Going beyond Psychopathology-Positive Emotions and Psychological Resilience

By Swaminath, G.; Rao, B. Ravi Shankar | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, January-March 2010 | Go to article overview

Going beyond Psychopathology-Positive Emotions and Psychological Resilience


Swaminath, G., Rao, B. Ravi Shankar, Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: G. Swaminath, B. Ravi Shankar Rao

'It was quite sudden. I was sitting alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle's house. I seldom had any sickness, and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it, and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear. I just felt "I am going to die" and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or my elders or friends; I felt that I had to solve the problem myself, there and then.

The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: "'Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies." And I at once dramatized the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry: I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word "I" nor any other word could be uttered. "Well then, " I said to myself, "this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body 'I'? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the 'I' within me, apart from it. So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit."[sup] [1]

True Grit

The yogic path of self-enquiry and the enlightenment process of the 17-year-old Ramana (later Ramana Maharishi of Tiruvannamalai), took place in a flash and he emerged a jnana yogi , of the highest order, with a large following, many of whom visit his ashram for meditation and peace. Carl Jung spoke highly of Ramana's realisation, and also of its being typically Indian, with its emphasis on the identification of the Self with God.[sup] [1]

Such an experience would be customary for many of our anxious patients. The intense, sudden violent fear of death, along with anticipatory anxiety of recurrence and avoidance, drives many to seek emergency solace at hospitals, as well as long-term management using prescription drugs which reduces these symptoms. The extraordinary psychological resilience of Ramana in being able to overcome this intense fear through self-observation, sublimation and asceticism to emerge a superior being is legendary as well as noteworthy. Affective style, one of the most salient characteristics of emotion, is the extraordinary heterogeneity in how different individuals respond to the same emotionally provocative challenge.[sup] [2]

The focus of mental healthcare has too often been on understanding and alleviating negative emotional states, such as anxiety, depression, abuse, prejudice and disharmony among others. Focus was lacking on how a majority of people manage to live lives of dignity and purpose, despite all difficulties, and this is now being addressed.[sup] [3]

'Positive psychology' is the study of ordinary human strengths and virtues.[sup] [3] It asks, "What is the nature of the effectively functioning human being, who successfully applies evolved adaptations and learned skills?".[sup] [3] Positive psychology recognizes that persons who carry even the weightiest psychological burdens, can care about much more in their lives, than just the relief of their suffering.[sup] [4] Troubled persons often want more satisfaction, contentment, and joy, not just less sadness and worry. They want to build their strengths, not just correct their weaknesses, or removal of their suffering.[sup] [4] They want lives imbued with meaning and purpose.[sup] [4] The fostering of positive emotion and the building of character may help-both directly and indirectly-to alleviate suffering and to undo its root causes. …

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