Connecting with your emotions

Delyse Ledgard, RCCTrauma

woman holding head in hands looking anxious, anxiety counselling vancouver

The Importance of Emotional Connection

Do you feel uncomfortable around emotions, yours and other people’s? Do your emotions feel irrational, painful, or too vulnerable?  To suggest connecting to your emotions may be the last thing you want to do.  When I encourage people to focus on their emotions I typically hear two responses.

If I feel emotions I won’t stop

The fear of being swallowed up by emotion creates a need to avoid them.  Of course, it never actually happens that emotions don’t stop, but that doesn’t change the tidal wave you fear is ready to descend if you give your emotions any attention.  Emotions can be powerful and can flood your nervous system causing you to panic,  go into a rage,  and can lead to abuse and violence. If we have had this experience or witnessed it in others then avoidance can become a strategy to deal with them.

Fear alerts us to shut down emotional experiences as soon as they begin to happen.  Our emotions become taken over by anxiety and the activation of our nervous system. We tend to feel anxious instead of the emotion (sadness, anger, hurt, etc).

If we have had traumatic experiences that we have not processed our emotions associated with them are one of the main aspects that we had to cut off from.  As soon as that well of emotion is touched the desire to shut it down or distract becomes a habit.  Sometimes it may catch you off guard like a lightning bolt coursing through your body, which just confirms that emotions are dangerous.

Emotions never solved anything

We can protect ourselves from emotion by learning to think your way through things or ignore difficulties as a way of dealing with what is upsetting.  Intellectual understanding can be a way of feeling in control and keeping distance from feelings. Many of us beleive we can think our way through anything.

But there is a cost to avoiding emotional connection

Avoiding our feelings may protect against experiencing pain and discomfort and give the illusion of control. However emotions are what makes us feel alive and connected to ourselves. Over time, you become empty and alienated.

The more we disconnect from emotions, the less information we have about our responses to the world and what is important to us.

We get stuck in a cycle

The cycle starts with not having space to feel emotion. If we don’t have this in childhood in particular, we come to feel shame and anxiety around emotions. We beleive they are not useful because we have no experience of them informing us.  We develop a tendancy to shut down and dissociate into our intellect or numbness. This leads to not being able to feel joy and excitement and our vitality is lost leading to a constricted life.

Fear – avoidance – temporary relief – restricted life.

How to break this cycle and connect with your vitality.

Become friends with your emotions.  Just like friends you build a relationship gradually, hang out with them, get to know them and approach with curiosity.  You don’t immediately invite them into your home and let them do what they want.  If we use this analogy it is the same with our emotional world. We build safety.

  1. Firstly, we need to develop the skills of regulating emotional activation.
   To create resources that help us tolerate and calm our emotions when it gets too much.  To slow things down and notice from a distance.
  2. Secondly, you can mindfully learn to pay attention to the urge to avoid discomfort.  When you slow down, you can resist the urge to immediately, without thinking try to get rid of sad, angry or frightened feelings. When you can see in-between the spaces, you can notice your urge to withdraw.  As you pause, you might see constriction happening in your body to protect yourself, or hold your breath as you tense up.  As you notice more, you can work backwards to the beginning of the sensation of emotion rather than only being aware when flooded.  When you experience sensation, it is a lot less scary and more manageable.
  3. Thirdly, when you have these first two in place you can approach the discomfort/emotions and work through it.  It is then possible to experience manageable amounts and release stored and stuck emotional energy, and learn to flow with your emotions.