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London 2012: the Emotional Legacy


The notion of the British “stiff upper lip” and associated emotional suppression has been well and truly challenged by the collective emotional outpouring during the Olympic Games fortnight. We will all have experienced a range of individual and shared responses to the emotional roller-coaster of the Games. This has been enhanced by exposure to media full of daily references to the tremendously moving experiences of the recent weeks, accompanied by images of vast crowds supporting our home grown athletes with cheers of encouragement and pride.

It is as if the Olympics have provided an opportunity for a display of emotions that might at other times be regarded as inappropriate. After all, emotions can be difficult to manage or are something of a potential minefield and best avoided. Nevertheless, emotions provide connections between people. Emotions are everywhere, a part of everything we do. Feelings are what we consciously experience, the meaning we make of what happens to us (Torsteinsson & Sundet, 2010).

We have felt a connectedness because emotions are “the energy that connects body, mind, relationships, and cultures in other words a unifying systemic concept” (Sigel, 1999).

Intense and pleasant emotions generate a feel good factor and help people to feel positive about themselves and one another. This is beneficial both in terms of physical health and in generating positive self worth, essential to the development of resilience and competence.

Following the successful Olympic Games, there is a potential for the feel good factor to be lost, for reality to come crashing down. This could potentially signal a retreat to our individual silos and a retraction of the recent positive emotional connectedness. Clearly our Prime Minister is mindful of this and has already identified strategies for “bottling the Olympic Spirit”. These include signing up thousands of volunteers for a new charity and increasing sports opportunities in schools.

At the heart of this collective spirit has been a sense of the possibilities ahead and a willingness to pull together– to believe in what can be done rather than a negative focus on what has not been achieved.


Daniel Siegl, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, Guilford Press 1999.

Vigdis Wie Torsteinsson and Rolf Sundet, Emotions – in Need of a Supplementary Language, Context 2010.

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