Affect and emotion in Restorative Practice

Emotion is the motivational cornerstone of all human endeavors. The continually expanding, international literature related to the practice of Restorative Justice presents practitioners with a dizzying array of models regarding emotion. It can be confusing. For instance, the fields of criminology, sociology and psychology frequently offer differing explanations of critical concepts such as shame, guilt and the differences between the two. Practitioners need grounding in a theoretical framework that provides them with a means of merging disparate models of emotion into practicable tools. They need a theory that is serviceable, regardless of their educational background, and applicable to interventions in all RJ areas. It should support and strengthen their work with couples, families, schools, organisations, and communities, as well as work in prisons and other criminal justice settings.

Affect script psychology (ASP) is such a framework. It is a universal model for understanding the biologic basis of affects, feelings and emotions. Developed by American psychologist, philosopher and would-be playwright Silvan S. Tomkins, it expands the work of Charles Darwin and delineates the evolutionary significance and function of the nine basic building blocks of human emotion—the affects. Familiarity with ASP gives one a clear understanding, for instance, of the emotions of offenders and victims during both the commission of the offense and the facilitation of restorative processes aimed at reducing the harm stemming from the offense. It makes especially clear the function and significance of the inborn affect shame-humiliation. It helps demystify much of the confusion about shame that has arisen since the pioneering work of the internationally acclaimed, award winning sociologist, criminologist and RPI member John Braithwaite presented in his book Crime, Shame and Reintegration (1989).

Working with Tomkins in the late 1980’s, Tomkins Institute Co-Founder and RPI Board member Vick Kelly utilized the insights of ASP and his decades of work treating distressed couples to redefine emotional intimacy. Vick translated this work into a working blueprint for emotion applicable to RJ practitioners. At the two prior RPI conferences in Queensland (2007) and Vancouver (2009), he presented workshops focused on these concepts as they relate to the emotional dynamics of conferencing. The Vancouver workshop proceedings are available through Heartspeak Productions on a DVD entitled: “A Blueprint for Emotion: Why Relationships Matter.”