Anastasia Christidou
Counseling & Gestalt Therapy

Emotional mistakes: a survival guide part I

i hate feelings

Our everyday life is full of emotional mistakes we make. We probably all have to admit that at some point we have been immensely moved by anger, fear, shame, insecurity, jealousy and other emotions. Does it ring any bell? Let me give you some examples of emotional mistakes:

– hurting the people we love, lying to our friends, betraying people who trust us, becoming emotionally numb, suppressing our feelings, avoiding closeness, throwing tantrums like 3 year-olds (no offence to 3 year-olds who are passing through a normal developmental phase), acting on impulse without thinking the consequences, saying awful things and insulting people, apologising when we don’t really mean it, smashing someone or something, choosing friends and partners that don’t respect or love us, not being supportive or comforting with our loved ones (showing no empathy), not expressing our needs in our relationships, avoiding to take necessary action to face a problem…and the list goes on.

What is being emotionally uneducated?

Basically it means to be out of touch with understanding and expressing a wider range of emotions. Lacking the skills to articulate one’s emotions and identifying emotions in others. Having a poor understanding of one’s need for emotional support. Lacking a deep connection to one’s own vulnerable feelings and needs and the feelings and needs of others.

When we are emotionally uneducated, chances are that we spend a lot of time in putting out the fires we started due to emotional immaturity and impulsiveness (nothing to do with spontaneity).  I really wonder how can intelligent people make such a mess of their lives. The answer is simple: It happens because we are intellectually “superior” but emotionally “retarded”. And that ladies and gents doesn’t only apply to men as we conveniently tend to believe, but to women as well.

We all suffered and we continue to suffer from various painful experiences. We ‘ve lost the connection with our feelings, we forget painful situations, we don’t know how we feel about them, we maintain emotionally abusive relationships with people that hurt us continuously, we become physically sick (our organism’s last call to take care of ourselves) and we are ashamed to speak to someone who would listen patiently to us.
All we want is to love and to be loved. Instead we end up wondering around with our frustrated needs and our wounded feelings deeply locked inside of us. We hide our feelings, we lie to ourselves and others, we pretend that we don’t feel. If all this doesn’t work and God forbid we still feel…then we just disconnect from our feelings and become emotionally numb.

Numb in a similar way as when we get a physical wound where our nervous system can protect us with numbness (a temporary feeling of imperviousness to pain), once the shock wears down, then we experience physical pain. There are various researchers such as Geoff MacDonald from University of Toronto or Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan that conducted studies in explaining how physical pain and emotional pain “hurt” in the same way. The body’s response to feelings such as embarrassment, rejection or offense is very similar to the way one’s body responds to physical injuries. It‘s no wonder why there must be literally millions of songs about break-ups; because it damn hurts so much!
In case of an emotional wound, we use a variety of defence mechanisms (psychological walls) that keep us away from painful feelings. Our emotional numbness protects us from having disturbing thoughts, flashbacks or nightmares. Those psychological walls that we erect to separate us from unpleasant feelings may take a more permanent shape and also separate us from kind, loving people and feelings of joy, hope or love. What keeps us from feeling emotional pain can also keep us from feeling pleasure. Because when we block or suppress a feeling such as e.g. anger, we also fail to benefit from it and we block the expression of all feelings. In addition, the emotional walls we erect will on occasion collapse, and flood us with chaotic, sometimes destructively strong emotions.
Since emotions that are suppressed come out with greater intensity, we unleash our emotions without awareness onto others in our relationships.
This could be harm-free if we were half-Vulcan like Mr Spock from the Star Trek TV series. In his worse internal conflict he barely shows emotion and he‘s such a master in suppressing his emotions. We are 100% human, even if we take medications, deny or pretend a certain emotion doesn’t exist for days, months, years; it‘s only a matter of time before it shows up with great intensity. Every emotion that stirs within our unconscious becomes manifest in our behaviour, and affects the people around us. We can hurt those around us without even knowing it.

The good news is that we can educate ourselves in order how to deal constructively with our feelings.

Stay tuned for the following installments of this blog post where you can learn about how we begin from kids to be emotionally uneducated, how we seek substitutes for our emotions and what skills are necessary to become emotionally intelligent.


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