Normative Influences on Secondary Disturbance: The Role of Social Expectancies

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A “new wave” within psychotherapy has introduced the concept of acceptance into people's emotional repertoires. Accepting unpleasant emotional states has been demonstrated as an important pathway towards reducing secondary disturbances and improving emotional and psychological functioning. What is often overlooked, however, is whether this move towards acceptance is reinforced within the social and cultural contexts in which people experience their emotional states. Our research has begun to explore the contribution that normative influences make to secondary disturbance, specifically the perception that feeling happy is a desired state, and that experiencing and expressing negative emotions is undesirable and unacceptable to others. We review evidence here that these perceived “social expectancies” are associated with increased negative emotionality and depression, and reduce well-being. Furthermore, we highlight that the effects of social expectancies are more apparent in Australia than Japan, consistent with the view that a higher premium is placed on happiness within Australia. We also review experimental evidence that social messages that reinforce these social expectancies serve to increase secondary disturbances. The implications of taking a social perspective on emotion regulation and dysfunction, and specifically implications for promoting happiness and acceptance in the field, are discussed.

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