Emotions = Information; Mental Health and Therapy Review Series: Post # 2

pexels-photo-299231.jpegWelcome to post #2 on the Therapy Review series. Links to other posts will be below:

There is another insight that I wanted to share. My therapist said this many times throughout several sessions, and I think that there is value in what she is trying to convey.

Emotions = Information

Emotions are valuable signals and indicators of how we react to stimuli (either external or internal). It can interpret for us whether something is of value and significance to us. It is true, we have a stronger reaction (both positive and negative) to things that matter to us. Sometimes the emotional reaction that arises can be very evident (bursting to tears or freezing in terror in an instant) or it can be very subtle (feeling a yearning for more after receiving a rare hug or compliment).

I had a incident recently and it was definitely unpleasant, but my emotional reaction to it was so intense that I was incredibly confused. With that though, I was also fully aware that this was more than just how this other person has treated me in that particular moment.

Looking at it from the Emotions = Information viewpoint, I took time to break down the experience and categorize my emotions.

  • Intense sadness from being misunderstood and accused
  • Grieving the loss of what seems to be a positive thing that is established
  • The looming, sinking realization that an unpleasant outcome is about to happen, and that there is nothing I can do to fix it, so it is both fear and helplessness
  • Terror of receiving ‘severe punishment’
  • Fear of the threat of  being cast away
  • The defeating realization that my inner critic was right all along

It made me realize that while the circumstances are drastically different, that the words – verbal and written, the responses, and the outcome mimic many of the common patterns from past experiences that caused me trauma or unhealthy ways of thinking.

Another one that I realized is:

Reactions = Triggers

When it comes to sexual assault or family-based trauma, there seems to be the assumption that the irrational reactions or unhealthy behaviours will manifest only from situations that are clearly related, like when dating, or dealing with family members, or encountering the opposite sex. At least that’s what I thought. That is not the case. I have been learning that there can be triggers from anything and anywhere, and all it takes is for an element of that experience to transport you mentally and emotionally back on that time where you faced that time of trauma and hardship. It can be from a seemingly harmless interaction with a stranger, reading something online, or during professional or volunteer work that seems disconnected from what caused the trauma.

The reaction that seems to not make sense, is a possible indication that it triggered something from that terrible experience. Here are some questions that can help think this concept through. When you made a mundane mistake, does it transport you to the feeling of immense pressure to be perfect, believing that only your academic performance matters as a kid because that’s the only good thing that people complemented you for? When you are facing a confrontation, does it transport you to the feeling of when you will be punished harshly by an authority figure in an unjust manner? Did the scenery remind you of the environment, the setting where you and your loved ones or you are harmed and you are unable to do anything about it? The feeling of fear, hopeless and helpless loss, bracing yourself for the next horrific thing that can happen next?

Intense emotional reaction (positive or negative) = the stimuli or piece of information is something of IMPORTANCE to you.

It is a different matter altogether and an important skill set to process the emotions, but having an awareness of what it means or what it is trying to convey is a very important first step. When you burst into tears because of a few choice words that from the average person is “not a big deal”, the reaction is telling you that it brings the feeling of being threatened repeatedly. It is also a different matter and skill to be comfortable with labeling the feelings and experiencing them, as opposed to actively suppressing them because they are perceived as negative. I think that throughout this therapy journey, this has been another valuable key piece to learn. This, with all the other new concepts and processes I have been picking up, has been making an impact in my way of thinking and viewing myself and other people.

 

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