Research Paper By Marco Giacobbi
(Executive Coach, ITALY)
As a coach, you sometimes have to handle your client’s emotions. And for that matter, it would also be interesting to understand if you can handle yours.
In this paper I want to investigate coaching and emotions, more specifically I want to focus on a particular emotion we as coaches can provoke and use for the benefit of our clients in stressful conditions.
I think it is important for coaches to have clarity about their coaching framework and how emotions fit into it. Furthermore, there has been little research on what coaches actually do and think about emotions in their clients.
This is because coaching is very often about change, and research suggests emotions play a critical role in making change happen. Now, one question could be: If emotions convey important data in reading situations and making decisions, are some coaches more effective because they do actively use emotions?
In this study I won’t go into the vast variety of ways to trigger clients’ emotions (from the use of metaphors; I might share any metaphors or any images that come to me… I would encourage them to do the same, and to really unpack the image or metaphor). In this paper I will focus on the effects of a peculiar emotion such as nostalgia. Further research could cover the practical methods to use emotions (metaphors, drawings, list of forgotten objects). What follows is a deep look into a very particular and singular emotion and its ability to be a coping mechanism when it comes to stressful situations.
The Cambridge international dictionary of English (1995) defines the common meaning of nostalgia as “a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past”. In the present work, we will try to understand nostalgia and its relations with emotions and ageing. Although not all open questions can eventually be answered here, this work will hopefully shed some light on nostalgia. In order to do so, we performed a study on a sample of one hundred participants. After a brief mention to some important concepts underling the research, we will describe the experiment and, in the end, draw some conclusions.
The History of Nostalgia
The term nostalgia was first used as the name of what was regarded virtually as a form of mental illness. The earliest known record (1770) of it is in the journal kept by the botanist and explorer Joseph Banks on Captain Cook’s round-the-world voyage, in which he noted that “most of the ship’s company were now pretty far gone with the longing for home which the Physicians have gone so far as to esteem a disease under the name of Nostalgia (Morris, 1988).
Then, around the beginning of the last century, the meaning of nostalgia had changed from mental to psychiatric or psychosomatic disorder (Batcho, 1995). The warning signs now included nervousness, sadness, weakness and loss of appetite, sleeplessness and fever (Havlena & Holak, 1991).
Nostalgia was considered as a form of melancholia (McCann, 1941). This second conception of nostalgia was taken in the mid-20th century by the psychodynamic school. Nostalgia was identified as a “refugee psychosis” (Frost, 1938), a monomaniacal obsessive mental state causing intense unhappy-Nostalgianess,
coming up from a subconscious longing to return to one’s fetal state, and a “mentally repressive compulsive disorder”. These conceptions reached the last part of the century when nostalgia was then believed to be a variation of depression, and it had been labeled “a regressive manifestation closely related to the issue of loss, grief, incomplete mourning, and, finally, depression” (Castelnuovo Tedesco, 1980).
But in the 1970s the picture of nostalgia completely changed. In fact it did in several ways. It was then that nostalgia turned from a yearning for a place to a yearning for a time, namely for the past. Therefore, nostalgia began to be distinguished from homesickness (Davis, 1979). Second, while nostalgia was previously looked at from the viewpoint of the individual person, in the 1970s nostalgia became a sociological fact as well. Sociologists linked nostalgia with a perception of decline in mankind – especially a decline in solidarity and morality and with a yearning for nature, authenticity and harmony (Davies, 2010).
While nostalgia in its equation with homesickness had formerly been somewhat restricted to soldiers, first-year students, navy men and immigrants, now the meaning of nostalgia changed to be a feeling every person can experience. And by doing so – and this is probably the most interesting change – nostalgia was not longer regarded to be a disease.
Instead of causing sadness nostalgia was now considered to cause pleasure and a warm feeling (Davis, 1979). It was even considered to be a mechanism to cope with difficulties in life – especially with transition between life stages or roles (Davis, 1979). To sum up, nostalgia from being considered as pathological became normal (Austin, 2007) .
There currently are different views about nostalgia. Owens Lee Pomeroy said: Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: You find the present tense and the past perfect (Guffey, Carolyn 2010).
Likewise, Davis (1979) named nostalgia “a positively toned evocation of a lived past” and stated that “the nostalgic experience is infused with imputations of past beauty, pleasure, joy, satisfaction, goodness, happiness, love”. Nostalgic feeling is almost never infused with those sentiments we commonly think of as negative (for example, unhappiness, frustration, despair, hate, shame, abuse).
Some other authors hypothesize that nostalgia is a negative emotion. For these authors, the experience of nostalgia is wrapped up with sadness, as the nostalgic person becomes conscious that the past is irredeemably lost (Johnson-Laird & Oatley, 1989).
Furthermore, the American psychiatrists Elihu Howland (1962) thought nostalgia could be a real inspirational stimulant, and also one of the deadliest of all poisons. He considered it as a puzzling emotion, full of paradoxes. Still, in half a century not much has changed. The phenomenon of nostalgia is still a puzzling one (Wilson, 2005). Three hundred years after the term nostalgia was used for the first time we still do not recognize whether it is a “stimulant” or a “poison”. As mentioned earlier, while in the beginning nostalgia was classified as a disease it has lately become associated with a more positive connotation of happiness and is regarded to be a coping mechanism (Zhou et al., 2008). But a comprehensive image integrating all positive and negative aspects of nostalgia is still lacking (Wilson, 2005).