The Gatekeeper Emotion
By Susan Miller
Routledge – 2004 – 224 pages
Susan Miller, author of two foundational works on shame (The Shame Experience [TAP, 1985/1993pbk]; Shame in Context [TAP, 1996]), now turns to disgust, an intriguing emotion that has received little attention in the professional literature. For Miller, the psychological study of disgust revolves around boundary issues: We tend to feel disgusted about things (from bodily processes to decaying organic matter to ethnic attributes of "foreign" people) that lie on the border between our sense of self and nonself or between our sense of "good self" and "bad self." Miller's clinical and everyday examples of disgust lead her to explore the developmental grounding of the capacity to disgust, and this topic opens to consideration of the relation of the various sensory modalities to disgust reactions. Why, Miller asks, do we see disgusting images and smell disgusting smells but not hear disgusting sounds? And further, what makes sensory impressions or objects "disgusting" to certain people but not to others? Why do the images and smells of disease so frequently elicit disgust? And what is the relation of disgust to sex, procreation, and human intimacy?
Laced with developmental insights and vivid illustrations of disgust-related syndromes, Disgust: The Gatekeeper Emotion incorporates cultural analysis that links disgust to images of illness and health, to family life, to group identity, and to artistic and scientific creativity. For Miller, the central disgust dialectic - the self's need to safeguard itself against noxious intrusions from without and simultaneously to nourish itself through contact with "otherness" - obtains whether the discourse concerns nature, nations, or noses. With her typically graceful and gracious prose, Miller puts disgust on the psychological map and thereby adds a chapter to our understanding of the role of emotion in therapy and in everyday life.
“In a volume destined to become a landmark publication, Susan Miller has once again mined a topic that, to our detriment, has been neglected in psychoanalytic circles. Disgust: The Gatekeeper Emotion is a tour de force, filled with fascinating clinical material, laced with nuggets from poetry and literature, and augmented with a wealth of knowledge of psychoanalytic theory. How has Miller managed to write about such an apparently unsavory topic in such an absorbing, luscious, clinically compelling way? This remarkable achievement will be considered essential reading for practitioners and students alike for years to come.”
- Kathryn J. Zerbe, M.D., Director of Psychiatric Outpatient Services, Oregon Health & Science University
"What Susan Miller previously achieved in her authoritative discourse on shame pertains equally to her rich, wide-ranging consideration of disgust. She brings to our attention the significance of this 'distasteful' affect and gives it the stature of a major negative emotion, a companion of shame, terror, and humiliation. Disgust is a response to something foreign, someone or something outside the self; the Other is bad and must be distanced. Miller illustrates her points with useful clinical examples and evocative historical and cultural precedents. This beautifully written volume adds greatly to the clinician's depth of understanding and range of interventions."
- Andrew Morrison, M.D., Author, Shame: The Underside of Narcissism (Analytic Press, 1989)
1. Entering the World of Disgust
2. The Body and Mind of Disgust
3. Nature and Its Excesses
4. Varieties of Disgust
5. Disgust Syndromes
6. Sex, Procreation, and Human Intimacy
7. Disgust Within Family Groups
8. The Artistically or Scientifically Creative Individual and Freedom from Disgust
9. Group Identities and Hostility Across Borders: Affairs of Ethnicities, Classes, and Sects
10. Disgust and Horror
11. Concepts of Disease and Health
12. Final Comments
A graduate of the University of Michigan doctoral program in clinical psychology, Susan B. Miller, Ph.D., is the author of The Shame Experience and Shame in Context, both published by The Analytic Press. Her first novel, Indigo Rosemartin, was published by Bantam/Dell in December 2004. Dr. Miller lives and practices in Ann Arbor, MI.