Fear of Emotions
Most people like listening to scary stories. It can be fun to hear scary stories about hauntings or crimes, but it’s not so fun to hear scary stories about yourself, especially when you’re the one telling them.
For the ways in which life is beautiful, it is also painful and sometimes unfair. We don’t feel fully seen or loved by the people we love.
We make plans for the future and they don’t pan out. Disappointment is everywhere, and we often use this feeling of disappointment to create negative narratives about ourselves.
Learning to accept and tolerate the discomfort that comes naturally when our emotional brain reacts is fundamental to increase our psychological resilience.
It can be physically uncomfortable to feel emotionally uncomfortable. As humans, our bodies are equipped with pain receptors that help us avoid physical and psychological harm.
But even with those receptors, experiencing pain is inevitable. Instead of trying to avoid our feelings, we should learn healthy ways to cope.
How do you cope with emotional pain?
The way we experience emotional pain is comparable to the way we feel physical pain. Think about the last time you had a difficult conversation with someone–how did it feel?
Did you feel your stomach churn?
Did you get a headache?
Did your heart rate increase?
When we feel threatened, either physically or mentally, we try to eliminate the threat with one of three responses. First, we might choose to engage with others in an environment that feels safe and allows us to be playful, which activates the ventral vagal-social engagement system. Second, we might go into fight or flight mode, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. Third, we
might freeze, or go into rest and digest mode, which activates the dorsal vagal parasympathetic nervous system. The response we take happens automatically and often unconciously.
The Importance of Creating Internal Safety
Whether or not we know it, most of us are great storytellers. In fact, most of our problems
usually develop because we interpret an event, a conversation, a feeling, or a word, as dangerous,
even when it isn’t. Instead taking something at face value, we develop a web of backstory in our
minds, and that web is often what sets off our internal emotional triggers.
We usually respond to our eternal emotional triggers with defenses like blaming, externalizing, or an impulsive discharge of anger through words or behaviors. With therapy, these defenses can be successfully controlled and replaced positive emotions.
Therapy can provide tools to help work against the defense systems you have set up for self-protection.
Learning to notice and tolerate our internal experiences is the key to healthy
relationships with ourselves and others. If in the midst of an intense emotional
experience we are able to remain relatively okay, therapists refer to this as “within the
level of optimal arousal.” We then have a chance to consciously choose how to respond.
How does therapy help you deal with painful emotions?
Therapists work to create a safe relationship with you so you can take a close, honest look at your emotions and the physical sensations associated with them. Therapuetic modalities that combine “talk” with “present moment experience” work to help increase your ability to befriend your emotions instead of running away from them.
Your feelings are important, and not something that you should avoid or eliminate. Your feelings are your friends, your allies. When you form a good relationship with
your internal self, you will learn to stop telling yourself scary stories and learn how to respond to difficult things in a way that fosters your well-being.