Category: Mood Improvement

The dos and don’ts of emotional support

The dos and don'ts of emotional support
Giving emotional support is not as straightforward as you may think

Giving emotional support is not as straightforward as you may think. When we acknowledge that most of us were raised in an environment of emotional neglect and perfectionism, it becomes clear how a lack of emotional intimacy affects our ability to deal with feelings naturally. The habit of distancing ourselves from feelings, especially when negative, and refusing to embrace their wisdom and our own vulnerability, only creates an even bigger distance between others and ourselves. If you would like to change that scenario and feel more connected, here are the dos and don’ts of emotional support:

1- Do not problem solve

Emotional support does what it says on the tin. Therefore, it is not about coming up with ideas to solve a problem, but dealing with the feelings that surround it. Unless there is a clear call for help, most of us do not need practical advice when talking about the issues that concern or upset us. It is also worth noticing that the urge to “help” and solve other people’s problems or afflictions – even when help is neither needed nor requested – is at the core of codependent behaviour.

2- Focus on feelings

Emotional support comes from a place of attunement to another person’s need for having his or her feelings recognised and validated. There is nothing more comforting when we are feeling low, frustrated or anxious, for instance, than having someone around us that respects our inadequacy by honouring the way we feel. When you say to someone in distress, “I can see that that is upsetting to you”, regardless of what is going on or if you agree with that person’s reasons or emotional reaction, you make him or her feel seen, accepted and understood.

3- Do not make it about you

Our complexity as individuals is so immense, that no experience is ever felt in an equal fashion by two different people. As soon as you start talking about your experience, giving examples of how you have dealt with a similar issue to the one brought up by the other person, the focus is turned to you. As it has been mentioned before, emotional support is not about analysing and comparing experiences and, supposedly, learning from them, but noticing and addressing feelings.

4- Do not antagonise

To antagonise is to oppose, which is the opposite of what is understood by “to support”. While an emotionally congruent and supportive person favours the expression and recognition of feelings, be it in himself/herself or others, an antagonising, selfish or emotionally neglectful one has the habit of ignoring, repressing, avoiding, denying or normalising them. When you behave like the latter, you are not giving emotional support, but alienating the other. You can do that quite automatically, unintentionally and unconsciously, by using common sense judgement, motivational speech, excessive positive psychology and platitudes, for instance.

5- Be empathic

Empathy is like a mirror, or the ability to feel, see and experience what the other is feeling, seeing or experiencing. Simply put, when someone feels sad, angry, fearful or disgusted, those are the feelings you focus on and seek to validate. Moreover, you display an empathic attitude when you do the following:

  • Take time to listen: let the person speak and do not interrupt. Do not rush to get that tissue or glass of water either, but focus on what the person has to say first.
  • Stay with the inadequacy and embrace it. Be emotionally tolerant by allowing emotional expression and flow.
  • Agree with the other. Put yourself in his or her shoes and try to see the world from his or her perspective.
  • When lost for words, use the following:

“It must have been hard”

“I see that that is upsetting to you”

“I also hate when that happens”

“I hear you. That must have been annoying for you”

 “Feeling anxious sucks, doesn’t it?”

“ I can see that you are angry, what happened?”

“It is awful when that happens”

“You must have felt uncomfortable”

“I understand that that is not easy for you”

“I am sorry you feel that way”

“I see your point”

“That’s sad/scary/disgusting/awful/annoying!”

“I understand how that must have made you feel”

“It must suck feeling that way”

  • Give the other a sign of your affection. If you have an intimate relationship with the other person, you can also offer him or her a hug or a kiss, once he or she has finished talking and dealing with his or her feelings of inadequacy.

How we perpetuate self-despise

Even though most of us agree that self-hatred is detrimental to emotional health and self-esteem, fighting that self-sabotaging tendency is not as straightforward. That is because very few of us were raised with enough love and respect in order to build a solid base for our self-esteem, or an organic sense of unconditional self-love. Western upbringing is often the opposite of that, but largely affected by transgenerational trauma and controlling, perfectionist and punitive beliefs. Such values do not foster a healthy relationship with the self, but make a child feel like a third class citizen already from an early age. That process is noticeable in the internalisation of our parents’ critical voices, which become our “inner critic” or “gremlin”. Naturally, undoing that negative programming takes time and conscious effort. To help you understand what keeps you stuck on that self-hate mode, here is how we perpetuate self-despise:

1- Labels

How we perpetuate self-despise
Self-hatred is detrimental to emotional health and self-esteem

Name-calling oneself with words of negative connotation such as “stupid”, “fat”, etc., is more harmful to your self-esteem than you think. Words stick, hurt and can easily become your truth. Moreover, the habit of saying them to yourself – even in a playful tone – is usually a sign that you are failing in loving and accepting yourself unconditionally. Labelling is one of your critical voice’s most powerful resources to shame and put you down. It is virtually impossible to value yourself when your self-appraisal vocabulary is mostly belittling and denigratory.

2- Perfectionism

Despite corresponding to a self-sabotaging way of thinking and behaving, perfectionism is very common and widely accepted. Contrary to popular belief, however, always striving for excellence is not a positive trait, but a tendency that, in the great majority of instances, promotes intolerance and self-hate. We are not made for getting everything absolutely right, 100% of the time. The complexity of human beings – or the great variety of our emotional and physical states – does not allow us to be constant and express a single and unchanging pattern of behaviour. Insisting on “always doing your best” (and self-criticizing every time you do not achieve that goal) is like cognitive punishment for being human.

3- Emotional intolerance

Do you blame yourself and others for feeling anger, shame, sadness and fear? Do you feel ashamed for having and expressing negative feelings, inadequate or even angry when others allow themselves to honour their feelings in a non-abusive manner? If yes, you are emotionally intolerant. Emotional intolerance leads to self-contempt and a judgemental attitude, be it exclusively towards your own emotional states or others’. The habit of rejecting your human qualities, such as the ability to connect with yourself, the world and others trough emotions, makes you feel empty and inauthentic in the long term. As time goes by, you start feeling increasingly more alone and disconnected. As your disappointment in yourself grows, you keep the vicious cycle of self-hate alive, even when conscious of its dangers.

4- Unresolved childhood trauma

Excessive self-criticism, intense feelings of shame, inadequateness and sadness, as well as built-up anger are amongst the most common effects of developmental trauma. If you have never taken the time to process, both psychologically and emotionally, the adverse events that marked your childhood years, it is much harder for you to feel competent and loveable. Due to the insidious, prolonged and complex nature of childhood trauma, it tends to remain untreated for a long while, affecting the victim’s sense of worth, self-protection and self-preservation. There is no better environment in which to learn how to hate and despise oneself than that of toxic families. Abuse and neglect are renowned for leaving a lasting impression in trauma victims, compromising – if not addressed and terminated – their ability to value, protect and like themselves.

5- Rigid beliefs

Rigid beliefs are deeply connected to low self-esteem and other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Dysfunctional behaviours, such as the ones mentioned above, are created and kept by inflexible thinking filled with cognitive errors such as “all-or-nothing”. Firstly, you are much more complex than a single word is able to define. By the same token, making a mistake or not being able to hide your disappointment, for instance, does not make your whole self a failure. Rigid beliefs such as “I am boring” (labelling), “I can only feel proud of myself when I stand out” (perfectionism), “expressing negative emotions is a sign of weakness“ (emotional intolerance) and “If I trust others, I will get hurt by them” (unresolved childhood trauma) rob you from your right to develop a rewarding relationship with yourself and others. It is as if only a negative, global and unchanging perspective were accurate.

If negative and critical remarks against yourself and your performance come more naturally to you than tolerant and self-compassionate ones, it is time to turn your focus to nurturing self-esteem. To fight that dysfunctional tendency, try out the following:

  1. No more labels: stop being mean to yourself. Have a zero tolerance with labels and start catching and correcting yourself when you use words of a global and negative meaning.
  2. Value your efforts: become a “glass half-full” type of person. Quickly step up to defend your efforts, and literally shut up your inner critic.
  3. Stop judging “negative” emotions. Experiment with observing how you feel with curiosity. Do not fight your feelings, but embrace them and learn from them.
  4. Heal your trauma wounds: if you suspect to have suffered childhood trauma, seek the help of a professional to reorganise your narrative and manage the effects of trauma.
  5. Restructure your beliefs: choose flexible beliefs that reflect the adult and confident you, who is open to love and a fulfilling life.

 

3 facts about core beliefs that will make you reassess your own

3 facts about core beliefs that will make you reassess your own
Core beliefs not only reflect our history, but also help define it

We organise information about ourselves, the world and other people through core beliefs. Core beliefs are cognitive units of knowledge that allow us to make sense of reality in a way that is coherent with our perspective. They affect how we interpret and store information that is processed by our senses, as well as our feelings and behaviours in relation to it. As they are a product of culture, the environment and the quality of our experience and the relationships we have had over the years, core beliefs not only reflect our history, but also help define it. Because they are so hugely influential on the way we think, feel, relate to others and lead our lives, expanding your knowledge about them can be a productive exercise. To help you achieve just that, here are 3 facts about core beliefs that will make you reassess your own:

1- Core beliefs are often unrelated to objective reality

Because you feel strongly about something, it does not mean it reflects an accurate approach or evaluation. In fact, strong convictions are supported by rigid beliefs. Those beliefs, in turn, are deeply connected to our experience and subjective perspective. Experience is then given significance by emotions, which play a big part in convincing us of the “veracity” of something, even when there is little or no concrete proof to validate it. We are able to observe that process in practice, when we are quick to agree with or reject something or someone without further deliberation. When it comes to making a decision or formulating judgement, the quicker and more automatic your reactions, the more subjective, intuitive and emotional.

2- Core beliefs are stored in the “emotional brain”

Core beliefs are stored in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. The amygdala is responsible for behavioural and emotional reactions such as anger, fear and responding to stressful situations (fight or flight response), as well as encoding, storing and retrieving memories of events that define our personal experience. Those memories – loaded with emotional significance – are what shape our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and others. When we take into consideration subjective perspective, our past predicts the future. Core beliefs reflect that principle accurately, since they tend to remain rigid throughout an individual’s development, and are indifferent to the changes he or she experiences. For that reason, a single or multiple traumatic events in childhood have the potential to define one’s view of himself or herself as an incompetent and unlovable adult, for instance, and remain unchanged for many years after their occurrence.

3- Core beliefs are at the root of mental health problems

As core beliefs are formed in childhood and are of an inflexible nature, they are prone to filtering information in an extremely biased and often irrational manner. Depression and anxiety sufferers, as well as trauma victims, for instance, tend to hold a very negative view of themselves, the world and others. Individuals who believe not to be good enough and, therefore, are terrified of “looking silly” and being judged by others in social interactions are highly likely to develop anxiety problems. When that anxiety becomes unbearable, they may feel the need to isolate from social contact, a dysfunctional behaviour which is also at the heart of depression. Similarly, trauma victims whose core beliefs about emotions are centred on denial are naturally resistant to approaching their own suffering honestly and proactively. That tendency compromises their ability to manage the effects of trauma in the long term, which may result in debilitating and life changing mental health issues, such as addictions and eating disorders.

If you suspect that your core beliefs are interfering with your psychological and emotional wellbeing, it is worth taking some time to reassess them. To evaluate whether they enhance or hinder your self-esteem, as well as personal growth and development, check in with yourself every time you feel a change in your mood. Ask yourself, “What was I thinking just now?” and analyse your automatic thoughts as objectively as you can. What do they say about the views you hold about yourself, the world and others? What is the tone of the rules, attitudes and assumptions that guide your thinking and behaviour? Are they too strict or flexible? Do they reflect a compassionate or overtly critical perspective?

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.

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 their 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.