Category: <span>Self-confidence</span>

Emotional connection through recognition of bodily sensations

Emotional connection through recognition of bodily sensations
Emotions are felt as bodily sensations

You do not have to hold a high coefficient of emotionally intelligence to connect with your body and emotions confidently. To foster the ability to notice what you are feeling, it is helpful to understand how emotions are felt as bodily sensations. Although your intuition is very powerful and no formal study is required to recognise your feelings, some struggle to fully trust it. With the help of some interesting research findings, however, this article may help you perceive emotions as more than abstract concepts, but as concrete bodily experience.

As Hartmann et al (2021)[i] explain in “Valence-Related Bodily Sensation Maps of Emotions”, high arousal emotions, or those triggered by the flight or fight response – such as fear and anger – lead to heaviness in the body. While non-pleasant emotions make us feel heavy, pleasant ones – such as love and happiness – have been connected to sensations of lightness and activation. You will find the areas where lightness and heaviness are felt in the body and the emotions with which they are associated below, in increasing order of heaviness (depression being the “heaviest” emotion, heavier than sadness):

Surprise: lightness in the head, upper chest and arms

Neutral: neither light nor heavy

Love: lightness in the whole body, but more intensely in the face

Happiness: lightness in the whole body, but more intensely in the upper body, especially head and chest areas

Pride: lightness in the head – especially upper face – and upper body

Fear: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, and belly areas

Disgust: heaviness in the face, mouth, throat, upper and lower chest, and belly

Shame: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, as well as belly area

Anger: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, belly and hands

Contempt: heaviness in the head, throat, upper chest and hands

Envy: heaviness in the head, upper and lower chest areas

Anxiety: heaviness in the head, neck, throat and shoulders, upper and lower chest, and belly area

Sadness: heaviness in the whole body, but more intensely in the upper body, especially head and chest areas

Depression: heaviness in the whole body, but more intensely in the upper body, especially head and chest areas

Amongst the practices that facilitate connection with the body and boost awareness of self and others are mindfulness meditation (for a body scan meditation, please click here), yoga, breathing and grounding exercises, as well as therapeutic approaches which are rich in somatic interventions, such as Attachment-Focused EMDR (AF-EMDR).

[i] Hartmann, M., Lenggenhager, B., & Stocker, K. (2021, March 3). Happiness feels light, sadness feels heavy: introducing valence-related bodily sensation maps of emotions. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/d8wvn

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary
Emotion concepts help you create a more empowering perception of reality

Emotions not only help you make sense of what is going on in your own body, but also influence your perception of what lies outside yourself, as the environment and others, in a creative and empowering way. Therefore, the more specialised your vocabulary for feelings and emotional states, the greater your understanding of your inner experience, as well as your ability to transform your perception of reality. To approach your emotional world from a more specialised, yet non-complicated perspective, here are 130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary:

Acceptance, admiration, adoration, agitation, amazement amusement, anger, anguish, annoyance, anticipation, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, awe

Betrayed, bitterness

Certainty, concern, confidence, conflicted, confusion, connectedness, contempt, curiosity

Defeat, defensiveness, defiant, denial, depressed, desire, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, dread

Eagerness, elation, emasculated, embarrassment, empathy, envy, euphoria, excitement

Fear, fearlessness, flustered, frustration

Gratitude, grief, guilt

Happiness, hatred, homesick, hopefulness, horror, humbled, humiliation, hurt, hysteria

Impatience, inadequate, indifference, insecurity, inspired, intimidated, irritation

Jealousy

Loneliness, longing, love, lust

Moody, moved

Neglected, nervousness, nostalgia

Obsessed, overwhelmed

Panic, paranoia, peacefulness, pity, pleased, powerlessness, pride

Rage, regret, relief, reluctance, remorse, resentment, resignation

Sadness, sappy, satisfaction, shadenfreude, scorn, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, scepticism smugness, somberness, stunned, surprise, suspicion, sympathy

Terror, tormented

Unappreciated, uncertainty, unease

Validated, valued, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability

Wanderlust, wariness, wistful, worry, worthlessness

To benefit from emotion concepts as the ones listed above, increase self-awareness and create a habit of monitoring and naming your emotional and feeling states. When sensing non-pleasantness and/or high arousal or stress, make a conscious effort to use as many emotion concepts as needed to explain what you are experiencing, but proactively and not – purely – reactively. When the same is applied simultaneously to pleasant feelings and emotional states, you learn how to tolerate ambiguity and connect with a more balanced self. With time, this practice also has a direct impact on negative bias, reducing its power, and what is more, enriching your perception of your own experience and validating your role as its creator. If the idea that our brains create reality and do not simply react to what lies outside ourselves appeals to you, I recommend reading the brilliant “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett.

Common negative beliefs of C-PTSD sufferers

Common negative beliefs of C-PTSD sufferers
Complex PTSD sufferers struggle to think and feel positively

C-PTSD sufferers display a view of themselves, the world and others through the distorted lens of complex trauma. Complex trauma victims struggle to maintain an objective and neutral perspective due to the negative adverse experiences that shaped their neurobiology and ability to live in the present without an exaggerated need to protect themselves against further hurt. If you believe that to be your case, it is helpful to identify the beliefs that perpetuate a sense of unsafety, hopelessness, powerlessness, disconnection and isolation, such as the ones mentioned below:

I am damaged goods.

I have no control over my emotions.

I am alone in this world.

I cannot trust anyone.

When things seem to be working out for me, I should expect something bad to follow.

If anyone finds out who I truly am, they will leave me.

I am unable to feel okay with whom I am.

I am not safe.

Nobody understands me.

I am cursed.

Intimate relationships are sources of pain, therefore, they should be avoided.

My mental health problem is beyond healing.

I am unable to make relationships work.

I am crazy.

I will never be able to do well in life like other people.

I have no control over my own body.

A few people might like me, but they do not know the real me because if they did, they would not.

I am less than others.

Things are harder for me than for other people.

I must make sure to always avoid people, things and situations that trigger me.

I will never feel free from my abuser(s).

I am powerless against my abuser(s).

I will only overcome my trauma if I manage to distance it from my mind completely.

I will only overcome my trauma if I manage not to feel any emotions related to it completely.

All my dysfunctional behaviours are effects of my trauma.

I cannot manage the effects of my trauma.

I will only feel okay once my abuser(a) is(are) dead.

When things get tough, it is best to move away from the problem.

Others see me differently because of what I went through.

Things will never work out for me.

As rigid beliefs like the ones listed above fail to make justice to our complexity, as well as our ability to manage vulnerabilities and live a fulfilling life, I would highly recommend you to take time challenging the ones that resonate, somehow, with your own thinking. If you need help to understand why they are dysfunctional and how to refer to them as such, click here to access my list of cognitive errors.

Regulating fear of abandonment: a closer look at the role of shame

Regulating fear of abandonment, a closer look at the role of shame
Fear of abandonment is felt when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy

Developmental/childhood trauma victims often struggle with fear of abandonment.  Fear of abandonment is felt in relational contexts when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy. Genuine self-expression, on the other hand, is experienced when thinking, feelings and behaviours occur in a congruent manner. When one is in the process of grieving a recent loss, for instance, and feels sad, looks subdued and avoids social contact, there is consistency between how he or she thinks, feels and behaves. Emotionally neglectful and abusive parents, however, do not foster a healthy connection with emotions, especially when negative. This is observed when they consistently criticise, blame and even punish their children for having and expressing emotions such as anger and sadness. Children exposed to this maladaptive parental attitude towards negative emotions, then learn how to associate their expression to feelings of rejection, shame and loss of affection.

If parental love is conditional and, therefore, not available when children feel frustrated and sad, make a mistake, or fail to fulfil expectations, their shame triggers a sense of unsafety. This mechanism is not only at play when they are young, however, but also throughout their adult years. In practice, this tendency is easily observed in adults’ emotionally dependant behaviours such as people pleasing and denial of individual needs to secure a partnership. The urge to be liked by everyone through repression of negative emotions and wants is highly motivated by a fear of the drastic consequences that would supposedly follow their emotional freedom and acts of self-assertion, namely, loss of love and attachment.

Since the link between shame and fear of abandonment is so intimate and detrimental to mental health, it is vital to highlight its influence on people’s ability to create functional relationships that allow them to be themselves and build strong emotional connections. If you do not feel good enough to connect with your own body, understand and honour your needs because you are afraid of the effect that that might have on others, I highly recommend to challenge the dysfunctional beliefs that are feeding your fear of abandonment. First, it is not your duty to make others’ existence free of emotional discomfort. Secondly, would you like to keep a relationship with someone who only validates their own interests, needs and wants? And finally, do you not think yourself worthy of your own? If you do believe to be good enough for you, practice tolerating the shame that arises from acting in an authentic way until it becomes a trait from a much more confident, happier you.

For recovering codependents: tools to successfully say no

For the recovering codependent tools to successfully say no
Learning how to say no helps you overcome codependency

If you are codependent, your sense of safety and identity rely on your ability to please and be liked by others. Codependents are also emotionally dependent because they use other people to regulate negative feelings and emotions. Because of their history of relational trauma, they often feel anxious in the context of relationships. In order to ease that emotional discomfort, they turn their attention outside their selves and focus on making others feel good. When codependents’ perceptions of others in relation to them is one of approval, they feel worthy and lovable, which makes their state of unease more manageable.

This tendency makes it almost impossible for codependents to feel at peace with themselves when saying no. For that reason, they avoid it as much as they can. This turns them into “Yes men and women” who sacrifice their happiness and wellbeing for others, not necessarily because they are “nice”, “kind”, “helpful” and “friendly”, but because their behaviour is greatly motivated by insecurity and a fear of rejection and abandonment.

So how can a recovering codependent break that habit and start prioritising their own needs, wants and interests without feeling guilty, afraid and ashamed? By saying no and tolerating the discomfort. Tolerating inadequacy and just sitting with it, feeling it while observing it without judgement and, most importantly, resisting the urge to act, is one of the greatest skills of the emotionally autonomous. The emotionally mature can say no also because of their understanding that affecting others in negative ways – even when unintentionally – is human and unavoidable. Safe in that knowledge, they tolerate their own discomfort as well as others’, while freeing themselves of the incoherent burden of making others’ existence pain free.

Due to our ability to feel and process negative feelings and emotions, we are equipped to handle the disappointment that might arise from being refused or denied something we want. Therefore, if you are trying to overcome your codependency by not agreeing with everyone and everything that is asked of you, start saying no and practicing sitting with the discomfort that that behaviour tends to trigger. Resist the urge to go back on what you have said, change your mind, explain your reasons for acting the way you do, apologise and compromise, and just accept that your body needs time to adjust to a new attitude. With patience and perseverance, your assertiveness will enable the authentic self to flourish, which once fully felt and experienced, revolutionises – in a much healthier and functional way – your ability to think, act and feel independently.

Perfectionism beyond the stereotype

Perfectionism beyond the stereotype
You do not have to constantly strive for super high standards in everything you do to be influenced by perfectionism

Although perfectionism tends to be conceived in all-or-nothing terms, as an exaggerated focus on high standards, its scope goes far beyond that.  Because we are individuals of a complex nature, the very meaning of a “high standard” varies from person to person. Before becoming a vegan, I used to make a vegetarian pizza on a weekly basis. For it to taste good, it had to contain 150 gm of cheddar cheese, the equivalent of a single package from my local supermarket. That was my standard. When I would get excited about making that pizza but find there was less than 150 gm in a package left in the fridge, I would get extremely disappointed, not make it or force myself to drive to the supermarket to get a new package. After trying to cut down on cheese and having realised that I could bend my own rule and reduce that quantity, I was surprised to find out that my pizza tasted as good as before! As a perfectionist, my experience had been limited by a rigid rule which caused stress that could easily have been avoided by a small change in perspective.

You do not have to constantly strive for super high standards in everything you do to be influenced by perfectionism. As any vulnerability, perfectionism fits your personal views and values, whatever they are. You can be a hippie, an academic or a footballer and still act in a perfectionist way. As long as you behave as a slave to a rigid set of rules which you believe to reflect a high standard or goal, perfectionism is at play. It is important to highlight the significance of individual perspective to perfectionism. As much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perfectionism is in the brains of those who struggle with low self-esteem. If you value physical appearance and find a sporty look glamorous, you may become a perfectionist and invest time and money in the way you look so to achieve that standard. Your house can still reflect you lack of care and be disorganised and dirty, and not bother you half as much as looking as good as you think you should on the outside, in order to feel good enough on the inside. When you need a new mattress to help with your back pain, but you have your eyes on those trendy sneakers that cost a fortune, you forget all about it as soon as you picture yourself walking around in them, looking good, feeling great and getting praise and attention from others.

Perfectionism is all about holding inflexible conditions of worth which – even though may have never been challenged – have meaning on an individual level and must be kept at all costs. Therefore, if you have standards of quality that remain constant over time and do not adapt to the changes in you and your life, you may find that perfectionism is one of the main reasons why you struggle to feel balanced and reach a state of personal contentment and fulfilment. Due to its flexibility, it fits “perfectly” with any low self-esteem attitude of conditional worth and wellbeing. Perfectionism in action can be observed in every parent’s obsession in making their children’s experience as pain free as possible, for instance, as if feeling negative emotions would permanently damage their development ((unaware) emotion phobia being one of perfectionism’s most common features) and compromise his or her ability to act as a good mom or dad. While that may be true in abuse, neglect and childhood trauma cases, most children – those who are exposed to good enough parenting – do quite well with some share of unconditional love and attention which do not require their parents’ struggle and suffering.

If you have identified with the above at some level, be aware that your perfectionist attitude does not affect only you, but also those around you. As the emotional cost of perfectionism is high, it tends to be intrinsically related to relationship problems, as well as a great array of psychopathologies such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety. You do not have to be fully aware of how much of your struggle to keep centred is a result of your perfectionism, or the extent to which affects your co-workers and family, for it to be damaging to all of you. The irony here is that the struggle to keep a fixed standard going so to guarantee wellbeing and happiness is the very cause of emotional health problems and misery! To get out of the perfectionist trap, start challenging rigid beliefs – whatever their meaning and application – consciously and proactively, while playing with not feeling bothered by the idea of being “below average” or even “lousy”.  Additionally, increase emotional connection and wholeness by allowing yourself to feel bad every now and then and around others. The more self-acceptance and unconditional love you bring into your life, the more you will tolerate the imperfections of others. The more comfortable they feel around you, the stronger your connections become, as well as the benefit of your influence.