“Disgust is a primary emotion that affects how we
make many of our decisions and is the basis for our judgments.”
~ Sarah Peyton
Enjoy this excerpt from The Transformative Power of Disgust, The Autoimmune Hour’s Interview #226 with Sarah Peyton, author of Your Resonant Self, published by WW Norton & Co.
SHARON SAYLER: First, let’s define the word disgust because when you and I chatted earlier, I had a completely different definition; your definition resonates at a much more visceral, intense level.
SARAH PEYTON: The way I define disgust is that it’s one of our primary emotions. It’s a primary emotion that tells us when our boundaries are being violated or when our sense of morality is not being accorded with or not being honored.
So disgust is hugely important to let us know, in a way, that we matter.
And it’s quite extraordinary to begin to come to this place of honoring our disgust. I noticed that when we’re in day-to-day conversations with people and somebody says, “Well, I’m disgusted” or “I feel disgusted” or “I feel nausea,” everybody will try to change the course of the conversation to support this person who is having a reaction not to have that reaction because, of course, it is so visceral.
The experience of disgust raises our internal torso body temperature by one to two degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s a viscerally felt emotion, but it also goes up from the body up to the brain stem through the amygdala and has a track like the other emotions. It has a path that it travels on as if we had bus routes in our head.
With different emotions, we’re riding on our different bus routes. So we have a bus route for disgust, and it’s a vital emotion, but it’s one that we mostly try to avoid rather than saying, “What is the wisdom that my disgust is bringing me?”
SHARON: I need more clarification because, for me, disgust ─ yes, it’s visceral, but when you said someone is pushing your boundaries and you have to stand your ground, I would have thought that I was running the anger track. But you tell me it’s more of the disgust bus stop?
SARAH: The last time we were together, we were talking about the surprising life-serving capacity of rage, and, indeed, rage does that: “Yes, my boundaries have been crashed through.”
With disgust, it’s like we’re in a different exploration. There’s an exploration that’s more about integrity rather than safety.
SHARON: Okay. I do feel violated when someone is pushing my boundaries. And, thinking deeper, disgust does feel like a violation and an intrusion on my values.
SARAH: We, as humans, use disgust in intense ways. Some of the ways that we use disgust are things that we might not feel very good about.
Suppose we’re trying to mobilize a population to go to war against another population, for example. In that case, we’ll see rhetoric about how the other people are animals of some kind or that they’re insects of some type. They’re lice, or they’re vermin. This is the kind of propaganda language that has traditionally been used by governments when they want to go to war against another country.
So if you look at the propaganda from World War II or the propaganda from World War I, you see these big posters where they’re taking pictures of whoever the enemy is and implying that they’re, somehow, not humans ─ and often implying that they’re rats or vermin or insects. There’s a natural association that the propagandists are working with to bring out our innate capacity for disgust that helps to write off other groups of people as not being human.
And, of course, one of the ways that we most often experience disgust, especially when we’re struggling with health issues, is self-disgust. This is one of the things that I often run into when working with folks who want to reclaim their brains and make it a good place to live in.
One of the things they have to work with is their tendency to feel disgusted about their being, body, and health. And this also is something that we’ve most often been taught rather than a true expression of what we get from life itself.
Each of us is exactly right. Our bodies are right.
And any struggles that we have with equilibrium and balance and health are honorable struggles. There’s no way that anybody’s body or body fluids are disgusting.
But we can carry that as an internal message from an external world that turns away often from any perception of weakness. Any perception of absolute invulnerability, that’s kind of our standard of health and wellbeing ─ the total lone hero who wants no relational connections and to save the world.
SHARON: I’m thinking back to the time right after the diagnosis when I would catch myself apologizing to a health care worker for something that my body just did. And I’m thinking about it now. I’m not sure I knew what words to put on it until your definition of disgust. I was disgusted. How dare my body do that when that health care worker did that!
SARAH: Exactly! And how dare this body bleed, how dare this body have diarrhea, how dare this body do all of the things that bodies do, how dare this body throw up!
As we heal, we move into a warmer relationship with ourselves, our bodies, and our energy levels because people will often have disgust levels for what their bodies do. They’ll also have disgust for things that seem vulnerable.
So if we cry, sometimes, people will experience self-disgust, or if we’re scared, people will have disgust for themselves. And it’s quite a thing to try to live with. It’s really sort of an unlivable relationship to have this experience of holding ourselves with disgust.
One of the interesting things about disgust is it doesn’t easily respond to empathy. So if somebody is having self-disgust, it’s very difficult to work directly with that emotion the way you and I have talked about working directly with anger or sadness or working directly with fear.
So there’s something that I recommend when we begin using language-based resonant response about disgust. I suggest that people imagine that they turn their disgust into a mat that’s lying all around them. Then they pick up the edge of the mat, and they look underneath it.
If I feel into how I turn away from myself and I’m not fully warm and resonant with myself there, the first thing I do is I feel my disgust. I allow it to become as big as it is stretching out around me and then I pick it up, and I look underneath.
And underneath right now, as I’m tuning in to this, I find helplessness and sorrow and worry. I can also find this sense ─ it almost brings tears to my eyes ─ of the gap between what I want to be able to understand and know about myself and what I do know about myself.
There are mysteries with our health where we’re always trying to figure out “What can I eat? How much exercise? How much sleep? What brings the optimization?” and then there’s like this space between what I know and what I wish I know. I wish that I had all the answers for myself to be able to do self-care.
So there’s such a complexity if we begin to notice our disgust and then look underneath it. It can be so complex.
SHARON: It does sound very complex, and I’m thinking out loud here. You have said in a previous interview to understand the differences in the language of “I’m angry at…” or “I am angry that….” I feel like putting “Am I disgusted at…?” or “Am I disgusted that…?”
SARAH: Beautiful inquiry!
SHARON: Will that work? I’m just having a tough time wrapping my head around the comforting use of the label “disgust” for some reason.
SARAH: I wonder if the differentiation we might make with disgust might be a bit like this: Disgust at the self ─ self-disgust ─ covers grief and helplessness. Most often, that’s what we find ─ sometimes, horror.
So the differentiation might be disgust with self versus disgust with so much emotion that we can’t digest it. So it’s disgust with self versus disgust with indigestible emotion.
SHARON: Indigestible emotion, wow. What a great metaphor!
Thank you, Sarah, for once again sharing your wisdom.
This short Q&A is from The Autoimmune Hour Show 226: The Transformative Power of Disgust. The above has been lightly edited for written clarity and length.
You can listen to the complete transformational interview at: www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/Disgust.
In the complete interview, Sarah shares why disgust is a vital emotion to understand and come-to-terms-with, plus:
- The latest research on how disgust can transform our views and beliefs,
- How disgust can affect our digestive tract,
- Where self-disgust can come from and how to turn it into positives,
- How mindset, emotions, and past trauma can be part of what’s going on now
and so much more….
More About Sarah: Sarah’s first book, Your Resonant Self, includes the foundational neuroscience concepts and client stories that help the reader pave a resonant practice path to self-compassion. Her latest book, Your Resonant Self Workbook builds onto the first book by adding the neuroscience of unconscious contracts, which supports an even deeper movement into self-warmth.
Sarah creates change using precision and resonant language that easily creates insights and transformation. Besides her Interpersonal Neurobiology research, Sarah also brings to us her long-term study of Nonviolent Communication and 3-D body-centered explorations of families over generations through Family Constellation work. You can learn more about Sarah Peyton and her remarkable work at www.YourResonantSelf.com and www.SarahPeyton.com.
The information provided on The Autoimmune Hour is for educational and informational purposes only. Always seek sound professional advice on your own. Neither My guest nor I am a medical professional, and we are not acting as medical, legal, or religious professionals. With this interview, we are talking about other people’s research and our own anecdotal experiences, including those of and with clients, listeners, and friends.
INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS from www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/Disgust
Sarah Peyton is back to talk about the word “disgust.” They begin by defining the term ‘disgust.’ Sarah says disgust is essential to let us know that we matter, and so, we have to honor our disgust and to ask ourselves, “What is the wisdom that my disgust is bringing me?”
0:09:31.0 Sharon and Sarah delve into the difference of self-disgust versus disgust with indigestible emotion. What follows is a discussion on the connection between disgust and play in childhood and the transformation of disgust into sexuality and the authentic self. They go into ‘healthy disgust.’
0:26:09.2 Here, they begin to explore ways to honor disgust’s reprogramming it so that we have delight in our existence.
Sarah talks about the unconscious contracts that are connected with disgust and moral disgust and a continuing self-disgust for not being able to meet perfection goals.