Managing Intense Emotions
I have spoken about how incest survivors can often feel very intense emotions ("Emotional Overload for Survivors of Abuse and Incest Recovery” and” Emotional Overload Continued") on levels that can be very distracting to everyday functioning. This happens by scattering the ability to focus on our goals and by overwhelming or overpowering our sense of balance and peace. It seems there is a myriad of destructive sources of relief, numbing out (so to speak) to alcohol, drugs, compulsive behaviors, and obsessing, just to name a few.
I want to talk about the ability to manage these intense emotions without numbing out in destructive means. First and foremost, whatever skills you are currently using to deal with your situation need to be laid out on paper. Do this honestly and without distortion of all their dysfunctional splendor, OK, and discuss it with a professional counselor. Now is not the time to save face and create illusions or to lie to ourselves. Now is the time to strip away excuses and to strip away illusions. It takes courage and it takes acceptance of oneself – where you are at right now – and a desire with a vision, however general in scope, of where you wish to be/who you wish to become.
Some of us say, myself included: “I just want to do better, or I just want to be better.” That’s a good start, because it means you have acknowledged that where you are at right now isn't a pleasant place, and that you don't intend to stay here. But once you reach this level of awareness, how in the heck do you move forward?
That’s where the paper comes into play and why it is so important to do this with a professional counselor. You have a base line reading of who you are, how you relate to the world, how you react to stress, and how stress impacts your life. In our Wheel of Perception© (which hasn't been released yet due to copyrighting), we discuss how our core beliefs impact our perceptions of the world and ourselves. For now, please read the Blog Post Titled "In the Beginning" for more insight into core beliefs.
Basically, I can be going through my day and come to a point where I begin to feel very intensely agitated by a certain situation. And as I become more and more emotional, my level of intensity increases. It is here at this point where we encounter "Critical Choices" about whether to continue escalating and go into a purely reactionary mode, or we can begin to level off and go into a mode of thoughtful response by which we empower ourselves.
Thoughtful response means we have pre-thought out a situation in advance as part of our Wheel of Perception© Training.
One possibility- we slow down our thinking to consider new behaviors, or new skill sets, so that we take the time and experience the moment enough to say: “This is where I implement a previous agreed-upon new healthy skill set.”
Another possibility- if we don't have a new healthy skill set in place yet, we can say: “I am so surprised by this event that I don't have a response yet. I need to think a moment.” We buy ourselves time to figure out how this is impacting us, and then figure out the appropriate response rather than having a knee jerk reaction.
At this same moment, our external reactions and how we figure things out internally are both related. But we have another aspect to consider, and that is the physical ramifications of high levels of intense emotions, and how to cope with the physical response. Many times I would develop almost instant stress headaches, and certain other intense emotions would cause me to feel nausea or sometimes even vomiting. Physical anxiety and body pain that was not related to injury. Sleeplessness… worry… panic. All these things can be triggered by intense emotions that we do not know how to manage. It is very important to learn how to manage this aspect of our emotions, just like we learn how to manage our external responses.
The secret gems that I have learned are:
I can take slow deep breathes of air.
I can say to myself: “The world outside is going to pieces but I do not have to go to pieces with it, I can stay calm.”
I can feel very intense emotions where, in the past, I might be at risk for feeling despair or hopelessness. I can empower myself by remaining calm, and maintaining a clear mind.
I can slow my thinking, and stop the frantic thoughts racing around in my head by focusing on one thought at a time.
I can think positive thoughts, which is very important, because in every situation I have encountered personally where I allowed negative dark thoughts to take hold, the emotional intensity increases without fail.
Learn how to hold yourself off to the side emotionally, meaning to not get wrapped up into the drama of the moment. I can say to myself: “That is their life, their choice, and even though it is impacting me I don't have give it total control of me. I can choose to remain calm and to think clearly.” So while others around me may be raging on or crying hysterically, I don't have to automatically join in without a choice. I now have a choice. I can be sad or upset for the situation but I don't have become physically distraught. I can choose how I want to respond, and I can choose how much I allow my physical body to be impacted by the by products of high stress.
To be shaken – but remain centered – is a real solid skill set to learn. It keeps stress levels lower, physical responses to stress (in my case stress headaches) become less common. In addition, you have the ability to respond, which is empowering rather than reacting blindly.
Emotional distress is also hard on the nervous system which, in turn, can eventually push a person to their breaking point… so it’s important to learn how to manage intense emotions. To protect and preserve our sanity and our physical well being. To learn to empower ourselves by responding to live rather than blindly reacting.
Depth of feelings can sometimes make us feel more alive than ever, especially when held in stark contrast to the moments of ambiguity.