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How to identify feelings of shame

How to identify feelings of shame
Shame is the most toxic of emotions

The relevance of shame should not be underestimated, since it is the most toxic of emotions. Shame not only crushes one’s self-esteem, but it is also at the core of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Despite being potentially harmful to our psychological and emotional wellbeing, shame is rarely dealt with in a straightforward manner. Because it is so uncomfortable to talk about shame, it usually takes a reasonable amount of talking until most of us feel safe enough to relate our thinking and behaviour to deep feelings of shame, or the core beliefs that fuel them.

As emotional healing is all about feeling whole and connected, it is vital that you learn how to identify feelings of shame. As Brené Brown (2013) points out in her bestseller Daring Greatly, “Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither”. To help you name and shame your shame and deal with it as openly as you can, the following are common feelings and attitudes that are motivated by it:

  • Feeling left out, ignored, unimportant
  • Feeling defeated, vulnerable, weak
  • Feeling rejected, unwanted, not good enough
  • Feeling hate or disgust towards yourself
  • Avoiding social contact or being the centre of attention
  • Always believing in what others have to say about you, especially when negative
  • Feeling inadequate and embarrassed about what you have said and done
  • Finding it hard to accept the whole of you, especially what you do not consider a positive trait
  • Feeling crushed by self-criticism to the point of having thoughts of suicide
  • Refraining from saying anything in social gatherings or giving voice to your needs or opinions for considering them not important or interesting enough to others
  • Constantly worrying about what other people think
  • Not being able to say no or always doing what others want in order to feel valued in a relationship
  • Believing not to be liked or loved, as if it were a fact and not just a thought
  • Behaving in a certain way to gain the approval of others, even when it does not reflect the true you
  • Not having anything positive to say about yourself or your appearance
  • Putting the wellbeing of others before your own or believing it is your duty to care for others
  • Hiding or lying about your age, having a need to look younger
  • Feeling more comfortable with the thought of failure than that of success
  • Feeling like a bad or broken person, or believing that you are the reason why something bad has happened to you
  • Procrastinating or taking a lot of time to do something, so to get it “absolutely right”
  • Thinking that nobody feels the way you do or has experienced the things you have
  • Feeling different or less than others, as if you were not worthy of good things
  • Struggling to accept the good or believe in others’ love or interest in you
  • Minimising the harm done to you by an abusive relationship
  • Feeling you cannot do anything right or achieve what you would have liked in life
  • Staying in a broken relationship for not believing you could do any better
  • Being in denial about how you feel, or doing your utmost to hide your true emotions so not to be “judged by others”
  • Felling used
  • Taking things personally: immediately believing something is your fault/you have done something wrong when others are not as friendly or polite as you would have liked or expected
  • Not being able to take criticism objectively, feeling not good enough immediately after making a mistake or not being able to fulfil expectations
  • Using labels of negative connotation to describe yourself and your behaviour, such as stupid, ugly, fat, etc.
  • Having the habit of analysing your own performance, what you have said and done, in order to identify mistakes or errors in your judgement

Reference:

Brown, B. (2013). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

How to improve emotional health in 2018

How to improve emotional health in 2018
A healthy sense of self can only be perceived through feeling

Learning how to build a healthy relationship with yourself is all about developing emotional awareness and respect. In order for you to feel whole, it is vital that you learn how to listen, validate and regulate your own emotions.  A healthy sense of self can only be perceived through feeling, be it negative or positive, or an ambivalent combination of both. Since there is no means of learning or even becoming ourselves without it, the value of our emotional health should not be underestimated. If you are determined to live a more fulfilling and pleasant existence, here is how to improve emotional health in 2018:

Become more emotionally aware

There is no better way to become more emotionally aware than simply taking the time to notice how you feel. If you are not able to identify your own emotions with the help of your intellect, direct your attention back to the body. Bodily sensations can often tell you what your brain sometimes struggles to explain through words. How does it feel to be you in this particular moment? Scan your body from head to toe – especially the regions that are prone to registering emotional disturbance, such as the stomach, chest, neck, shoulders and forehead – and analyse what is there. Do you feel a lightness or heaviness in those parts? Is your breathing short or deep? Are those regions relaxed or tense? What can they tell you about your needs and emotional state?

Respect negative emotions

Feeling whole is not viable without emotional congruence. Contrary to popular belief, emotional neglect is not an effective way of dealing with emotions, but a dysfunctional coping strategy that only leads to unhappiness, as well as mental health and relationship problems. If you feel uncomfortable, inadequate, sad or anxious, there is, most likely, a good reason for it. Even if your feelings are dysregulated, exaggerated or do not seem to reflect reality, that in itself is information of a potential mental health issue that needs your attention. Life and self-improvement are unattainable when you ignore or try to repress negative emotions. Being attentive to what is not a good fit and stands in the way of personal contentment, growth and development is a clever attitude for those who want to empower themselves through feeling.

Learn how to self-regulate

Validating your emotions does not mean being completely at their mercy. There are times that they have to be to dealt with and not only felt. Learning how to self-soothe and control your emotions independently is true autonomy. Not dealing with your feelings consciously and proactively often leads to addictions and other mental health problems. In order to deal with negative emotions healthily, motivate yourself and be creative. There is no fixed recipe for relaxation and well-being, since as individuals; we experience emotions in our own unique ways. Discover what works for you and fits your personality through exploring new ways of finding inner peace, be it through exercise, physical activity, relaxation or breathing exercises, meditation, reading, dancing, taking a hot bath, etc.

Seek emotional support

Life is often also made of stressful and even traumatic events that may be difficult to deal with emotionally. If you feel overwhelmed and nothing seems to ease your pain or anxiety, it may be time to seek the help of a mental health professional. There is no shame in feeling vulnerable and in need of a fresh perspective. Most of us go through tough times in our lives, even when we are too proud or ashamed to admit it. If you feel the need and have the means to go see a counsellor, I highly recommend it, especially if you do not feel comfortable talking about your feelings with others or were raised by emotionally neglectful parents. Therapy can be a productive environment in where to learn new problem-solving skills and coping strategies, which become yours for life.

The festive period might not be a cheerful time to everyone, but it has the potential to incite a feeling for positive change in a lot of us. If you “have had enough” of feeling demotivated and empty inside, following the above may help you reconnect with the whole of you, including those parts that have been neglected. To honour who you are in 2018, let go of beliefs about feelings that rob us from our humanity, or the ability to feel and connect with ourselves, others and the world around us. After all, being emotionally healthy is nothing that requires super extraordinary powers, but an honest and open attitude to interacting with the inner and outer world through feelings.

How do you know if you are suffering from trauma?

Despite being extremely common, “trauma” often sounds too strong or scary a term to be included in our personal narrative. That is because trauma is largely associated with life-threatening experiences such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters, accidents and war. It is, however, something that affects most of us and not only car accident victims or soldiers. In fact, trauma is so pervasive, that research has revealed it to affect the greatest majority of the population.

So if that is indeed the case, how do you know if you are one of millions of people who are suffering from trauma?

How do you know if you are suffering from trauma
Trauma shatters our blind views of ourselves as unbreakable

A traumatic event is any situation that is so deeply distressing to an individual that exceeds his or her ability to cope. Those negative experiences are not processed in the brain in the same way happy or “normal” memories are. Because those traumatic memories are not integrated into our memory network adaptively, they affect our psyches in a negative way. Trauma victims/survivors often struggle to let go of the past and manage their emotions effectively, as if they were still in the same vulnerable position they found themselves when the negative event/events took place.

As individuals, we experience life in unique ways. Pain itself is subjective. What can be traumatising to one person might not affect another as deeply. Overall, trauma shatters our blind views of ourselves as unbreakable, as well as our unconscious faith in the goodness of all people. It also vehemently challenges our idealised core beliefs surrounding safety, be it of ourselves in the world or in the presence of those who we know, love and that are supposed to love and protect us. In spite of our need to organise reality in a fixed and predictable manner, human experience is much more complex than our beliefs care to explain. When anything happens that strongly disturbs our foundations, there is a high probability that the whole self will suffer.

Bearing in mind all of the above, any upsetting event may be considered traumatic. We are particularly vulnerable as children to being traumatised by negative experiences that compromise our ability to keep an inner sense of safety.  Since survival is primarily about finding protection against harm to the self and body, not feeling loved, seen, heard or acknowledged by parents, relatives or close friends can result in trauma. An unkind comment made by an angry parent, feeling humiliated by a teacher’s abusive remarks or being bullied by a troubled classmate also has the potential to unsettle a child’s or teenager’s sense of wholeness and inner goodness. If his or her pain is systematically ignored or not dealt with openly by an empathic, consistent and concerned caregiver, it may affect his or her own ability to cope with and overcome that pain.

Regardless of the frequency, intensity or characteristic of a stressful and traumatic event, its effects are very specific and real. When it comes to suffering from any type of trauma – be it “big” or “small”, of a psychological/emotional or physical nature, single or complex – what matters is how you feel as a result of what happened, and not necessarily what caused it. The list of trauma effects is extensive. If not recognised and dealt with proactively, they tend to impact one’s body, mind and relationships negatively for a long period of time. Unresolved trauma leads its victim towards an unhappy and dysfunctional path that tends to end in mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, addictions, depression, built-up anger, guilt and shame, amongst others.

So if wondering if you are suffering from trauma, I recommend not focusing on judging if what you went through “is bad enough” to be considered as such, but on how you are feeling. Have you struggled over the years to deal with intense emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, shame and anxiety effectively? Do you feel easily overwhelmed by them? Do you feel that life seems harder on you that it is on other people? Do you find it hard to know who you truly are? Do you struggle to build safe and stable relationships? Is it hard for you to talk about or even remember painful memories of your past? If you can identify with the points raised here and have answered yes to at least some of the above questions, there is a high probability that you are suffering from trauma and its effects.

Thankfully, they are treatable. If you would like information on how to heal from trauma and its effects, please contact me and learn how Attachment-Focused EMDR can help you regain control over yourself and improve quality of life.

5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents

Every single emotion we feel, be it negative or positive, has its purpose. Negative emotions tell us when something is not quite right with our bodies. Like positive emotions, they help us interpret information and connect us to our inner and outer worlds. While negative emotions are highly sophisticated alarms that let us know when to move, act or think so to protect ourselves, positive emotions direct our focus to what we like and is important to us. Overall, emotions not only makes us human, but also help us grow and develop, as well as become who we truly are.

5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents
If you struggle to feel whole and connected, you might have been raised by emotionally neglectful parents

Despite its obvious relevance to the maintenance of our physical and mental health, our culture promotes a mentality of repression, denial and even rejection of emotions, especially when negative. We are taught already from an early age – even without direct instruction – to do what we can to supress anger and sadness, for instance, as if they were something to be “managed” and not felt. Our parents learn from their parents how not to address emotional states so not to upset them, and with time become intolerant of their very own negative emotions. When they have children of their own, they feel easily uncomfortable or lost when exposed to their suffering, anger or other feelings of inadequateness, often choosing not to accept or even acknowledge their existence and purpose.

If you struggle to feel whole and connected, be it with your emotions, with what you do, with your own body, self or others, you might have been raised in an environment of emotional neglect. To find out if that could be the case, here are 5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents:

1- You perceive most negative emotions as purposeless

You are judgemental concerning negative feelings. You see the ones who honour them as weak, temperamental, volatile or irrational. You think that everyone, including yourself, should make their utmost to be “pleasant” and exercise total control over their emotions, as if negative feelings, especially, were wild animals that should be tamed at all costs. You equate intelligence and strength to such “qualities” and emotional awareness and wholeness to vulnerabilities.

2- You find it difficult to tolerate emotional discomfort

If frustration, stress or anxiety suddenly befalls you, you do what you can to deal with such feelings as fast as possible. According to your belief, negative emotions should be extinguished immediately. You achieve that mainly via dissociation, self-medication, denial or avoidance, or through any other quick fix or diversion that makes you feel instantly better. Your reactions to other people’s negative emotional states are as straightforward as your own. If you happen to notice what is going on around you, you find it easier to pretend unawareness or not get directly involved. When dodging them becomes impossible, you downplay the importance of others’ negative feelings with polite but shallow comments, or with the help of platitudes and a stoic attitude. In some cases, you might even feel irritated by their supposed inability to deal with them as “effectively” as you do.

3- You rationalise your emotions

Because you fail to recognise the value of emotions, you use reason alone to justify and explain behaviour. “Plausible” reasoning motivates everything you do, and never an emotion such as insecurity, unhappiness or fear. You left that job not because the work environment made you super anxious to the point you could not sleep at night, but because “it was not a good fit”. You decide to stay in that broken relationship because deep down you cannot even envision the idea of being alone, but to yourself and others it is because “you invested in it for so long”. Anything reasonable enough so that you and those around you never associate how you act on the outside, with how vulnerable you truly feel on the inside.

4- You struggle to connect emotionally with others

Naturally, the distance you keep from your own emotions also makes it difficult for you to communicate how you feel. When you are required to express them, you struggle. That is because the tendency of explaining your behaviour without ever linking it to emotions, be it in relation to your own acts or others’, creates and aura of detachment in which emotional connection becomes virtually impossible. Relationships suffer in such scenarios, regardless of their nature. Loving relationships, particularly, are hard to be kept healthy without emotional closeness and intimacy. In the long term, emptiness and loneliness tend to take its toll, pushing decisions and actions into a new direction. The result of such reassessment is often high resentment and thoughts of separation.

5- You do not feel understood or validated

Even without noticing it, you are betrayed by your own beliefs concerning emotions. The need for being seen, heard, loved and understood will not go away just because you made an effort to invalidate your emotions and supress their expression. We also exchange information about ourselves through feelings, and not only through language. How can anyone recognise and even address your needs when you yourself is reluctant to acknowledge and accept them? Neglecting your emotions, especially when negative, does not favour you or your relationships, but it only turns you into an unavailable automaton.

Even if you have identified with some or all of the above, you can still change the relationship you keep with yourself, and, consequently, the ones you nurture with others. Respecting and honouring your emotions by allowing yourself to feel will give you a renewed sense of self, one that is more balanced and in harmony with your own body. Everyone can learn invaluable lessons from emotions, as well as benefit from their wisdom. To reconnect emotionally, start monitoring how you feel with honesty and an open mind. Do not give into the temptation to rationalise or deal with them as quickly as possible, but stay with them for a while. Then notice what happens, if they linger or fade away by themselves. What are they trying to tell you? Have you taken the time to consider the real implications of ignoring them? What can you learn from them?

Why negative emotions matter

Our emotions connect us to our selves, brains and bodies, as well as to the world around us. Without emotions, it would be impossible to understand what goes on outside and inside us. It would also be quite challenging to build relationships or identify what is good or bad for us, likes and dislikes. As obvious as that sounds, a great number of us is discouraged to express and even feel negative emotions such as sadness and anger already at an early age. Parents who cannot tolerate their own feelings of inadequateness and who tell their children that “boys don’t cry”, or that being angry is not “ladylike”, for instance, contribute towards the creation of the dysfunctional belief that emotional discomfort does not serve any purpose and should be avoided at all costs. As the child develops, he or she learns unhealthy coping strategies to “deal” with negative emotions, such as through repression, avoidance, denial and self-medication. As an adult, he or she is much more inclined to suffering from mental health problems such as addictions, depression and eating and anxiety disorders.

To help you change your beliefs about negative emotions and start building a healthier relationship with yourself and your own feelings, here are 5 reasons why negative emotions matter:

Why negative emotions matter
Our emotions connect us to our selves, brains and bodies

1- They keep you out of trouble

Negative emotions such as fear and disgust, for instance, warn you that something is probably not right and it deserves your attention. Your negative emotions comprise a very sophisticated alarm system that can detect potential danger to your health and wellbeing. Most mental health problems could be avoided if we listened to them more attentively. Any type of pain or discomfort, be it of a physical or emotional nature, is a call for some kind of reassessment. When you register that message and promptly respond to it by making the necessary changes to regain a sense of wholeness and life balance, your chances of thriving in whatever environment gradually increase. If you fail to notice your negative emotions or make an effort not to, however, be it in a conscious or unconscious fashion, you expose yourself to potential harm to your psyche, body and emotions.

2- They let you know what is important to you

Negative emotions help you connect to your true self. They assist you in focusing on what matters to you, by letting you know what does not. Felling unmotivated about the prospect of doing something or interacting with someone, for instance, may indicate how you truly feel in relation to the role you play in your life. An intense negative emotion has the power to give back a sense of autonomy and control over what might have been lost through a tendency to intellectualise suffering and not respect one’s own feelings and personal boundaries. Trusting your emotional compass is key, especially if you feel disconnected to how you think, feel and act, as well as life itself and others.

3- They help you connect emotionally with others

We communicate with others largely through body language and the language of emotions. That exchange is so automatic, quick and subtle, that it often occurs without our full awareness. When you shut out the channels that link you to your own negative emotions, you damage not only the relationship you keep with your own self, but also the ones you nurture with others. Being able to notice and respond to other people’s emotions, especially when negative, is vital to help you create an emotional and affectional bond with whom you love and care about. The inclination towards ignoring, normalising or even dismissing another person’s negative emotions, for instance, has the potential to ruin friendships and loving relationships, while being emotionally attuned to somebody else’s feelings strengthens and extends the life of healthy relationships.

4- They make you whole

As human beings, we experience a great array of emotions. Anger, sadness, disgust, anxiety, shame and guilt, as well as all other negative emotions, have a function. To reject them – as if they were useless or worthless – is to deny our own humanity. It is also an irrational and inconsequent behaviour that can have a detrimental impact on our overall health and relationships that we value. Acknowledging and allowing yourself to feel, express, tolerate and process negative emotions as well as positive ones, is what makes us congruent and coherent beings. Being true to your feelings (which does not mean being controlled by them) sends out the message that you are a perceptive, confident and conscious adult, who honours who you are and understands what life is all about.

5- They help you grow

Emotions, be them negative or positive, are invaluable sources of wisdom because they foster personal growth. They teach you what behaviours are productive and warn you against the ones who make you feel stuck and stressed. As you test and learn from your behaviours through your emotions, you become more skilled in finding your sense of self-direction, as well as more self-aware and independent. Emotions also help you navigate the social environment and connect with others through their pain and vulnerability, as it has been mentioned above. Emotions hardly ever lie, and even if they do, that in itself still has a purpose. Exaggerated or out of place emotional reactions also signal when something is not functioning as well as it should, or that a problem has not been properly addressed or dealt with. Regardless of the scenario, quality or intensity of your emotions, you always learn more about yourself, the world and those around you when you pay attention and listen closely to what they have to say.

Perceiving your negative emotions as a source of knowledge and even wisdom will enable you to build a harmonious relationship with your own body. If you find the concept of self-compassion relevant to emotional wellbeing and development, but have a hard time applying it in your own life, start befriending emotional negative states through a more tolerant attitude. Resist the urge to immediately tame your anger or normalise your sadness by noticing how they affect your body. Learn how to focus on and be with them until they lose their energy.  If they persist, use thinking to initiate an internal dialogue between yourself and your emotions to find out what needs are not being met.

Perfectionism and life dissatisfaction

Perfectionism and life dissatisfaction
Perfectionism has the potential to kill the little pleasures that make life worth living

If you find it hard to enjoy your achievements, be they big or small, you might be struggling with perfectionism. Perfectionism makes it impossible to love and accept yourself for whom you are and what you do with confidence. That is because perfectionist attitudes, rules and assumptions take everything a step further. “Big” becomes “bigger” and “good” becomes “better”. The language of perfectionism is never satisfied with the present, but it revolves around past – and often idealistic – future experience. Thoughts such as “if I had done it better, that wouldn’t have happened”, “I’ve done it better before” or “I need to get it absolutely right next time” take the power away from the here and now. You become obsessed with results, like a hamster on a wheel or a greyhound chasing a fake rabbit around a racetrack, focused but slightly delusional.

Perfectionism has the potential to kill the little pleasures that make life worth living. That beautiful moment of lying in bed after having just changed the sheets, while enjoying their fresh smell, can be ruined by the thought of “Designer sheets are much softer”.  Perfectionism also makes your efforts seem pointless. After realising you have managed to meditate successfully for 15 minutes, you feel a little pride building up.  Then, the thought “If I had managed it for 30 minutes, I would be feeling much more relaxed” comes racing through and completely changes your mood. Perfectionism makes you feel as if you were in a constant battle against yourself and the world around you. A moment of joy becomes something unattainable.

Feeling good and fulfilled in life also relies greatly on your ability to have a good relationship with yourself. A perfectionist attitude, however, hinders that process. That is because perfectionist thinking and self-criticism are partners in crime when it comes to murdering one’s self-esteem. Perfectionism does not only make you second-guess yourself, but it fuels self-denigration. Under its spell, you may easily find yourself stuck in a fault-finding cycle that only ends when you feel completely taken by guilt, shame and/or anxiety. Perfectionism threatens your mental health and is at the core of problems such as depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism does not lead you down the path to success and happiness, but it makes you weak and miserable, as if you had lost your own sense of self and self-direction.

To put an end to perfectionism, start actively monitoring and challenging your own negative thoughts. If you need help with that, I highly recommend starting a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts to identify and target them effectively. After challenging automatic thoughts with a DRDT for a reasonable period, try doing it without the help of a piece of paper, but mentally or even orally if you are in a private environment. Create the cognitive habit of being very suspicious of thoughts that seem to try to convince you that who you are, what you do or achieve is not good enough. Quiet the voice of your perfectionist gremlin by introducing a compassionate attitude towards yourself, as if you were your own best friend. Forgive and praise yourself, always recognising the value of your efforts in the here and now. Learn how to live in the present and for, not against yourself.