Posts Tagged ‘sitting with painful emotions’

On Friday, I wrote about learning how to “sit with” painful emotions after child abuse. A reader posted the following question to that blog entry:

Have DID and the memory am dealing with is held by a young very sad part. I am not sure how to cope with what seems like “her” emotion which wells up in “me” and she is sad because the past is present to her. Does that make any sense? I do my best to comfort and nurture internally, but sometimes the sorrow in her seems inconsolable. May be that’s the “sitting with” idea? ~ ruby

The question boils down to how “sitting with” painful emotions applies to people who have dissociative identity disorder (DID). In a nutshell, this is the same thing.

Remember that an alter part is a part of you. You split off the pain because it was unbearable at the time you experienced the trauma. In order to survive your childhood, you needed to isolate that pain so you would not have to experience it at the time that you were hurt. It is like you froze that pain when you were a little girl. Now that you are an adult and are safe, the ice has melted, and that pain is ready to be released.

What you described in your comment is similar to what I have been experiencing after having this latest flashback. The alter part that held the pain is in the process of integrating into the core. I have already integrated the memory, but the associated emotions are much more complex.

I frequently split off each emotion into fragments, so I might have to process the sadness today, then the anger, and then the terror. At least that enables me to pace myself, right?

Like you, have been doing things to self-nurture, such as visualizing the adult me wrapping the wounded child in a blanket, holding her close, and rocking her. I have also told her that I love her and that it was not her fault. (I just felt that part of myself “come out” when I wrote that.) Later, I told this part that, if she will choose to integrate, then the core will absorb her pain, and she will experience this one incident against the backdrop of a lifetime of experiences rather than as an encapsulated event.

I have had to allow that part of myself to grieve, which involved allowing myself to shed the tears that I should have cried when I was six. Now, I just have to sit back and let the sadness “be” for a while without fueling it or denying it. As long as I do that, I am okay. I also remind myself that all emotions pass. After I release this sadness, I will have no need to feel it again.

As you “sit with” the pain and allow it to run its course, you are integrating that part of yourself back into your core. This is all part of healing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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All day yesterday, I felt sad. I was able to recognize that this sadness had nothing to do with today. This is the lingering sadness from the flashback I recovered recently. I tried very hard to follow my therapist’s advice and allow myself to “sit with” the pain rather than try to stuff it down or fuel it.

I don’t like feeling sad. For most of my life, I ate whenever I felt sad. I have been making lots of progress on conquering an eating disorder (have lost 13 lbs!), so I have not been turning to food whenever I feel sad. If I don’t “stuff down” the sadness through food, then my next alternative is typically to fuel the sadness. I think about something in my day-to-day life that could be causing the sadness, and it is like pouring gasoline on a candle. I take a small sadness and turn it into a really big deal.

I just realized that my reaction is so typical of a trauma survivor. I go to one extreme or the other: I deny the pain, or I fuel it into a full-fledged depression.

This time, I am trying very hard to follow my therapist’s advice. He told me that I needed to learn how to “be” with painful emotions. I don’t have to stop them or fuel them. It is okay just to “sit with them” for a little while, and then they will pass.

My yoga instructor put it another way. She said that I am the fire hose, and the emotion is the water coursing through it. I don’t need to get “attached” to the emotion. Just let it flow out of me and back into the universe. I have been doing some visualizations and “seeing” the sadness flow out of me. I am not denying or encouraging it. I am just trying to “be with it.”

This is a new skill for me, so it will probably take some practice. So far, so good. I feel sad, but I also recognize that the sadness is an echo of the past and not about today. I can still have a good day, even when I am feeling blue.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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