Your pits start sweating buckets. You’re breathing like you just ran a 10K marathon. Your head is throbbing but you can’t think straight. You have an incredible urge to run, or maybe punch something. Oh, wonderful, your nervous system is freaking the F out again. It’s on fire and you are in the middle of a work meeting. Here we go.
Humans form nervous system states of regulation throughout their developmental years. People continuously mature from 0-25 years of age; in stages from birth to early adulthood. Individuals learn to respond and interact with the environment by determining what is safe vs. dangerous. Each reacts in unique ways. These nervous system state formations are influenced by environments, relationships, and biological factors. In the nature versus nurture debate, each has an equal influence. Whereas one may have biologically altered, with predisposing factors, such as autism, others might have normative biological functioning and experience traumatic events that impact their functioning. However it may be, the nervous system that goes haywire launches the person into a tumultuous time of intense suffering.
If this is something you suffer with, any of you brave readers- stay hopeful. It can be adjusted back within a functional range. You can handle these episodes of fear, pain, anger, shame, or guilt. The magnitude will decrease. While it may feel like you are drowning, or perhaps dying, you’re not. As Pia Mellody states often, these are your feelings and you can handle them. They will overwhelm you at first, and slowly but steadily settle. Intertwined with trauma therapy, supportive environments, and patience, life can become serene without maladaptive coping skills used to falsely induce this state.
The first step in the process is to identify what is happening. Look around, identify what you experience in your body Yes, this seems cheesy at first, but there is a methodology to the madness.
Feelings are described by Pia Mellody in 8 basic states, found here: https://www.themeadows.com/blog/the-gifts-of-emotional-acceptance/.
They also occur whether you like them or not. When a person attempts to avoid, repress, or dismiss their feelings, that person creates more suffering for oneself. Our bodies operate without our permission or intent psychologically and physically. To attempt to control these process are not only delusional but pointless. Because, at the end, when these processes are blocked, more suffering is generated. People develop mood disorders, addictions, and relational difficulties from these attempts. In the long-term, it is worth working through then working around. Avoidance solves nothing. There is no dismissing. Kind of like an annoying familial member, they pop up when least expected and stay longer than welcomed.
Identify the emotion and the feeling connected to it. What does shame feel like? How does your body react? Do you get that twisted, sick feeling in your gut? Or, does your face redden and burn with heat? Anger is an empowering emotion that leaves the person feeling energized and strengthened all over the body. Thus, when one is angry and there is no healthy method to discharge this energy, outlets become nearest loved ones, strangers, or oneself. Rage, yelling, self-harm, passive-aggressiveness, sarcasm, and putting others down are just a few examples of how a person can release this anger in an unhealthy manner that not only harms others but puts oneself in greater despair. That individual will lose relationships, alienate oneself, and perhaps cause consequences that damage one’s reputation, career, or reputation. Get to know oneself and the feelings that tag along. Feelings are not facts, not what everyone else’s realities are. 10 people can experience one phenomenon simultaneously and draw 10 different conclusions and meaning from that event. It will impact each differently. And, that is because people bring lifetimes of experiences and knowledge with them to the present through which they judge and interpret events in a variety of ways.
American society dismisses, mocks, shames, and belittles people that display feelings. Several male figures such as Tyrese, Kayne West, who have at one point expressed emotion within the public view, were mocked and belittled for showing heartbreak. Memes were made to make fun of their suffering. I often wonder what society has resulted to. Is this all we can expect from our fellow humans- emotional stoning of those who dare to be themselves, and human? We can do better than that.
Man and woman rules are the reasons we experience so much difficulty as a culture. Even while it is 2022, men are still expected to not show their struggle, to build walls, womanize, cheat, have sex with as many women possible, work themselves to death, make money and collect things, mock other men, and accumulate. Women, on the other hand, need to take all struggles in strife, do not have an ability to be logical or maintain careers, only exhaserbate situations and explode with uncontained feelings that are overblown, have primary duties to care for the children, cook, and clean, all the while looking sexy for their partners. Women on the other hand, must forgive, and let go of concerns when they arise. Otherwise they are shitty and naggy spouses. Every one of these expectations have been placed on myself, husbad, or experienced by a close loved one whom I witnessed others degrade one’s character when they chose to behave and believe otherwise. Frankly, it’s bullshit and I call it out every sinle time I see it. These epectations are others’, not mine nor my husband’s.
So, when these rules clash with one’s authenticity, shitty feelings are usually experienced. Attempts to change what others think, fit into others’ expectations, or to stand up for oneself and rationalize one’s existence create anxst, fear, pain, shame, and can catapult a person into a deep depression, addiction, or other severe mental health disorder. Problems begin to arise when one cannot convince another of their value or worth because this has not been created from within, by that individual. One may lack these from childhood trauma of verbal or emotional abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Or, a person may have been bullied heavily in school. Somewhere along their lifetime these individuals were given the message verbally or nonverbally that their existence was a mistake and not valued. And, this message is a lie.
People can gain these perspectives, but it takes extra effort. Affirmations, mindfulness, meditation and other grounding techniques, combined with psychotherapy can change the most traumatized individual to a content and functional person of society. I have seen and experienced magical transformations. Though the memories never disappear, the pain lessens when the memories get reprocessed and filed away into their appropriate memory reserves.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score is an excellent novel that explains the mind-body connection with trauma and psychology. The American attitude of taking a pill for a miracle cure is what contributes to the current-day opioid epidemic and development of addiction disorders and other mental health struggles. One must walk through the difficult emotions of the past in order to fully heal and experience serenity. Substance use or process addictions merely put a bandaid on the bullet would of trauma. With appropriate help, one can move past anything. Ask me how I know.
When I treat people, I don’t lie about the immense work required to heal. I don’t promise everlasting happiness. I point out that one benefits as much as one is willing to put in the work. I highlight that it will hurt like hell, you may get rageful, and the shame can take you down. I also point out that one does not have to destroy one’s life to experience growth and that these are temporary states of mind. It, too, shall pass. Maybe like a 3 lb kidney stone, but it will eventually pass.
Keep the course. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy nor fast. Anything that promises an easy fix will lead to worse. Practice, do the work, seek out the help, and believe. Life does not always have to be painful. It can be good, and usually is for most.