I so much wanted to get lost on the way
~ myself a few years back
I found a guy on the internet who accurately explains some of the ways in which I respond to difficult emotions. Pete Walker works/worked as a psychologist with PTSD patients, and has written extensively on the subject of recovery from the effects of traumatic experiences. In “Managing Abandonment Depression in Complex PTSD”*, he explains why and how people push away emotions they would rather not feel, how this affects them and what they can do to help themselves.
I suppose this can be useful for many people, even for those who don’t think they were abandoned or otherwise traumatized. People may react to difficult experiences in different ways. Some of us accept them and take care of ourselves to minimize the damage. Some of us criticize and punish ourselves for feeling a certain way. Some of us overwork to assuage an accompanying feeling of guilt. Some of us overeat or desperately look for someone to have sex with to make ourselves feel better. Some of us escape from the reality of our experience into imaginary worlds. For some of us, any kind of escape is much easier than staying present to our emotions.
I wrote a little summary of the points I found interesting in Walker’s article, and added some insights from my own experience with “making friends” with depression:
- An unwanted emotion, for example depression, may trigger any of these four typical reactions:
becoming irritable, controlling and pushy;
busy productivity driven by negative, perfectionistic and catastrophic thinking;
becoming dissociated, spaced out and sleepy;
focusing on solving someone’s else’s problem and becoming servile, self-abnegating and ingratiating.**
- The above described reactions are usually immediate and sufferers don’t realize them.
For me, they seemed so natural that I just thought of them as my way of being.
- Instead of learning how to handle their experiences, sufferers dissociate from them.
This self-abandonment does not make the difficult emotions go away – they repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat because they want to be “listened to”.
- What can be done is, first, learning that all emotions are okay to feel.
They are not right, they are not wrong. They can’t be fought or thrown out. They’re just… there.
- For some, practicing mindful “listening” to their emotions is a good idea.
This is because experiencing emotions is not that easy if you’re used to rejecting them.
- Another good idea is to seek support from a friend, partner, or professional.
Having someone supportive at your side while you’re going through a difficult time is invaluable. Some people are not patient enough for that – it doesn’t mean they are bad friends or partners, but if you ask me, it’s a good reason to look for professional help instead.
- Learning to stay present to our emotions without judging ourselves and without running away is not easy. It takes a lot of practice.
A loooot of practice.
- It can be tricky, too, because some of our emotions may mimic physiological sensations, such as tiredness or hunger, which are easy to dismiss.
It’s good to remember that, and pay attention to these sensations. They may guide us to the emotions we wanted to leave behind – and that’s where we can start learning to respond to our experiences in ways that don’t hurt us.
- However difficult it is to stay present to your experiences, it’s totally worth it!
It’s a great way to learn to be more compassionate and supportive towards ourselves. It also gradually reduces feelings of fear associated with the difficult emotions.
* Pete Walker, M.A. “Managing Abandonment Depression in Complex PTSD.” See http://www.pete-walker.com/managingAbandonDepression.htm.
** Adapted from the above.