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Managing Emotions - Need Advice!

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by Ren, Mar 3, 2020.

  1. Ren

    Ren New Member

    Hi everyone!

    Despite already knowing that the most effective advice in response to my upcoming questions/worries is likely to be 'stop worrying, obsessing and overthinking - you're TMSing!,' whatever I do, I can't quite seem to shake these particular fear thoughts. Often, I'll be successfully practising outcome independence, not giving a thought to my symptoms, feeling good, and then it all crumbles, because I start to worry that I'm not paying due attention to my emotions, or successfully 'feeling' them. That I have no idea when I might be or what I might be repressing. And that unless I get a handle on this particular part of recovery, despite overcoming fears associated with my specific symptoms, my brain will never really feel safe, and the symptom imperative will continue in perpetuity.

    I've held off on making a thread, because deep down, I know I'm overthinking it. But despite my best efforts, these worries keep spinning around my head. It was frustrating. I didn't want to ask for help, because I felt that would subsequently legitimise these fears. But then I figured I was being too hard on myself, and that there's no shame in asking for advice.

    Anyway, I feel as if I don't fully understand what it means to both:

    a) feel your emotions.
    b) manage your emotions.

    In regards to point a), learning to 'feel your emotions' is a cornerstone in many, if not most, of TMS recovery programs. It's one of the first pieces of advice given to those that are new to this process. Yet, despite having been aware of TMS for around about a year, I still don't understand what this really means. Seeking practical advice on how to 'feel your emotions' (because, if we need to learn how to do it, then by implication we're not doing it currently) invariably leads to a variant of 'well, no one can tell you how to really do that - all of us are born with the ability to do it - you just have to feel them!' And I subsequently feel stupid, frustrated, and angry at myself, because I must somehow be lacking this intuitive, human ability if it's not immediately obvious to me what I should be doing.

    That's the irrational, child-like part of me speaking. In my rational and adult brain, I don't actually think I'm lacking anything. That wouldn't make any sense.

    However, I am frustrated and confused, because: surely we have no agency in feeling our emotions? I either feel something, or I don't. It doesn't appear that I have any control over what I feel. I can't learn to feel my emotions, surely, because it's not a conscious process. It just happens. Yet, it's often give as advice, as something that we can do. As something that we should do, and as TMS'ers, that we're not doing already.

    When people give this advice, do they mean to stop actively suppressing your emotions? As in, if you get angry, don't deny that you're angry, and let yourself be angry? Because if this is what is actually meant by 'learning to feel your emotions,' then I can rest easy. I've made a conscious effort to not deny any emotional state that I find myself in. If this is all it takes, all it means, then I really have been overthinking it.

    Okay, that's the first part. Thank you earnestly to anyone that's keeping up with me. I know this post is long.

    Second point, point b) - managing your emotions.

    After getting frustrated with the above questions, and feeling like I didn't have the level of understanding I felt was necessary, at one point, I simply said - screw it. You know what? Emotions aren't relevant, aren't important. Just stop thinking about emotions altogether. All this process takes is not giving a shit, getting over the fear, not worrying about anything. I tried to convince myself that this was true, by virtue of past evidence. Whenever I have managed to simply stopped caring, stopped fearing the symptoms - that's when I've seen the most notable decrease in pain.

    That was last week, when I said 'screw it.' I was feeling pretty good about my new-found confidence. For four days, I felt great, liberated from my worries about this process, feeling secure in the knowledge that all I had to do was simply not give a shit, not about the symptoms, or about my worries in regards to emotions. All I had to do was not fear. No fear, no pain, as balto says.

    And then, on day five, I crashed.

    I'd been feeling weird all day - for some reason, despite my best efforts, I wasn't able to fully get into the headspace of outcome independence. I was feeling irritable, fatigued, not able to fully concentrate. In the evening, there was a stressful event involving me, my mum, and my grandmother. My mum had accidentally locked my (very elderly) grandmother out of the house, in the cold, wind and rain. I ended up snapping at her, in quite a horrible way. I didn't mean to - it just came out. My mum was upset, obviously, and despite apologising, not feeling able to handle the situation any further, I went upstairs, for some space.

    There - I cried my eyes out. I felt a horrible mixture of anger, fear, and despair. And none of it was to do with my mum. It was all to do with my situation and chronic symptoms. Getting angry at mum was just the trigger for it to come out. I felt conflicted feeling the anger, fear and despair, because all of this strong emotion was in contradiction with outcome independence - I was supposed to not fear the pain!

    After this event, and after acknowledging that:

    - Alan Gordon, in his Breaking the Pain Cycle article, despite arguing that overcoming fear is the way to break the cycle chronic pain, also concedes that 'I don’t want to minimize the importance of working through the underlying emotions. Often if you don’t work through these emotions, a new symptom will pop up that will serve to preoccupy you all over again.'

    Even Dorado, who acknowledges that to get better, he just forgot about the whole process and got back to living his life/not giving a shit, says that he learnt to manage his emotions (I hope you don't mind me referencing you for the sake of example, Dorado! Your posts have been hugely useful to me).

    I then had to concede that emotions do play a part in this process. I realised too, that the times where I have been able to abandon all fear, have been times when I've had a strong emotional release shortly beforehand.

    And so I felt stuck, back to square one. Because, as well as not understanding point a) (what feeling your emotions means), I don't understand point b), by which I mean how to manage your emotions, when you're confident that you are feeling them.

    Holding onto your anger, worrying over things that you cannot control, stressing about things that are ultimately irrelevant - all of which contribute to the brain feeling unsafe.

    To me, successfully managing your emotions means to stop doing the above. To allow your brain a break, to feel safe, to relax, to be in the moment, to accept, to stop it from being on high alert. To stop surrounding yourself with negative emotions, basically.

    And to do that, whenever I am in a negative headspace/feeling negative emotions, I simply want to say the golden, magic words: fuck it. It just doesn't matter. Let it go, stop caring about it.

    But then if I say the anger I'm holding onto doesn't matter, if I say my worries don't matter, if I say what I'm stressing about doesn't matter, if that's what I'm feeling, I worry that I am denying my feelings. I feel trapped! This is the crux of my anxiety about all this. I want to let go, to say fuck it, but I'm worried that by doing so I'm denying how I feel, and contributing to repression.

    I feel stupid for admitting it, but I still don't really understand the distinction between letting things go, and suppressing them. For example, this morning, someone angered me. Should have I:

    - 'Explored my anger,' focused on it, tried to understand it, tried to 'feel it.'

    - Let go of it, realise that it doesn't matter. I know this person didn't mean to upset me. Who cares? I accept that I feel angry, but I'm also saying that it doesn't matter.

    The former doesn't make sense to me, because of the reasons I discussed in relevance to point a). How can I 'try' to feel my feelings? I already feel angry! Surely that's enough?

    I so desperately want to be able to do the latter. It just feels right. And if by doing the latter, if this is not in contradiction with feeling your feelings, which I acknowledge is important, then great! It's all good! I want to shout at myself, with confidence: stop giving a fuck! It's fine! You've constructed a minefield of worries in your own head!

    And that is what I am constantly saying to myself - that I'm overthinking, to stop thinking about this entire issue entirely. But then the fear comes back that I really am missing something important within my understanding, and after fighting against that fear for ages, I just feel exhausted, and want to ask for advice.

    Last point: I know the constant thinking about the above, regardless of whether the fears are valid or not, is overthinking, and is worsening my symptoms. This is why I tried to just abandon it, dispel it. The fear came back with a vengeance, though, and now I feel the best way to overcome this fear of 'not getting it' is to ask for advice and support, and try work through it that way.

    Thank you so much to anyone who stuck with me through that. I really needed to get that out. If anyone does have any thoughts or advice, I would really, really appreciate it.

    Much love!
  2. fredb

    fredb Peer Supporter

    Hi Ren. I am totally with you on this one!
    I neither understand how you feel or work through your emotions either. Since working on my TMS , the only emotion I have been able to experience and label is fear. And how do you ever sit with and manage that at the moment, is beyond me. I may be missing something, but I have difficulty differentiating between emotions and thoughts. I just put this out there to further the discussion on emotions and what they are.
  3. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Ren and Fred, emotions are a difficult concept to wrap one's mind around. It was one of the hardest struggles in my recovery and I was able to overcome it through somatic meditation and practice of mindfulness.

    The difference between thoughts and emotions is that thoughts exist in the mind and emotions reverberate in the body. Emotions are hormonal reactions in our body as they are associated with release of hormones: serotonin, dopamine, GABA, cortisol, noradrenaline and oxytocin.

    With a little bit of practice, you can learn how to feel emotions in your body, the fear rolling down your spine, the anger boiling in your heart, the anxiety creating pins and needles in your entire body. Those are primal visceral reactions of the body, but humans use their highly developed brains to suppress and push them into unconscious because those reactions are either unpleasant or socially unacceptable.

    Supression of the emotions often results in us drowning in the thoughts triggered by emotions, without hormones peacefully living out their lifecycle in our system and washing out of it. Result- physical pain.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2020
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  4. Ren

    Ren New Member

    Great, thanks for the response TG. That's genuinely really helpful! I very much appreciate you sticking with my huge post and offering me some advice.

    Thinking of emotions as purely physical reactions (and the negative thoughts which we label as 'emotions' are actually that which arise in response to emotions themselves) is a lot easier to understand. To me, it's reassuring, as it clearly demonstrates where I've been going wrong - I've been exploring negative thoughts/worries and holding onto them in both an attempt to 'feel' them and out of a fear that by dismissing them I'm repressing that which I need to feel. Your definition of emotions implies that such a practice isn't 'feeling' my emotions, but rather that this serves to only magnify my fears, generate tension, and reinforce my pain. As such, I am free to dismiss the negative and obsessive worries, thoughts and impulses that arise, and rather focus on self-kindness, love and compassion, because these worries, thoughts and impulses are not my emotions, and therefore there is no risk of repression. Does that make sense?

    Okay, so - all well and good (hopefully). But the one thing that trips me up here is that, if emotions are physical/manifest themselves within the body as hormonal reactions, why do we advocate psychodynamic inquiry into our emotions? You see frequent advice to not analyse/intellectualise your feelings, like in these two articles:

    https://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/MonteH:_Three_Techniques_to_Express_Your_Emotions (MonteH: Three Techniques to Express Your Emotions)
    https://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/TMS_Recovery_Program#Feel_Your_Feelings (TMS Recovery Program)

    But, conversely, you also see frequent advice that we need to do the 'emotional work' in order to get through to said feelings.

    If said 'emotional work' is really all about practising mindfulness and somatic awareness to:

    a) Catch our physical, emotional reactions in the present as they happen, and pay attention to those reactions/make a conscious effort to not suppress or deny them.
    b) Encourage a greater baseline awareness of physical/emotional sensation via regular somatic tracking.

    Then great, that makes full sense to me - if this is all it takes then I can rest easy and stop thinking about this - but I don't think that's what a majority of people mean when they say 'emotional work.'

    The only answer I can think of here is that by engaging in psychodynamic inquiry (such as in the SEP, or books like Unlearn Your Pain), you're opening up the possibility for these emotions - these physical, hormonal-based reactions - to re-arise in response to your exploratory thoughts and writing. This then allows you the opportunity to lean into these physical sensations, thereby feeling your emotions.

    Thing is, isn't the above just analysing your feelings? Isn't it 'going to a Chinese restaurant and ordering in Spanish,' as Alan Gordon writes in the above article? He also writes that:

    'One of the biggest barriers that people face in attempting to feel their feelings is that they often go through the wrong channel. Perhaps a symptom is coming on, and you ask yourself, “Okay, what am I feeling now?” And you try to figure it out logically.

    “Let’s see, I had to work late yesterday which I wasn’t happy about. And my boss didn’t even thank me, and I know that my parents never paid me much attention so I’m particularly sensitive to feeling ignored. So my needs weren’t acknowledged and I was made to feel invisible…I must be angry!”

    This is an interesting thought process, but doesn’t do much to help you. We develop symptoms because we’re not feeling our feelings, not because we don’t know what our feelings are.'

    I don't really see how to investigate our emotions/do the 'emotional work' without attempting to think about it logically. How else does one investigate something?

    So is it that the above means of inquiry can be useful in order to re-generate and access physical sensations (which is what emotions really are) - even though we are explicitly advised to avoid analysing our feelings - or is there perhaps another psychodynamic means to inquire into our feelings that I'm somehow missing?

    To conclude, if TMS sustains itself through habitual strain, learned behaviours that generate tension, and fear of symptoms, then when it comes to 'emotional work'/feeling your emotions, is it enough to engage in the practices I've labelled in point a) and b)? Or is there a non-logical form of psychodynamic inquiry into emotions that I'm missing, and also constitutes a necessary constituent aspect of both TMS recovery and ongoing health and happiness?

    I feel like I'm really, really close to getting this once and for all - that I'm close to having it all just 'click' and I can fully concentrate on implementing my understanding, trusting myself that I've 'got it,' as opposed to constantly re-evaluating it or trying to add to it. If anyone can help me get there by assisting me in going through the issues I've just raised, I'll really, really - really! - appreciate it.
    plum likes this.
  5. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Dude, I feel like I took a tour around my own head reading this...but it really is all in your head. This is from another post I replied to earlier:

    “we only focus on these negative emotions and experiences in order to bring them to the surface so that we can deal with them and neutralise their power.”

    Hindsight. That’s it in a nutshell.

    More from that post:

    “The whole point of connecting with these memories, traumas and such is simply so that we can learn from them and then let them go. The biggest lesson is usually that in some way the behaviours and beliefs we adopted in the past kept us safe, and so our unconscious mind keeps on with what worked rather than what is best for us now. This where limiting beliefs come into play.”

    The other point to consider is that it really is horses for courses. Healing is unique for each of us. None of us have agency over our emotions, but we do have the power to learn to ride the emotional storms. We can even learn to enjoy it. Some people love the old school nature of depth therapy, other people derive greater benefits from yoga. Most of us end up creating a patchwork of bits and bobs that serves us beautifully.

    The universe grew eyes and looked at itself.
    One could go completely crazy figuring it out or as Jung famously said; “ give me a sane man and I’ll cure him for you”.
    Ren likes this.
  6. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    ... which is why I go swimming. I let the water deal with the unconscious and I emerge shiny as a new pin. (I’m also a terrible jacuzzi hog.)
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  7. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    @Ren: Thing is, isn't the above just analysing your feelings?
    No, it is not about analyzing your feelings. I am speaking with authority on the subject as someone who tends analyze everything to death and who finds meditative bliss in Excel spreadsheets. That did the trick for me. If you look for my posts around this site from 2016, I was chasing my emotions like a dog with a bone. I recognize myself of 3-some years ago in your post. You may be starting it from a wrong side, analyzing only gets you deeper into the hole. Remember, we are TMS personalities, it is our deficiency to analyze, not feel! I could not get into the feeling of emotions until I spent few months cooling off my nervous system and getting out of the intense fight-or-flight state I was in.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2020
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  8. Ren

    Ren New Member

    Thanks guys. I still feel as if I don't fully get it, but maybe I need to accept that I never really will, and that even if I find answers to my current questions, my brain will continue to generate further questions, issues and problems to punch holes in my understanding, because constantly striving to have a comprehensive understanding of how TMS works/what it takes to get better is a form of preoccupation in and of itself.

    Which makes sense, in my case. I've always been a person who feels like they need to be in total control of things. Specifically, in total control of myself, my reactions to things, my understanding of things. If I feel I'm missing something, if I feel that everything doesn't precisely add up and make sense, I get anxious. What better way to preoccupy me, than to set me on a path of trying to perfectly and precisely understand something (TMS) that is so intensely personal, nebulous and enigmatic. If I don't drop the intensity and subsequently become comfortable with not having all the answers I feel I need (which is the really hard part - fighting against a learned behaviour), I'll be asking questions forever.

    You know, sometimes I feel that I don't understand the emotional component of recovery because I actually already do feel my emotions, and I am attempting to learn that which I already know intuitively. It doesn't make sense to me, because I already understand it, and in actuality it was simply lost on me how something so automatic and integral to the human experience as feeling emotions can have to be learned. Therefore, I was convinced that there was something more to it.

    My therapist actually suggested that she saw me as someone who already is well in touch with their emotions. Moreover, I'm thinking back to Alan's article on repressed emotions (as part of the new recovery program), specifically to an audio-recording of him and a client exploring the latter's built-up anger. The client felt intense anxiety before he was able to express his anger. If we accept that anxiety points us towards behaviours and situations that make us feel unsafe, then we understand that the client felt anxiety because he had learned, somewhere along the line, that feeling emotions is unsafe/dangerous. This is where anxiety can be a fantastic tool - it points us towards that which our brains feel is unsafe (and by extension, the learned behaviours which fuel our TMS alongside the primary fear of symptoms).

    Thing is, I don't really have any anxiety when it comes to feeling emotions. I just, you know, feel anger. I've never really had a problem with that. As far as I can tell, at least.

    But then I get worried, feel that the above line of thinking is just an attempt to distract me from the reality that I am repressing my emotions, that I do need to learn to feel them properly, that I am missing something, etc. And that's when I get overwhelmed, stressed out, and make mammoth posts like the one above.

    I just wish I had the confidence in myself to pursue what I think is right, without constantly doubting and re-evaluating my understanding. This fear of not understanding what it means to feel your emotions keeps popping up, again and again and again. To be honest, even simply hearing the word 'emotions' now has me feeling frustrated and tense. Here's what I think, feel deep down, is right:

    1) Get over the fear of symptoms, as well as conditioned responses/behaviours that I avoid because of my symptoms.
    2) Stop engaging in behaviours that are producing excessive tension and intensity (putting pressure on the self, wanting to control everything, wanting to get everything right, etc). Just chill out, basically, and stop taking everything so seriously.

    That's it. Deep down, that's all I think it takes. So why do I keep having this fear of not properly feeling my emotions? And why do I feel this fear is preventing me from engaging with the above two points? It's weird - not to mention really stressing me out.

    It remains true that the times I've seen the greatest improvement in symptoms is when I have simply stopped giving a shit. About TMS recovery, about my symptoms, about feeling my emotions, about everything. I just stopped caring. And felt better. So why do I have this intense, daily anxiety that I need to 'feel my emotions,' whatever that means - not to mention something which I might already be doing anyway - to get better?

    Sorry, that was way longer than I expected!
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  9. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    I’m sure I spent the first few years in a TMS doublebind. I didn’t get it at all and I desperately wanted to. I recall combing posts for insights, clues, anything that would enlighten me. I couldn’t fathom what I was missing to save my life. Then the day came where I gave up on TMS and walked away from it all.

    I’ve written in My Story how I came to discover the healing power of water, and how over time my body began to let go of the pain and tension. The emotional healing came after.

    I simply could not heal via my mind. The same is true for @TG957. We both needed to calm our over sensitised bodies and the same may well be true for you.

    That sounds wonderful.

    And again, for me, I really reach this gorgeous state after a couple of hours in the pool. I used to swim a mile each time but this year I’m being really kind to myself and doing what I fancy (hot tub, steam room, a few lengths here and there). My focus is now totally centred on relaxing and enjoying my time there.

    I’m doing this because last year was a circle of hell and I got stupidly knotted up trying to do everything while looking after everyone so I completely understand behaviours and beliefs that generate lashings of tension.

    It feels sublime to surrender control.
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