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Krystal, H. (1982). The Activating Aspect of Emotions. Psychoanal. Contemp. Thought, 5(4):605-642.

(1982). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 5(4):605-642

The Activating Aspect of Emotions

Henry Krystal, M.D.


One of the ironies in regard to the study of emotions is that, although they are a universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, our view of them is most inaccurate. Affects generally function as constant, but “subliminal” signals in the processing of perception and impulses on the preconscious level. The result is that we become aware of an emotion relatively rarely, when an affect, for example, becomes intense enough to force itself upon our consciousness. Of course, every mental event, every idea and memory carries its own affective coloring. However, that too is, most of the time, so close to the “midline” of the quiescent security state that it is ignored. Again, only an “intense” and “outstanding” emotional reaction gets our attention. Under those circumstances the “expressive,” i.e., physiological, aspect of the emotion is so impressive that it tends to be equated with the whole affect experience. This is one reason why Freud (1926) was inclined to consider affects to be “discharge” phenomena.

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