It is that time of the year when we talk about all things scary. But, did you know that at the root of most versions of psychological suffering is our fear of feelings? or more precisely, fear of…. wait for it…
F E E L I N G ?.
Painful emotions are triggered when our mind comes up with spooky stories about ourselves and others or when someone says or does something hurtful. But nobody wants to really FEEL all the uncomfortable physical sensations that inevitably go with intense emotions.
Life is not always fair and is often full of pain and disappointment. Our loved ones not always behave in the way we expect or love us in the way we wish to be loved. We make plans for how our professional life should develop, only to be disappointed along the way by a difficult boss, an impossible coworker, or an organization that fails to live up to our idealized picture of it. Sources of pain are everywhere.
Learning to accept and tolerate the discomfort that comes naturally when our emotional brain reacts is fundamental to increase our psychological resilience.
How do you cope with emotional pain?
It is natural to want to avoid pain at all cost. As human beings our body is equipped with pain receptors that help us avoid harm, physical and psychological.
By the way, did you know that we go through social rejection the pain we experience is registered by our brain in the same way than physical pain?
When we encounter a threat to our physical or psychological survival, we deal either by engaging with others (activating our ventral vagal-social engagement system), fighting/avoiding (activation of the sympathetic nervous system), or by freezing (activation for the dorsal vagal parasympathetic nervous system) when all else fails. These set of responses are set in motion automatically and for the most part, unconsciously.
Although this set of responses are the product of a perfectly designed mechanism, problems usually happen when we interpret an event (a conversation, a feeling, a word) as dangerous when it really isn’t. Or when we convinced ourselves that the problem is the event itself rather than what we do when we are emotionally triggered by life events.
Remember the last difficult conversation you had with someone? Words can’t really kill us. But they can hurt. And as a result, we are likely to have intense feelings towards the person who hurt us with their sharp words or their tone.
The importance of creating internal safety
Fight or flight strategies aren’t as needed when we experience an internal sense of safety. Defenses such as blaming, externalizing, or impulsive discharge of anger (through words or behaviors) can be more successfully controlled, creating opportunities for happiness, instead of perpetuating all kinds of suffering.
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 have a chance to consciously choose how to respond.
Did you know that therapy helps you to increase your ability to deal with painful emotions?
Therapy help us to increase our window of tolerance to intense emotions by providing us with a safe space (a relationship) where we are invited to take a close and honest look at our emotions instead of running away from them. In therapy, we learn that our feelings matter and that far from being something we have to get rid of, they are our allies that can help us to respond to difficult life events in ways that create wellbeing instead of dis-ease.
The Center for Effective Psychological Services, is an experiential, emotion-focused therapy practice. This means that our therapists are not afraid of feelings! Our therapists are trained to invite and work with your feelings in a way that feels safe and helpful. To learn more about our therapists, visit our website. As a newly formed group practice, our therapists have immediate availability!