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Posts Tagged ‘processing emotions’

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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This week, I have been dealing with a pretty heavy-duty memory that I wrote about here and here. In part because this is the last week of school, and in part because I am slammed with playing “catch up” on my obligations after a month of working 30+ hour weeks at my new part-time job, I haven’t really had the opportunity to grieve this heinous memory.

A part of myself feels frustrated because I can feel the terror as a ball of ice in my stomach. I am having trouble staying in my body because I am so triggered, which makes it hard to stay connected with what my body is feeling. This is an issue even with basic things like whether or not my body is hungry. I find myself eating more than my body needs, in part because the taste of food is a distraction from the ball of ice, and in part because I am so out of touch with what my body needs and does not need.

I was also hit with some day-to-day bad news involving my kid’s medication. We had similar news back in November, and I reacted full force by finding another part-time job with unbelievable intensity. This time, I had a similar reaction in looking for a full-time job, but I was able to pull out from this after 24 hours versus the two months of intensity I went through last time. I feel like I am able to be more rational and logical about solutions this time than I was last time, so that is making progress.

Even with the eating thing, I am not having huge binges like I used to. I am not remotely tempted to bang my head. I know in the moment that this awful feeling won’t last. In fact, I even know what I need to do – I need to let myself feel the pain. I need to sit with the pain, bawl my eyes out, throw things, and release all of these pent up emotions. However, I don’t want to (and am limited on free time this week), so I am staying in this place of uncomfortable limbo in large part due to my own choices.

I am trying to be compassionate toward myself. This was a huge memory to recover. It was an incredibly traumatizing and confusing event.

One other difference I am noticing is that, for the first time in years, I am not triggered by the end of school. I typically go into a funk of feeling “abandoned,” fearing that all of my friends will “go away” over the summer and that I will be alone. There is not one ounce of me that is feeling that way this year, which is a huge leap forward.

So, even though I am not doing so great, I am able to see, even from this painful place, all of the progress that I have made. I also know exactly what I need to do – I just can’t seem to make myself do it yet. That will come.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Controlling the Darker Parts of Ourselves after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

What if [your emotions] don’t come ONE at a time?!? What if its a flood? I might be able to deal with all of the emotions if I could control them, and release them one at a time! But that isn’t how it happpens for me! I don’t get a choice with how fast they happen, or which ones to ‘let out.’ It just happens on its own. ~Theresa

I strongly recommend that Theresa and anyone else dealing with this issue read Chrystine Oksana’s Safe Passage to Healing. She has a great chapter entitled Associating Emotions that deals with just about any question you might have about dealing with emotions.

Here is some advice that she has to offer on the subject:

Associating dissociated emotions may be confusing for a while. Survivors have coped with skewed emotions for so long that distorted emotions feel normal. Many have to learn basics such as how natural emotions feel and what they are… Survivors usually avoid associating emotions until they feel overwhelmed. It comes a question of which is worse—living with unbearable tension or coping with unbearable feelings. A better approach is to schedule emotional release on a regular basis. Even five minutes a day can help…If five minutes feels like too much, start with thirty seconds, increase it to a minute, and so on. With each release, you will feel stronger, more alive, more energized, and more genuine. ~ Safe Passage to Healing, pp. 228-229

Until you allow yourself to begin to feel your emotions, you are going to stay in this hellish place. The healing process has its own rhythm, and it knows what it is doing. If you will release yourself into the guidance of your healing process and release emotions as you feel the need, you will experience an incredible about of healing. The more you fight it, the more painful and stressful the process will become.

I strongly recommend working together with your therapist as you begin allowing yourself to experience your emotions. If you are afraid to “let go” in private, then perhaps doing so under the supervision of your therapist will help you feel safer to do it.

When I first released my anger, I feared that it would rage on and on. In reality, it was an intense 20 minutes, but then it was over for that session. I did not hurt myself or anyone else, and the feeling was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

If you keep doing what you have always done (repressing the emotions), you are going to keep getting the same results. It takes courage to risk feeling your emotions, but it really is a key part of healing. You will be amazed at how much better you feel afterward.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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On my blog entry entitled Why I Relate So Strongly to Nina in “Black Swan”, a reader posted the following comment:

I know it is different for everyone and the process is not linear, but when attaching feelings to events, you mentioned releasing your emotions, how long did it take for you to feel not crazy and to not be safe with yourself? Did it come up and sink down so sometimes it wasn’t so prevalent in your thinking? ~aggiemonday

Like Aggiemonday, I wanted a time line from my therapist. I lost count of how many times I asked, “How long…?” His answer was always that he did not have a crystal ball, which drove me crazy. Couldn’t he just give me an average based on his experience in working with other child abuse survivors?

Healing from child abuse is a very individual process. There are generalities, such as learning to love and accept yourself, that apply pretty much across the board, but the time frame for this is going to vary from person to person. The time frame is even going to vary for the same person depending upon the speed that the person can handle in this moment. The best advice I saw on the topic of pacing was from Isurvive when a member said only go as fast as the slowest part of yourself is ready to go. Of course, I was never very good at actually taking that advice.

I have found that the upward spiral (which I believe is mentioned in The Courage to Heal) is the best symbol for how my healing process feels. I often feel like I am going around in circles. I think that I have mastered one element of healing, and then I find myself fighting down the same demons a few months or years later. The upward spiral shows you that you are always healing and moving toward a healthier you, so you are not truly going in circles but, instead, spiraling upward.

The only way I can tell you to “speed things up” is to stop fighting the process. My therapist pointed out that the more energy I put into fighting my feelings and emotions, the more powerful they became. When I chose to stop fighting them and, instead, give them a voice, they lost their power over me. The more frequently I choose to accept myself, which includes my memories, feelings, and emotions, the faster I seem to spiral back out of the bad place.

That being said, embracing it all too quickly creates its own challenges. Some readers have been impressed by the speed of my healing, and even my therapist marveled that I completed two years of therapy in a period of six months. This was because my attitude was that if I had to feel like s@#$, then I was going to give it my all and get this process over with as soon as possible. My therapist would tell me to try to enjoy the process, but I told him that he was out of his mind to think that I would enjoy any of this.

Trying to heal too quickly feels like riding on a runaway freight train. My therapist kept telling me to slow down, but in the early months of therapy, I simply didn’t have the power to do it. After that first intense six months, I settled into a more manageable pace of healing for me. Keep in mind that with each accepted memory comes emotions and feelings that need to be processed. Rather than race through the process, it is sometimes to your benefit to give yourself time to breathe between each period of healing.

The more you accept every part of yourself – your memories, emotions, and feelings – as “me,” the sooner you will stop feeling so “crazy.” The more you accept yourself, the more you will feel “safe” with yourself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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