Category: Anger

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.

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.

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure
Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself

Given the hectic pace of modern life, feeling under pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations – including our own – can easily turn into yet another unhealthy habit. Because our lives have never been as monitored or exposed to so much scrutiny as in recent years, it may feel hard to let go of that need to strive for excellence, regardless of the impact that that attitude has on you. In the era of smart phones and social media, not looking “super active” and “always busy” can easily make you feel like a lost soul, a social outcast or, simply put, just not good enough. To live a truly authentic life has become a challenge at a time when just allowing oneself to sit still and do nothing sounds like a great oddity.

Even when you feel easily swayed by perfectionist ideals, you still have a choice. You can surrender to the pressure of being there for everyone and everything but yourself, and keep on struggling to deliver that picture of success and popularity, or take this moment to make it be about you. The real you, that is, the one who like all human beings needs to nurture the connection with his own body in order to feel in harmony with himself and others. Making the time to be about you does not only mean “treating yourself” to something expensive, tasty or new. It also means taking that moment to be there for yourself, to feel what it feels to be you at that moment. All without judgement. All without having to do things a certain way (like having to follow a stereotype of “me time”, as in lying in a hot bath seeping a glass of red wine or eating a huge bar of chocolate while binge watching a TV series on Netflix. If any of those things happen not to be available… well, then you are stuck with that bad feeling!).

Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself without having to get out of your way in search of something elaborate to reach that peace of mind. Just taking little time to focus on your breathing can allow you to reconnect with your body, honour that moment and the sensations that make you whole, attending to the whole you. You do not have to be a Buddhist to practice it, or a great connoisseur of Eastern philosophy to master it. Mindfulness in already part of you – that unique ability you already possess to use thought to focus on yourself and observe your own thinking, feelings and behaviours.

If you feel under stress and would like to give mindfulness a try, below you will find 2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure:

1- Grounding yourself

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air and, at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your feet. Attend to the sensations of contact between the soles of your feet and the surface on which they are resting. Feel how the whole you, your legs, torso, arms and head are connected to that surface. Feel yourself as a unit, as a body sitting in that position. Examine the sensations that intensify your perception of what it means to be that body at that moment, like feeling the hard surface of the chair against your skin or noticing feelings of heaviness or lightness in the limbs. Then remind yourself of where you are, what day of the week and time of the day it is. Own that moment by feeling fully there in the present, mind and body, all in one sitting on that chair and just being yourself at that precise time and space.

2- Stress relief

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air, and at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your whole body. As you search for the sensations present in that moment, identify the one that makes you feel crushed. That sensation may be a feeling of pressure around your chest, a tightness of the neck or jaw or feelings of heaviness, pain or pressure in the abdominal area, for instance. As soon as you connect to that part of your body, dedicate a couple of minutes to focus your attention on that region. Take time to attend to the bodily sensations that reflect that negative emotional state. Notice how stress is felt by you in that particular region. Fully attend to the source of your discomfort. As your thinking starts to process those sensations, notice what happens when they start to dissipate into the rest of the body as flowing energy. Feel a shift in those sensations as they disappear from awareness. Enjoy that feeling of relief and reconciliation as your attention claims back your entire body.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed or disconnected, as if you were running on autopilot, take a few minutes to practice one of the above. Both exercises will allow you to feel refreshed and centred. It is vital to your general psychological and emotional wellbeing to attend to those negative feelings as soon as they arise. Letting them build up as if they were not as important as whatever you are doing at that moment has the potential to result in mental health complications later on, such an episode of burnout or depression, or even a full-blown anxiety disorder. Get your priorities right by learning how to love and respect the whole you, body and soul.