Those of us who suffered significant childhood trauma may, as adults, find it very hard to calm ourselves when experiencing stress and anxiety. This is sometimes referred to by psychologists as an inability to self-sooth or to regulate our emotions. The result can be that we find ourselves in chronic states of deep distress and intolerable emotional pain.
Such is the intensity of this pain that we might frequently find ourselves absolutely desperate to numb it. However, we may find, too, that the ‘ordinary’ ways mentally healthy individuals may use to calm themselves, such as talking to a friend, taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk or taking some other form of exercise are simply of very little, or no help. These activities can be categorized as low-arousal activities.
Instead, to reduce our mental anguish, we may be driven to seek out and undertake high-arousal activities, sometimes referred to as sensation seeking or thrill seeking.
Whilst such high-arousal activities may provide short-term relief, they tend, also, to cause us harm over the long-term and to be high-risk.
I provide examples of such high-arousal activities below :
Examples Of High-Arousal Activities :
- getting very drunk
- self-harming (eg cutting) . Whilst this causes physical pain it can simultaneously reduce psychological pain due to the biochemical effect it has on the brain. Also, physical pain can actually provide a welcome distraction from comparatively far more distressing mental pain.
- abusing drugs
- high-stakes gambling (read about my experience of this here).
- excessive, promiscuous sex (possibly leading to feelings of self-disgust)
- anti-social behaviours such as stealing cars, joy-riding, shop-lifting
- planning suicide (not only can this produce a high level of mental arousal but can also provide one with a sense of control. Indeed, at one period in my life, which I have written about elsewhere, I contemplated suicide virtually all day and every day for a period of several months; the only way I could fall asleep at night, in fact, was by repeatedly reminding myself that it was within my power to end my suffering. Paradoxically, it was this thought that kept me alive, however odd that might sound.
The high arousal activities that I have listed above are sometimes referred to as ‘acting-out’ behaviours which you can read more about by clicking here.
NB Seeking out high risk, intensely arousing activities can be a major component of borderline personality disorder (BPD). At present, one of the most effective available treatments for this condition is dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).
OTHER RESOURCES :
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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