Do you process your emotions in a healthy way? Not me, I’m a bottler…

I’ve downed tools for this post in order to do more processing myself and in order to ensure I practice what I preach – so this post is more personal than previous ones. I hope you’re able to relate to it on a personal level and that it doesn’t come across as egotistical. My aim to encourage openness, conversation and sharing – rather than ego – it’s not meant to be all about me – I hope I manage to achieve that. So I’ve put all of the books away, the kindle, audio books, articles and am writing this based on what I’m actually experiencing at the moment.

I started seeing a therapist last August because I was stuck in a cycle of stress, anxiety, headaches, sadness and withdrawal from my social circles. This had been going on for years. I’m a social person and human connection is really important to me so it was causing me considerable emotional, psychological and physical pain.  I finally acknowledged that this wasn’t going to just resolve itself and that I needed to tackle it head-on. To start with I just read about psychology, neuroscience and spirituality but then realised I needed help – real help – from another person. Since seeing a therapist I’ve been feeling so much better; more supported. And this has enabled me to find the courage to face my shadow self, my demons. The need to feel supported wasn’t necessarily because my family and friends are unable or unwilling to support me but rather – I don’t actually ask for help and I rarely show my real, authentic self to anyone so how can I expect anyone to support me? You could argue those around me could also reach out but if I’m the one who needs support then I have to take responsibility for asking for it be it directly or through showing my real feelings. I now understand how important this is for my well being. I need the kind of relationships where I can truly be myself; warts and all. I can’t pretend to be positive all the time anymore – I need permission to be happy, joyful, content, ecstatic, sad, angry, frustrated, irritable, disappointed, doubtful, anxious, down etc. And all without judgement. Well society isn’t going to hand this to me on a plate so I’m taking it for myself. I’m going to be authentic, genuine, truly myself at home, at work, in my community and with my friends. Tough shit if you don’t like it. And if you can’t handle it – that’s OK – I won’t take it personally. How I respond to how you respond to me is also my responsibility.

I hereby give myself permission to be ME. Wholly and wholeheartedly me.

My therapist has helped me to realise that I’ve been avoiding pretty much all negative emotion and instead of feeling negative emotions I bury them, suppress them, avoid them, deny them. And even when I choose to engage with them I think about them rather than feel them. I intellectualise them, rationalise them, theorise about them. I’m even quite good at talking about them but somehow I still manage to do so without actually feeling them. OMG – how is that possible?!?!

I’ve been doing meditation for about five years and yoga daily for two but still somehow have been managing to hold on to those emotions rather than simply seeing them, feeling them and letting them go. It’s not that I never process them now – I am learning to but I still often get lost in thoughts and feelings that trigger more thoughts and feelings – generating stress that otherwise wouldn’t be there. It doesn’t exist outside me it’s all inside me – all within my control. Before I would have been completely unaware of this going on and would at some point have told myself to get it together; suppressing it all and distracting myself through some activity or other. It’s a journey to be sure but it’s an interesting, challenging and at times incredibly satisfying one. I know that I’m learning an important skill because I can feel it and once mastered I also know it’s one that will help me to stay psychologically, emotionally and even physically well.

The stress I’ve been causing myself began to show itself in my body a few years ago and since having my son – it got so much worse. Yoga and walking alleviated it some but never got rid of it completely. My therapist mentioned the concept of holding emotion in the body and so I looked into it and it made sense so I started using my meditation training and yoga practice to focus on releasing emotion from my hips. The result is at times surprising. I groan, I almost cry, I actually cry: sometimes a little, sometimes a lot and sometimes the flood gates open and it seems it’ll never stop. In the beginning it felt dramatic – that I was allowing myself to indulge in something that was over the top; melodramatic or that my life was just downright awful (I knew this wasn’t actually true) but then I’d feel the release, the relief and I knew it had to be the right thing to be doing simply because it felt right. My intuition – my authentic self is telling me it’s real –  it’s good for me and that there’s no shame in it – there’s no shame in being vulnerable and real.

Some helpful resources on how to process emotion

Here are a few resources that I’ve found really helpful in learning to engage with and process my own emotions. There are many many tools around to help with this so this list is by no means exhaustive but is a good start.

Alain de Botton – founder of the School of Life has created this short and easy to understand video about processing emotions

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b197XOd9S7U&vl=en

Viktor Frankl’s stimulus – response model

This model is referred to by many professionals in the psychology and coaching fields. Frankl was a psychiatrist who developed this model whilst in a concentration camp living in appalling conditions having survived torture and the loss of most of his family. Frankl is credited with saying the following:

Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

In case this needs further explanation –  it means that whatever we perceive in our environment – if we manage to stay aware of what’s going on inside us – we can create whatever space we need in order to see what’s happening inside us as it happens and to make a conscious choice about how we respond. Most, if not all, of us develop automatic patterns of behaviour as coping strategies to new and difficult experiences in life and unless we’re in the moment in this way we respond automatically which can feel like a loss of control and can result in unnecessary stress, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, regret, losing face and so on.

Stephen Covey’s stimulus – response model

Stephen Covey was a personal and professional coach for twenty years and he described the stimulus and response model in the following way:

covey-stimulus-response

Covey talks about response-ability by which he means the ability to choose how to respond but also the necessity to recognise that we alone are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and behaviour; that we can not blame our feelings or conditions for our behaviour and actions.

Jason Satterfield’s Appraisals worksheet

Jason Satterfield is a psychologist specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy where he aims to help people like me to recognise and engage with patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. In order to do this he developed an appraisals worksheet. The purpose of the worksheet is to help us create the necessary space (as mentioned above in the stimulus – response model) to consciously correct existing patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour so that the next time automatic patterns are triggered we are better prepared in advance to replace those old patterns or neural pathways with new and improved ones.

A five-step tool for understanding emotions

The image below is from psychologist Phil Meek’s website where he’s published a really nice concise and easy overview of simple and complex emotions including images showing where we feel them in the body as well as a diagram that shows both simple and complex emotions and how they relate to one another. He also goes into detail about each of the five steps. It worth reading.

processing-emotions-image

From psychologist Phil Meek’s website

Meditation and yoga

Meditation and yoga are two more ways of creating the space we need in order to process our emotions. Taking time out of our busy lives and focussing on this work are essential. Personally I think the benefit is felt from doing this regularly – it really needs to become part of our routine to have an impact. I find meditation and yoga most effective if I do it daily and in the morning. I find it much easier to motivate myself and create new habits in the morning – the day is just too busy – and then in the evening my motivation wanes considerably. When I miss a couple of days or more – I really feel it: two weeks and I’m back to stressed out and preoccupied. Once I’ve done my routine in the morning – even if I felt grumpy, stiff and sorry for myself when I woke up – even if I haven’t slept well – I feel good, positive and ready tackle the day head-on.

A few resources for yoga and meditation:

Meditation

Headspace app (I love this app – it’s an accessible and yet high quality route in to meditation)

Music for healing and meditation

Guided (spoken meditation)

I love guided meditation. Sometimes if I feel totally overwhelmed – I just lie down and let someone else do the work for me and FOR FREE! Then I can just focus on working out what’s going on, getting back to normal, relaxing, healing, getting to sleep etc. The people who lead these guided meditations have such a knack for making their listeners feel loved and supported. They also make me feel more connected to my spiritual side: nature, the world, the universe. It’s really worth giving it a try.

Yoga

  • Yoga Studio app
  • Gaia app online

One thought on “Do you process your emotions in a healthy way? Not me, I’m a bottler…”

  1. The thing that struck me the most about this post is the notion of giving ourselves permission to truly be ourselves. This is something I arrived at not too long ago and is a process rather than threshold change for me. Unconsciously I had placed myself in a position where inwardly I told myself that I didn’t need to please anyone but outwardly I was conforming to the “theatre” of various others, whether family, work, religious organisation, cultural group or whatever. Inevitably, I broke down. Strangely enough when that happened none of those people who I had so valued was there for me, I had to talk to the Samaritans. It was at this time that I made the decision to go on the journey towards my real self, my authentic self and I would keep it as real as possible at all times. A couple of years on and I feel like I have made progress and will stick to the path as best I can. I think that ultimately this is one of the most important journeys we can undertake in this life, there is so much pressure to be something other than. I’m glad that you have found ways to deeper interaction with your emotions, I still have some difficulty with that area. I find that daily exercise of some form is so important for good overall health, I can’t speak highly enough of it. The struggle continues ….
    Be well.

    Like

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