Meaning and Emotions

Shamanistic healing addresses the needs met by all of religious healing systems, the provision of meaning and explanations that meet needs for assurance, instilling confidence and a sense of certainty that counteracts anxiety and its physiological effects. Shamanistic healing rituals manipulate meaning to elicit placebo responses and their physiological effects. Symbolic manipulations can intervene in relieving the stress mechanisms of the general adaptation syndrome, providing explanations that alleviate anxiety. Ritual and social support can alleviate the high level of pituitary/adrenal activity of the resistance stage of the stress reaction through changing emotional responses and the balance in the autonomic nervous system, through integration of the emotional and egoic levels, and by resolution of social conflicts. These symbolic manipulations also elicit emotions and their physiological consequences, linking body and mind through effects on the limbic system.

All shamanistic healing processes address emotions, but the emotional psychodynamics of soul journey, possession, and meditation differ significantly (Winkelman, 1999). Shamanistic healing processes share approaches, however, in addressing emotional distress through the provision of explanations and mechanisms for obtaining relief, and in eliciting community support systems that meet fundamental human needs for belonging, comfort, and bonding with others. Shamanistic healing effects emotions through: elicitation of repressed memories, restructuring painful memories, confession and forgiveness, resolving intrapsychic conflict, alleviating repressions, and giving expression to unconscious concerns. Explanations provided in shamanistic healing processes typically minimize personal guilt, negative emotional process, intrapsy-chic conflict, and internal discrepancies through attributing responsibility to external agents (i.e., spirits). Ritual controls attitudes through metaphoric and affective processes operating independently of higher cognitive processing, providing mechanisms for manipulating affective responses independent of habitual resistances. Emotions and unconscious structures are typically addressed by attributing these to external forces (spirits). Shamanic ritual also provides psychoemotional and mental reprogramming of lower brain processes in the material embodied in the chants, songs, and psychodramatic enactments that change perception of self, social relations, and emotions.

Shamanism produces meaning through universal aspects of symbolic healing (Dow, 1986), particularizing the patient's circumstances within a cultural mythology, and manipulating that system to emotionally transform the self-system of the patient. Ritual manipulation of the spirit world enables shamans to symbolically transform individual psychophysiological processes through emotions related to well-being and attachment. Shamanistic ritual activities access innate drives toward self-differentiation and identification with "other," promoting reorganization at higher levels of integration. Through ritual manipulation of psychophysiological structures not directly accessible to the conscious ego, shamans evoke cognitive and emotional responses that cause physiological changes. These are achieved by the manipulation of cultural symbols associated with autonomic responses and through activities that cause physiological changes (e.g., drumming, fasting).

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Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

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