‘I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.’
We have seen that significant, protracted childhood trauma, particularly if it leads us to develop borderline personality disorder or complex post-traumatic stress disorder, can result in us having extreme difficulty knowing how to control emotions, such as anger and anxiety, as adults : in psychological terms, we are at risk of developing emotional dysregulation.
Sometimes, intense emotions become so painful that, as a defense mechanism, we shut these feelings down (we may do this deliberately by using alcohol and drugs, or it might happen automatically – in the latter case we are said to be dissociating).
REASONS SOME INDIVIDUALS KEEP THEIR EMOTIONS ‘BURIED.’
Some people try to keep their emotions ‘buried’ (suppressed). There can be several reasons for this, including:
– growing up in a household in which any display of emotions and feelings was considered a sign of weakness or ‘not the done thing.’
– being in an occupation in which exhibitions of emotions are not encouraged e.g.police, military
– fear of losing respect
– fear of losing control
THE PROBLEM OF SUPPRESSED FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS:
However, keeping feelings and emotions buried takes up large amounts of mental energy and means they tend to be kept simmering beneath the surface, building up pressure and ready to explode.
And, very often, the emotion of anger is the one that is nearest to the surface, and therefore the one that is most frequently experienced and expressed.
HOWEVER, anger very often conceals, and has its primary roots in, the fundamental emotions of FEAR and HURT.
So, very often, when we express anger, what we are really expressing is this fear and hurt; to put it concisely :
OUR FEAR AND HURT ARE MASQUERADING AS ANGER.
Acknowledging Our True, Authentic Feelings And Having The Courage To Express Them:
It is, therefore, necessary to become aware of the real feelings behind our anger, feelings that are likely to be intensely painful and that we have preferred not to acknowledge (or even not allowed ourselves to become consciously aware of) and to start the process of expressing them, understanding their origins, working through them and resolving them (ideally with a highly trained, professional therapist).
By getting in touch with our feelings beneath our anger, and working through them therapeutically, we can reduce or overcome outbursts of rage, self-destructive behaviour, and bodily complaints such as fatigue.
If we do not get in touch with feelings such as hurt and fear (completely normal emotions that everyone experiences to one degree or another), but instead keep them ‘locked out’ and ‘buried’, we pay the very high price of not being able to get in touch with, experience or express positive emotions, such as happiness and joy, too. We aim to feel comfortable with all our feelings and to channel them constructively.
How To Control Emotions :
To control our emotions, we can apply specific skills, such as:
– learning to identify what we are feeling and linguistically label our emotions, e.g. ‘anger’, ‘fear’ etc – when we verbally name our feelings and describe them in spoken (or, indeed, written) language we are more likely to be able to control them and are less likely to act them out.
– acknowledge and accept emotions nonjudgmentally (as taught through mindfulness).
– change our thinking. Our feelings are connected to our thinking processes – consider trying cognitive therapy which can help retrain our thinking style and which, in turn, can lead to much improved emotional experiences.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.