Dealing with the darkness within

Addressing negative emotions may upset the balance of harmony in the short-term. However, relationships, whether romantic or otherwise, will not thrive unless emotions are properly dealt with so that similar issues do not arise in the future. 

Emotions, thinking processes, behaviour and actions work together interchangeably and affect many aspects of a person. As a psychotherapist it is not uncommon to work with persons who are overwhelmed with their emotions and who suffer from stomach aches and other psychosomatic effects due to tension and feelings that they cannot begin to define or express. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also many who act impulsively only to later on cringe when they look back and remember their behaviour. 

Some people act inward and “swallow” their emotions creating little explosions within their body.  These “explosions” are often experienced as butterflies, stomach cramps, tension in the neck, back as well as stiffness in other parts of their body. On an even more serious note repressed emotions may also result in ulcers, skin problems, high blood pressure increased incidence of diabetes and heart disease as well as anxiety and depression.  

Many people think that if they bury negative, sad or traumatic experiences they are helping themselves, though in reality they are not at all. Research indicates that suppressing or avoiding emotions actually makes the feelings stronger and the more a person tries to avoid or distract themselves from what they are really feeling, the harder it becomes to face similar situations, people or places. 

For example if you are sad because a friend has hurt your feelings or your partner is quarrelling with you and you want to avoid the sadness, you may go shopping, meet people, watch a movie and try and keep your day as pleasant as possible. However, the sadness and worry is still present at the back of your mind and a small hiccup will trigger off a possible over-reaction to the situation.  This will happen even if the “hiccup” has nothing to do with what you are really feeling, your body will still release pent up emotions. 

Communication between couples may often become strained if feelings are not shared and empathy shown since swallowing emotions may keep the peace for a short period but will never create a harmonious environment. People do not express themselves in many ways by avoiding the upsetting subject, people, or places, by distracting themselves in various ways or even worse by turning to alcohol, drugs or other addictions. None of these are healthy methods of dealing with emotions, and sometimes people do this without realising that they are avoiding unresolved issues that continue to condition them in both their personal and social life.  

There are also persons who express themselves impulsively and aggressively, often feeling relieved for a short while but not feeling fulfilled in the long term, especially if they fail to understand where their feelings are stemming from. 

As children we learn that we cannot just express ourselves whenever and however we feel like.  A repressed urge is often necessary to maintain harmony in our lives, especially if the behavior would be inappropriate.  For example a secretary may choose to repress his romantic feelings for his boss in order to keep his job. However, when painful memories or emotions are not expressed and processed in a healthy manner this may also create anxiety, frustration and even depression.   

These emotions may be so strong they are still expressed in an unpredictable and often exaggerated way, even though the individual may not understand what is causing such a reaction. Instinctively people who act out impulsively will blame others, the situation or the environment for their actions. However no one can hand over a personal feeling! As adults all feelings need to be owned and acknowledged as coming from within. 

The backbone of our emotions, thoughts and behaviour is our belief system stemming from childhood.  Although there are many elements that will affect how we feel and behave, our belief system will have a great impact of how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. For example if an intelligent boy was raised by very critical parents who never encouraged or gave positive reinforcement, then as an adult he may believe that he is unable to achieve and this belief will affect his emotions, thoughts and behaviour throughout his life. In order to understand our emotions it is helpful to first acquire insight into our belief system, not an easy feat since often our beliefs are often perceived as the way things should be, rather than an objective view of what is. 

The only way to be able to really know what we are feeling and express our emotions is by slowing down and becoming aware of what we are experiencing in the here and now. If you are feeling anxious, tense, any emotion really in an intense manner, stop for a few seconds and become aware of your body. Go south and place your hand on your stomach and breathe gently, do not get caught up in negative thoughts, or you will not be able to really sense what is going on. Just take a few moments and listen to your body, listen to your thoughts and if it helps write them down. 

Moving too fast will help you avoid distasteful feelings for a while but will only briefly postpone the inevitable negative effects of ignoring your emotions. If a person has repressed emotions the thoughts and behaviour in the present are probably reactions to past events too. If you find that in your everyday life you are experiencing intense emotions and you tend to blame events or people outside of you, then becoming more aware of yourself will help you become mentally and physically healthier. 

Whether you are suppressing your emotions or whether you are acting explosively you are doing harm to yourself and others. There are three basic steps to dealing with emotions. The first step is slowing down to understand your emotions, second is changing what you can and this may not necessarily mean something always outside of you but maybe the way you perceive a situation and lastly expressing yourself in the healthiest way possible. 

Unhealthy methods of avoiding emotions

People deal with emotions in different ways, however some methods are unhealthy. Below are some common methods used by many on a regular basis. 

  • Ignoring your feelings
  • Thinking obsessively over issues outside of you
  • Pretending something hasn’t happened
  • Overeating
  • Eating foods loaded with sugar and fat
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol
  • Excessive use of recreational drugs
  • Not connecting with people close to you
  • Not talking about anything personal
  • Avoiding situations, people or places that may trigger any emotions
  • Exercising compulsively
  • Any type of compulsive behavior
  • Excessive sex with or without a partner
  • Always keeping busy so you can’t feel
  • Constant intellectualizing and analyzing
  • Excessive reading or TV
  • Working excessively
  • Keeping conversations superficial
  • Burying angry emotions under the mask of peace and love

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