Archive for the ‘Emotions’ Category

Winding PlantOn my blog entry entitled Shame: What it Feels Like and How to Get Rid of it, a reader posted the following comment:

Can you talk more about the connection between emotions and body? i, too am learning to name emotions. i feel them in my body so strongly, but am struggling with naming and then making that connection. can you keep talking about this part of your healing? ~ Aggiemonday

Michael posted a good response to that comment that I recommend you read. Remember that you need to find what works for you and that it may differ from what works for me. The big picture is the same, though – we are all doing what we need to do along our journey toward a destination of self-love and acceptance.

I wish I was farther along in my progress in this area so I could be more helpful. Shame is the only emotion that I definitely know I am feeling based upon what my body feels. When I get that sunburn feeling in my skin, especially along my arms, I know that I am feel shame, and I know what works for me to process it. I choose not to feed it and, instead, do a visual to pour it out of my body. Other readers responded that they deal with shame differently, so be sure to check out other strategies if mine does not work for you.

The only other emotion I am pretty good at identifying is fear. Ironically, I frequently fail to notice one of the classic bodily responses to fear – an increased heart rate. I lived so much of my life with my heart pounding that I truly do not notice it unless I think to look for it. As an example, I will spend 30 minutes unable to fall asleep before I notice that my heart is racing.

The bodily feeling I notice to identify fear is a sensation in my thighs that I cannot quite describe. My muscles tense up, and I “feel fear” in my thighs. While fear can affect other parts of my body, such as a clenched stomach, the bodily signal I first notice is always in my thighs. When I feel fear, I do deep breathing to slow my heart rate and calm myself back down.

I wish I could be more helpful, but I am still too out-of-tune with the rest of my emotions to describe their physical manifestations. This is something that I am working on. I first learned that our bodies have a physical response to whatever emotion we are experiencing in Geneen Roth’s book, Women Food and God. (“God” represents spirituality in this book – it is not religious in nature.) Perhaps her book will be helpful to you in working through this aspect of healing. I need to read through those chapters again as well.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have shared before that I am trying to learn how to “be” with my feelings. I am trying not to analyze them or avoid them. My therapist advised me to do this years ago, but it doesn’t come naturally for me. Who wants to sits around feeling “bad” for days or weeks on end?

For whatever reason, this is what I have felt drawn to do this time around. I have been in a cocooning place, not really wanting much interaction with the outside world. That’s unusual for me because I am a social person. While I do need “me time,” I also draw energy from connecting with other people. However, for the past few weeks, I haven’t been calling many people. I have withdrawn into my shell.

I actually saw some results from this over the past couple of days. Wednesday was less hard. I guess that’s the best way to word it. It felt like I had been carrying weights for a long time, and now some of the weights had been removed. I didn’t feel “good” or “happy.” It just felt “less hard.” I was appreciative of that.

Thursday was even better. I felt “lighter” and more present. I noticed more things around me when I went to the gym and otherwise went about my day. I actually felt like connecting with other people. I called my sister and had lunch with a friend. I was amazed that I actually felt this way, especially with the holidays so close. I am typically getting “worse” by now, not better. I have been trying to observe all of this without analyzing it, which isn’t easy for me.

Sadly, that place did not last. As I engaged in the world again, I found myself getting triggered a lot. I guess that is to be expected at this time of year for me. I am very sensitive to anything that can in any way be construed as criticism at this time of year. I am also very sensitive to other people’s energies, so I can “feel” other people’s negativity.

Perhaps this is a normal part of reengaging in society after disengaging for so long. Again, I am trying not to analyze it, but old habits die hard. I am also trying not to react but just “to be.” I am trying to let go of my own negative reactions to other people’s negativity, and I can see progress there as well.

One piece of self-analysis I was unable to avoid was connecting that I think I am sensitive to other people’s criticism (as I perceive it – I doubt any of these people intended criticism) because I am already working so, so hard through my stuff right now. As Michael shared before, there is no public acknowledgement for all of the hard work I have been doing. I don’t need a to-do list of more changes I need to make. I need to honor how far I have come and don’t need anyone else giving me more to change.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled In a Weird Place Today, a reader posted the following comment:

I need some help on how to get over being tough about all the abuse. I know it all happenned but I can’t cry for all the horrible things that happenned. My uncle was the abuser but my parents drilled into us kids be tough and brush of the hurt feelings and move on with life. I can’t move on with life because I can’t get past my feelings. My parents buried the abuse and never would talk about it. I was raped and tighted up at the age of 8 plus more that I won’t go into to. I don’t sleep when actually I’m a wreck. I need some help from other survivors. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. My therapist is great and working with me on this but I want to express my saddness and pain. ~ JMM

The inability to cry is common for child abuse survivors. Some child abuse survivors are unable to cry at all. (Side note – Child abuse survivors who are unable to cry for any reason seem to be more vulnerable to cutting and burning as forms of self-injury – they cut or burn their emotions onto their body since they cannot express them in any other way.) Other child abuse survivors are able to cry but not in connection with the trauma that pains them the most.

I fall under the second category. I have always had a lot of dissociated sadness. I used to be able to cry at the drop of a hat. I would cry at commercials and at the end of any movie with a touching soundtrack. However, when dealing with my most traumatizing memories, such as when my dog was slaughtered in front of me , I could not cry. I could tell you exactly what happened, but I was unable to shed one tear over it.

Because I could not cry, I felt a heavy weight on my chest whenever I thought about my dog. I tried and tried to get myself to cry but couldn’t. Then, I finally managed to muster up a single tear, and it was a huge relief. Just that one tear washed out an enormous amount of pain. Later, I was able to connect the emotions back to the memory and cry for my dog while listening to a sad song. Crying helped me wash the pain away. I cannot listen to that song without grieving for my dog.

What worked for me was to put myself into a position where I would shed tears and then switch gears. For example, I would watch a movie that I knew would make me cry. Once I was crying for the characters, I would think about something sad that happened to me. In time, I managed to reconnect the tears with the memories.

I am not sure how to start the process of crying if you are unable to cry under any circumstances. Perhaps some readers who have been in that situation can share some ideas.

Related topic:

Connecting the Emotion Back to the Source

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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PhotobucketOn my blog entry entitled In a Weird Place Today, a reader posted an excerpt from a blog entry entitled The Truth About “Feeling Sorry for Yourself”….. I am so grateful to have learned about that blog entry because it has really helped me clarify where I am emotionally right now.

The following paragraph summarizes the blogger’s position on feeling sorry for yourself:

When experiencing hurt, anger, frustration, sorrow, depression, dissapointment….etc. there is a natural urge which leads towards healing. If we were to “go with the flow” on feelings alone, most of us would probably feel really sorry for ourselves for a while, comfort ourselves, and then, find ways to feel better, and eventually get back into the game. ~ Illusions at Powerful Intentions

I think this explains very nicely where I am right now. I have felt the need to withdraw from most people in my day-to-day life, but I haven’t been able to articulate why. I am coming to realize that I need to “be” right now. I need to “be” with my feelings of grief. I don’t want anyone else cheering me up, distracting me, or trying to fix it. I don’t want to analyze what happened in the past, what I should or shouldn’t be doing now, or what I need to do in the future. I just want to “be.”

My therapist advised me many times to learn to “sit” with my emotions. Don’t try to stuff them down with food, drown them with wine, or control them in any way – just let them “be.” Perhaps I am finally understanding this on a heart level.

I have been frustrated by gaining five pounds since the latest flashbacks surfaced. I am not binge eating, but I am doing some comfort eating. Reading that blogger’s article helped me to recognize that, while I am not wild about the weight gain, it is coming from a place of compassion and comfort.

I am still not very good at knowing what I need or how to nurture myself. I have been trying to follow whatever feels right in the moment. I have played the piano more in the past week than I have in the past year. I have watched TV and eaten cookies. I have written when I felt like it and refrained from writing when I felt like it.

I have been trying not to label where I am right now as “good” or “bad” – it just is. However, reading that article has helped me to see where I am in a more positive light.

When I have head cold, I know there is nothing I can do to make it magically go away. I accept that I am going to feel lousy for a few days. I eat some chicken soup, nap, and watch TV – little things that I know will comfort me until I feel better. I don’t think where I am right now is much different, only the pain is in my spirit instead of my body.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In a Weird Place Today

PhotobucketI am in a weird place today. I am not even sure how to describe it. I am worn out from processing my most heinous memory yet, which I wrote about here, here, and here.

I haven’t had a whole lot of room to process all of this. This is such a busy time of year with trying to get everything ready for Christmas and squeezing in everything that needs to be done before my kid is off from school for two weeks. I haven’t had a lot of time alone in my house. I have had repairmen and other workmen in and out for the past couple of weeks. I have had friends come over for favors and have been on conference calls for various reasons. There hasn’t been much room in my life for me, and I don’t see that changing until after the holidays are over.

The adult me is ready to check this new information off my list and move on. OK, now I get why I hate Christmas so much. It makes perfect sense. Moving on… The adult me also gets how much of a mind f#$% it all was – that I didn’t kill anyone, that I wasn’t actually buried, that there is no Santa, etc. In so many ways, the adult me just wants to put this all behind me.

Then, there is the child me – the part of me that was horror-stricken from being forced to kill the person I loved most in the world and then locked in a box with what I believed was a dead body. Yeah, that’s a lot for a little kid to take in. I was in the age range of six to eight, which is younger than my kid is now. I have no idea how a little kid processes that kind of terror.

I have a friend who wants to be supportive and sends me messages that she is here to talk it through, but I don’t really have anything to talk about. It happened. It sucks. I feel sad. Moving on…

I finally had some alone time on Thursday. I had Bible Study in the morning but nothing else after that. I have been tutoring on Thursday afternoons, but I had a break this week to do whatever I wanted. Yes, I have a million things I **could** be doing, but that was probably going to be my last day until after the holidays of having “me” time for the entire day.

I asked myself what I **wanted** to do, which isn’t a question I ask myself very often. I wanted to play the piano, which I did for a while. Then, I was just so tired that I thought I would take a cat nap. I woke up 2.5 hours later! I have been sleeping lately (thankfully, the insomnia seems to be over), but I don’t think I have been **resting** when I sleep. My body really needed the rest.

I feel sad and lost but not suicidal. I just want the holidays to be over.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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Historically, I am an emotional basket case from Halloween through New Year’s Day. I am not entirely sure why. I suspect one reason is because, as a child, the holidays meant that school was not in session, which cut me off from all of the safe people in my life. I also suspect that some of the ritual abuse tied into the holiday times, but I don’t have specific memories tying into specific dates, so I can’t be sure.

Because I know that the holidays are a tough time for me, I made the decision last year to listen primarily to Contemporary Christian music. At this time of year (when I am susceptible to depression), I’ll latch onto a song with a melancholy tune & lyrics and “go down the well” of my pain. For the most part, the genre of Contemporary Christian music does not lend itself to melancholy tunes, although there are a few that I could use that way. I make sure to skip over those. (I mostly listen to Pandora.com over the Internet.)

I found that I struggled less with depression last holiday season. It was still hard, and I was still depressed on and off, but it was improved from prior years. So, I am sticking with that same strategy this holiday season.

This year, I have added the change of not drinking any alcohol. At this time of year, I like to kick back with a glass of wine at night, which is fine in the moment. The problem is that alcohol is a depressant and seems to encourage that depressed part of myself to grow stronger the next day.

I have had plenty of nights where I really wanted that glass of wine, but I am staying “on the wagon” for now. I have no issues with substance abuse, so it’s not an issue of craving alcohol. I just like “taking the edge off” in the evenings. I have decided that tonight’s “taking the edge off” isn’t worth the additional struggle with depression the next day.

So, I have made both of these positive changes, but I still feel “off.” I see both listening to melancholy music and drinking wine as ways I have added fuel to my fire. Removing the fuel hasn’t stopped the fire, only prevented its acceleration.

I don’t know what my expectations are. My hope is that I can get through the holidays without feeling out of control emotionally. I am feeling less out of control, but I still feel like I have anxiety and depression geysers going in my head. I am ultrasensitive right not to any form of criticism, even reading criticism into where I know objectively that none is intended. I am trying to be aware of my feelings without reacting to them.

Can I just go to sleep and have all of you wake me in January?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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It has been five days since a dysfunctional friendship of nine years ended. I won’t go into the details because why it ended really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a relationship I nurtured for almost a decade is over, and the real reason it ended was because it was dysfunctional.

I have no question that the relationship was long overdue for ending. I should have ended it a while ago, but I didn’t because when I love, I love deeply. I am also a loyal friend, so I have a habit of sticking with relationships long past when they should have expired. The relationship was once very meaningful and helpful to me, especially in my early therapy years. I don’t forget that and feel guilty about pulling away when the relationship no longer fits.

I have been grieving the loss, and I have had a bunch of different emotions swirling around my head. The primary emotion is anger because of the pointless way it ended. The other person tossed me away as if I never mattered, and that makes me angry – after all I invested in this person, it pisses me off that the other person so easily brushed me aside in one fit of anger. I am also angry about the other person’s alleged reasons for treating me this way. I accept that I need to let the anger run through me and out so it doesn’t turn into bitterness.

I am also sad and have done some crying over the death of this friendship. The sadness has been secondary to the anger, but I suspect as the anger abates, more sadness will follow.

The weirdest part is the absence of the friendship. I’ll watch something on TV and think, “I need to tell __ about ___ … No, wait, she isn’t in my life anymore.” She was such an integral part of my life for so long that it feels weird not having her to talk to about X, Y, and Z. I am not talking about leaning on her emotionally. I am talking about the fact that a TV show we both like will have new episodes airing next month or something funny that happened today. It’s just weird to notice the absence as I go about my day.

My therapist has warned me that I might have regrets about how long I chose to stay in the friendship, but I don’t know if I will. I made the decisions I did for the reasons I did, and those decisions led me to where I am today. I feel no need to beat myself up for things I did or did not do before today.

I also feel no guilt about the friendship ending. She blew it up, not me, and she blew it up over something so ridiculous that I think it was an excuse to get out. I don’t think this dysfunctional friendship was healthy for either of us any longer. I wish we could have parted amicably and downgraded to acquaintances, but it is what it is.

This isn’t my first dysfunctional relationship to end, and I am sure it won’t be the last. I’ll get through it just as I always do.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Upon my return to therapy, at the end of my first session, I asked my therapist how I can process emotions without being swept away by them. His response was to give me homework the next week. He wants me to pay attention to each time someone pushes my buttons and then fill out a worksheet. These are the four questions he wants me to address:

  1. Identify the people who frequently “press your emotional buttons.”
  2. What emotions do you feel when these people press your buttons?
  3. How do you usually respond when these people press your buttons?
  4. What could be an effective way to disable these emotional buttons (that is, disable the button while feeling the feeling)?

I didn’t need to wait to fill out #1. I am painfully aware of the people who press my buttons, and the main ones live under my roof.

So far, I am beginning each response to #2 with anger. I guess that is progress because I used to react with shame, guilt, and fear of no longer being loved. Now it just p@$$es me off. Underneath the anger is sadness and frustration with my husband and mostly frustration with my kid.

For #3 – How I respond varies depending upon the situation. I was surprised to discover that my husband actually presses my buttons more by the things he doesn’t do than with the things that he says or does. Because he is typically not around when I discover the latest thing he failed to do, I don’t really react since he isn’t around to react to it. It’s more just grumbling in my own head.

I actually had to call a friend and ask if “inaction” counted as button pushing. She said it did, so I am including it. I think it is an interesting thing to note that inaction is what is really bothering me the most with him. Of course, the week is not over yet…

And then there is #4, which remains completely blank. How can I disable these buttons? I have no idea. With my husband, I mostly choose to stop caring. The sad thing is that, the fewer behaviors (or inaction) I care about, the less I care. That can’t be healthy for a marriage.

With my son, I actively choose not to go head-to-head with him because that is counterproductive. I have to step away and think through how to accomplish what I need to accomplish in a different way. Some strategies work nicely, such as rewarding him for making good choices. Other strategies, such as trying to reason with him, don’t work very well at all. He has a variety of special needs, which makes parenting him a challenge since none of the tips in the parenting books work for him.

I am going to keep trying to fill out my worksheet, but I fear that #4 will remain blank.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have my therapy appointment later today, so I thought I would blog about how I am doing before I go. I am sure that therapy will point me in a different direction, so I want to capture my progress so far.

My “homework” from last week was (1) not to react to my emotions but, instead, observe them with compassionate awareness; and (2) not justify or explain myself to others. I have done a better job with #1 than I have with #2. As for #2, I have made progress in noticing when I am explaining myself but have not been very effective so far in stopping myself beforehand. However, I have done a very good job with #1.

I gave myself a third homework assignment to help with #1 that my T did not suggest but did support – ceasing all mood-altering drinks and pills for now. I have not drunk any wine or other alcoholic beverage, taken any Xanax, or even taken any sleep aids in over a week. Before I continue, let me assure you that I have no addiction issues other than food (binge eating). I use alcohol and Xanax to numb the difficult emotions, but there is no physical or compulsive element to this. Food has been a harder demon to slay because I do struggle with compulsive overeating, but I have been making progress in this area as well.

So I went a week without using any external means to numb myself or help me sleep. You know what? It was a much better week than I have had in a long time. That isn’t to say that I did not feel any difficult emotions – I did. The differences were that (1) I did not fuel them; and (2) I did not numb the “good” emotions, like joy. By not fueling the hard emotions while, at the same time, enabling myself to experience the “good” emotions, I achieved an emotional balance that I have not experienced in a long time.

I found that I have an internal “anxiety geyser” that shoots out anxiety several times a day with no apparent trigger. I could be doing something throughout my day, not thinking about anything in particular, and become flooded with anxiety. In the past, I would immediately try to analyze it, which would fuel the anxiety, snowball, and drive me to food, wine, or Xanax to detach from it. Instead, I would simply notice the anxiety without attaching to it, and it would pass.

Giving up sleep aids (which does include wine and Xanax but also melatonin and herbal sleep aids) was harder because I struggle so badly with insomnia. My sleep patterns actually improved this week. I had three nights lying in my bed at 3:00 a.m. looking at the ceiling. Instead of taking a Xanax to fall back to sleep, I popped in a DVD with a comedy I had seen before and listened to it until I fell back to sleep.

I don’t know where I am going next in therapy, but I am very pleased with the results so far!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Dear Faith,

I am sorry that you are feeling so crappy right now. It isn’t fair. You did nothing to deserve feeling this way. You did nothing to cause it, and there is nothing that you are doing or not doing that would make it all better. This is emotional chemo. This is something that you cannot get around, over, or under. The way out is straight through the pain until you get to the other side.

I know that it feels like you have always been and always will be in this much pain. The truth is that this feeling will not last. The longest it has ever lasted was six weeks. You didn’t believe it would ever end, but it did. For four wonderful hours, the clouds parted, and you felt the warmth of the sun. You felt more alive than you ever had before. When those four hours ended, you kept the hope that this pain would not be forever. Hold onto that hope.

Don’t let anyone minimize your experience. The pain really is that bad. It’s not your imagination, and you are not just “being dramatic.” Your pain is very real, and you don’t owe anyone any apologies for not being OK with being in so much pain. You don’t have to get through this time with grace: you just have to get through it however you can.

This is not a situation that you can “fix.” There is no magic formula that is going to make the clouds part and remove the intense pressure from your spirit. This is all part of the “emotional chemo” process. Healing moves to its own rhythm, and you are just along for the ride. It will feel more endurable if you stop fighting it and, instead, express what you are feeling.

It is OK to cry. It is OK to get really, really pissed off about it. It is OK to take it easy. If you were going through physical chemo treatments, nobody would expect for you to keep the perfect house or get everything done. You would be given the time and space you needed to heal. This emotional chemo is no different. Take the time you need to nap and rest.

I know how hard it is to believe that this is survivable, but it is. You already survived your childhood, and you have already survived these dark places several times. You can do this, one baby step at a time. You don’t have to get through the rest of your life – you just have to get through right now. Do what you need to do right now, in this moment, to survive it. I promise you – the clouds will part.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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