The most critical function of restorative practices is restoring and building relationships. Because informal and formal restorative processes foster the expression of affect or emotion, they also foster emotional bonds. The late Silvan S. Tomkins’s writings about psychology of affect (Tomkins, 1962, 1963, 1991) assert that human relationships are best and healthiest when there is free expression of affect or emotion — minimizing the negative, maximizing the positive, but allowing for free expression. Donald Nathanson, former director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute, added that it is through the mutual exchange of expressed affect that we build community, creating the emotional bonds that tie us all together (Nathanson, 1998). Restorative practices such as conferences and circles provide a safe environment for people to express and exchange emotion (Nathanson, 1998).
Tomkins identified nine distinct affects (Figure 4) to explain the expression of emotion in all humans. Most of the affects are defined by pairs of words that represent the least and the most intense expression of a particular affect. The six negative affects include anger-rage, fear-terror, distressanguish, disgust, dissmell (a word Tomkins coined to describe “turning up one’s nose” in a rejecting way) and shame-humiliation. Surprise-startle is the neutral affect, which functions like a reset button. The two positive affects are interest-excitement and enjoyment-joy (Tomkins, 1962, 1963, 1991).
Silvan S. Tomkins (1962) wrote that because we have evolved to experience nine affects — two positive affects that feel pleasant, one (surprise-startle) so brief that it has no feeling of its own, and six that feel dreadful — we are hardwired to conform to an internal blueprint. The human emotional blueprint ensures that we feel best when we 1) maximize positive affect and 2) minimize negative affect; we function best when 3) we express all affect (minimize the inhibition of affect) so we can accomplish these two goals; and, finally, 4) anything that fosters these three goals makes us feel our best, whereas any force that interferes with any one or more of those goals makes us feel worse (Nathanson, 1997b).
By encouraging people to express their feelings, restorative practices build better relationships. Restorative practices demonstrate the fundamental hypothesis of Tomkins’s psychology of affect — that the healthiest environment for human beings is one in which there is free expression of affect, minimizing the negative and maximizing the positive (Nathanson, 1992). From the simple affective statement to the formal conference, that is what restorative practices are designed to do (Wachtel, 1999).