What does it mean when we call a society broken? Or say that a community has been terrorized? How can social concepts experience the same emotional stress and trauma as a person?
While it may seem like there’s a mysterious force looming over a community, there isn’t one. Societies don’t have emotions, but people do. And part of a person’s emotional life is deeply connected to the community (and greater society) they live in.
Emotional support is vital to healing whenever we feel broken or damaged by a tragedy in our social environment.
This is the essence of social healing. Alone we feel, but together we heal.
What are social emotions?
In his groundbreaking book Emotions Revealed, the social psychologist Paul Ekman describes the experience of a New Guinean woman whose child had just died. As he drove her back to the village, she seemed emotionless, unexpressive. When she saw her friends and family, she began to weep uncontrollably. Through others, and not just through ourselves, we experience our most powerful emotions.
Our disconnected modern existence often makes it hard to experience social emotions. With the rise of the modern western world came the idealization of the individual. Intelligence, talent, strength are all thought of as something that emanates from the individual. So, it’s no surprise to learn that we think of our emotions as being uniquely individual too.
However, scientists have begun to explore the social element of our emotions over the years. They are starting to recognize our social environment as a fundamental element in how we feel. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that without the presence of others within our community, emotions may not exist at all.
Ancient cultures offer insight into the deep roots of our social emotions. Independently, in many parts across the globe, our ancestors created funerals and other ritual ceremonies for deceased loved ones. You may have heard of the ‘death wail,’ which shows the early human need to vocalize grief and is still practiced in many parts of the world.
Today, the American Psychological Association defines social emotion as “Any emotion that depends on one’s appraisal or consideration of another person’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.”
In other words, our emotions are socially-based, and the events that happen around us will inevitably influence how we feel.
How do social emotions affect us?
Even though we think of ourselves as individuals, each of us derives part of our self-image from the community we live in.
An unpleasant encounter with a neighbor or seeing lots of police cars at a place we frequent can make us feel afraid for our safety. Mass shootings in the news induce anger and hopelessness. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic spiral us into global despair.
Being disconnected from the knowledge that our socially-based emotions haven’t diminished their power to affect us. When the community we live in suffers, we often do too.
The impact is often devastating for those who live in communities where a mass tragedy has occurred. Everyone is affected, and the feeling of vulnerability never goes away. It can take years for residents to regain a sense of peace.
But it doesn’t have to.
How can we help others heal socially?
One of the reasons it takes so long for a community to heal from a mass tragedy is that hope is suddenly gone for the residents.
When an individual’s world has been shattered, it’s virtually impossible to recover without getting help from others.
The same is true for a community affected by a mass tragedy.
The more hope can be given to a community recovering from something awful, the quicker and stronger its members will heal.
Stars of HOPE is the only organization that focuses on healing emotional trauma in people after being directly or closely affected by a mass tragedy.
We help people send messages of hope, love, strength, and support to those most in need.
Click here to find out more about Stars of HOPE and learn what you can do to get involved.