Thus all the specific feelings are emotions—situational emotions. Even when it isn't at all clear to me what some, say, "blue and icky," feeling is, it is my being in some situation, some action-context, probably one that is also unclear and will clarify if I can sequence the symbol-gesture sequences implied in the feeling. Only felt meaning focused on is not a specific. Only when focused on does it have itself, so to speak. Otherwise felt meaning is the body's vast implying but in the unreflected having of some specific.


There are a few more, rather different processes we must cite, and one of these is fundamentally important. With the help of it, I will then conclude with a discussion of how more exactly we can let our next act or thought come from felt meaning rather than emotion or routine pattern.

When we do not feel whole and expressed in our actions or words we can nevertheless do them, because, as I have indicated, the patterns of action can be done as patterns. You can do a most unnatural and unspontaneous act because you think it necessary, just as you can say what you don't feel. Thus we need a new word for the sort of action in which you do feel bodily whole, not from emotion but from felt meaning. You might feel bodily whole while blowing up, and indeed this feels good regardless of how unjust or inexpedient it may be. You may be ignoring a great deal of your situation; indeed, culturally patterned anger and other emotions do ignore much of the increased individualized complexity of many of our situations. You can trust your [Page 392] emotions to be about something, but you better see what it is before you trust what it is. What you can trust is the felt meaning, because it is all of the situation, all its implied sequences, focaled in one bodily feel.

Just as action and symboling can be mimicked, so can anger. But unlike them, when anger is mimicked it isn't anger—it isn't the emotion, only the action or the symbolic. This again shows how mimickability is inherent in symboling and action, but inherently impossible for emotion. Only its acting can be mimicked.

To put this into our example of the policeman, I may have learned that the best defense against the law is getting angry in the manner of an unjustly accused person—even if I don't have the situational pattern of getting mad when I am accused unjustly. I call this type "mimicking." There is all the difference, since I don't feel the anger rushing onto me, overtaking me from behind. Rather, I know how to shout and do the gestures that are the activity of being angry, without the bodily emotion. For example, in bargaining there is, in most cultures, a slotted anger that comes right near the end, just before an agreement is reached. Its function is to squeeze the last bit of concession out of your opponent. Just as you are close to an agreement you get mad, chuck the whole thing. All chances of agreeing are off, it's war. Your opponent is supposed to know, in a way, that this is the bargaining climax and he isn't supposed to give up bargaining. Yet he is supposed to be a little cowed and scared. This accounts for the usual headline, just before a strike is settled, that the promised agreement has fallen through. [5] One can see that this is based on the basic role of anger as threatened breakdown of situations.

Humans fight in many actions (which as we have defined it includes much speaking). Since action is largely symbolic and mimicked, most serious fights are cold. Anger only implies physical [Page 393] fighting, and usually that isn't the best way to fight in a given situation. That would usually leave you open to being swiftly defeated, not by blows perhaps, but by giving your opponent the chance to have you arrested. In hand-to-hand combat, it is true, anger helps, and men are made to scream and gesticulate, so that their physical fighting anger may come—because usually they have no situational reason to be angry at the unknown men coming from the other way. There is no reason to be angry and every reason to be afraid, but anger and fear are mutually exclusive at any given moment. Implicitly I may be both angry and afraid, but actually I can only alternate the sequences of gesturing, angry attacks, then a cowering away.

Similarly, having felt meaning and anger are mutually exclusive. The anger is the implying of fighting physically. The felt meaning is the implying of the myriad sequences which together make up the situation. If your body is taken by one, you cannot be having the other. This shows how bodily these are. It also shows that anything which "must come" is a whole body phenomenon; for the time it is there, it takes your body over.

To fight effectively in human situations may involve a time of anger. First, it may involve the anger remaining implicit, especially if after having the felt meaning we are still angry and choose to be so. But we cannot fight effectively from out of being bodily angry, about to blow up. That gives us only the physical fight sequence, and we are likely to need a carefully attuned and complex mode of behaving.

The emerging of such an exactly fitting move, which takes account of all the factors making up the situation, is the final member of our list. Let us say we are in that refined fighting arena, the University. Getting mad will break the situation. Stomping will only give pleasure to my opponents. Doing nothing is not to handle the situation, and precisely if I do not, will I then probably get very angry. The anger I begin to feel already indicates I have not, so far, handled the situation.

Let me reiterate this principle: Freud said it backwards. He [Page 394] said there is "aggression" (some hostile energy) in us, but if we "integrate" it properly we are then adaptively aggressive in handling our situations. Originally it is unintegrated, just hostility. I say, rather, if we do not handle our situations ("aggressively," one calls this in America) then we will get separately and definably angry. As long as I handle situations so that I can tolerate them, I am not angry. Others may call me aggressive because they don't like it and they are angry. (This is not to be confused with the man who is angry about one thing and acts aggressively about something else.) Now, in the situation which is beginning to make me angry, how do I find that move which, if it succeeds, will let me not need to be angry, and which, to succeed, must meet a large number of different factors which make up the situation? I do it from the felt meaning. Before we can discuss exactly how I do it, there is one more consideration:

Being angry, physically, may lead me to make a "snide" remark. People will say I made that remark because I am angry and they are likely to be right. The remark is not likely to be the best action under the circumstances, though it could be. But, at any rate, it is a complexly determined remark, and not physical fighting, and yet it has in some way come from my being angry. But we have said that anger implies only physical fighting. Here is something like what we at first thought we would say about anger—"snide" is only a category name, each snide remark is different. We have seen, however, that anger is fight-readying bodily, and visibly is always the same. The "snide" type, on the other hand, must always be newly invented within the situation. It must fit exactly, balance all that has gone before.

We want to know how, in a situation not handled and angry-making, I can devise a course of action that will take account of all the factors and handle it. It is clear that I cannot look to the old and now broken or breaking patterns to find the way. As between them and fighting, the choice has already been made by my body; in getting angry, I have already rejected them (though since I am human I can bide my time before I fight, and keep [Page 395] my anger to myself). Anger and eventual fighting might be the right thing, and breaking the situation will then change it. But before or after fighting, how is a situation changed? In my example earlier the man who simply quit his job out of anger had then to see how to find another one. Anger doesn't find jobs, it only gets rid of an unbearable one. It is often good to break a situation even if you can't see yet what then to do, and often we can't help it anyway. But what then restructures a situation? Not the old fight-obviating patterns, and not the anger.

We can get a lead from the "snide" type, the only one that is uniquely fitted to a situation. How does one come up with a snide remark? One is inclined to answer that a snide remark "must come," and this is important since anger, too, "comes," or one doesn't have it. But anger, we said, is bodily fight-readying and we can understand how it happens to us like hunger, tiredness, laughing, pain, coughing, yawning, fear, and sexuality. But these are all physical; how does something verbal like a well-suited, neatly balanced, snide remark "come?"

To come up with such a well-fitted remark, I must let myself feel the whole situation as I am in it, i.e., I must let myself have the felt meaning. I cannot "figure out" a snide remark, no logic leads to it, any thinking I might do with examples and other snide remarks would at best give me leads (but no one does it this way). I can only feel the whole thing, let it all come home to me, and wait. A series of possible remarks (or, depending on the case, possible active moves), will come. I may not like the first few, and if not, then I can only let the whole thing come to me again, and wait again.

What is this "letting the whole thing come home" of which I speak here? Everyone has not only the given patterns of behavior and canned speech, but also the whole felt maze of experiencing, but only some people know how to let this whole maze, which is mostly background, itself become figure. (If you don't like this figure-ground scheme, there are other ways of saying this). For example, you are reading this now. Doing so [Page 396] involves, as any moment of living does, a whole maze. Some of this maze has to do with your situation both today and more long-term, with why you have time to read now, with what you will do after you stop, with where you are sitting and who else is there or absent. Some of the maze has to do with your background in philosophy or its lack, with your reactions to my earlier pages, with your own ideas that are related or different, with reactions to a writing style like mine and a person like me. The words and phrases mean something to you only as you have the English and American situational and action patterns of which words are a part. All this and much more—history and evolution, eye movements and throat movements and book-holding and so forth—are here along with still more. But you are not, and need not, let all this come home to you as you read.

Suppose now that you have had enough of me and you want to form some new and different chain of ideas of your own. Or suppose something troubles you enough so that you stop reading and think. You may find that you have no clear idea. To get one, you put yourself by symboling into a set of letting the whole situation come home to you. You say to yourself, "Let's see . . . ," and thereby you let the whole way you feel about what I have said come.

Thus the snide remark, and many other well-tuned "expressions" or actions from anger, involve felt meaning. From the felt meaning in behaving a snide remark may come as I hadn't wished, or quite well. From felt meaning as directionally referred to, it is most likely to come as fitting my sensed situation. There are people who rarely let a whole felt meaning come home to them; they talk at themselves all the while they are alone, or else they are distracted by external events. Even at that they can come up with snide remarks and original actions because felt meaning functions all the time and not only reflexively. But it is a great advantage to be able to let felt meaning function any time one wishes, rather than only when one is overtaken by some product of its functioning inadvertently.

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How is physical fight-readying anger related to felt meaning so that, as it were, both can function to produce the snide remark? Whatever sequence occurs does so from the body, i.e., from out of all the implying. Anger implies physical fighting but is implied by our sense of a situation, i.e., the felt meaning. The snide remark thus doesn't really come from anger, or express anger, it comes from our sense of the situation which also makes us angry, or is about to, or did a moment ago, and continues to be implied. The snide remark goes with implied anger, and expresses not anger but our sense of a situation that is also making us angry. But only in the felt meaning do we have that sense of the situation and how and why it isn't being handled tolerably, and what would fit.

It is vital, in our understanding of emotions, for us to understand the difference between an emotion like anger and a felt meaning—which is the bodily sensing of the whole situational context and all that the body implies in it, plus all the differences this makes to much else that the body also implies.

Anger, despite its healthy and beneficial aspects, is a primitive pattern. Whatever the complexities of the given situation, you lose sight of much of it when anger overtakes you. This is why you have to stay cool, i.e., not actually angry, if you must devise a course of action in a dangerous situation. You must do this carefully and with the fullest possible sensing of all the circumstances together. This can't be done angrily because as anger takes the body, that body cannot at the same instance also sense all that is involved. It is either/or: either you feel the anger or you feel all of the context in which you had gotten or might get angry.

To let a snide remark or a fitting course of action "come", one must focus on the felt meaning. To sense that a given remark or course of action is well-fitting (supposing someone else suggested it), one must focus on the felt meaning to sense if the given remark or act "handles" the situation as wholly felt. I cannot go into this effect here. It is a characteristic continuity possessed by only rare types of change: any remark or course of action could [Page 398] change the situation, but only the rare one you seek changes it in the mode of keeping all the implicit facets continuous, and changes it so that only what needed to be different is made different.

This relationship between a specific remark or act, and the experimental felt whole which it changes, is the "explicative" relation. If what I have said here has explicative validity, i.e., is phenomenologically successful, then the distinctions and terms I have set up had this experimental effect of making a change in your experience, but the characteristically continuous sort of change I term explication. If so, you can now reject my formulation despite keeping its effects, if you formulate differently, making further experiential effects. This might be done variously, but even one way that has the explicative effect is rare and hard to arrive at. Rather than any danger of too many good explications, this experiential explicative criterion cuts down the relativism of indefinitely many possible schemes to those very few precious steps which actually explicate.

[In the original text notes are at the foot of the pages they are cited on.]

[1] See Max Scheler, The Nature of Sympathy, trans. P. Heath, London, 1954.

[2] Gendlin, E. T., Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Glencoe, Ill., 1962.

[3] Gendlin, E.T., "The Grounds of Explication," The Monist, XXXXIX, no.1 (January 1965), 137-164; " A Theory of Personality Change," in Personality Change, New York, 1964; "Experiential Explication and Truth," Journal of Existentialism, VI, no. 22, (Winter 1965-66), 131-146; "Expressive Meanings," Invitation to Phenomenology, ed. James M. Edie, Chicago, 1965.

[4] Robert McCleary, personal communication.

[5] Douglas, A., "The Peaceful Settlement of Industrial and Intergroup Disputes" Conflict Resolution, I (March 1957), 71-81.

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