Safe, Respectful, Assertive Communication Grid

Alter Post: Being Assertive & Defending Oneself with Kindness + Honesty and a dash of stubborn

I decided to write about trauma-informed care on Scent Reflections, so here is the link if you’re interested.

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Okay, now all the warnings are in place. You can continue reading or visit another time. I’ve written about Mother’s Day and anniversaries before, so thought I’d share something different this time. You can read about how my alters are learning to use DBT and protect our system (their preferred job) to protect and defend against hostile, rude, triggering, or aggressive people.

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Emotional Self Protection = Safe healthy ways to express our emotions to ourselves and others; emotional connections with ourselves and others

Series: Care Protection Expression Part 3 – Emotional

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

Writing This Series Scares Me – But I’m Still Doing It

Emotions scare me. They feel overwhelming most of the time. Except for the last 10 years, I was emotionally and physically numb (walled in) – disconnected from body sensations and sensory information that would help me identify and cope with feelings. Numbness felt safe. Emotions and any kind of sensation created vulnerabilites I couldn’t afford – not with my lifestyle back then. I was 27; living on my own; working at a good job; and back in counseling for anxiety/depression/anorexia – but not trauma.

Then the wall crumbled unexpectedly. Counseling can do that sometimes, and neither my counselor or I were prepared for the flood that came next. I honestly thought my mind had finally cracked. I going straight to insanity and death. The sensory information was that overwhelming.

Can you imagine 27 years worth of emotions and trauma suddenly spilling into one’s mind and body without pause? Neither could I until it happened.

It was during these months before and during my group therapy sessions at the partial inpatient program that I learned how interconnected my mind, body, and spirit truly are. More, they taught me how enmeshed with others my concept of self was – to the point where I couldn’t separate who I was/what I felt from other people in my life.

And that control is an illusion. So is separation between parts of the self – at least for me. I survived by learning, embracing, and customizing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) techniques and concepts to suit my needs.

Emotional Protection Starts with Self Awareness
(left) My interpretation of DBT concepts. (right) Marsha Linehan’s 4 Modules of DBT

I don’t know if this is true for you too, but controlling, separating, denying, and rejecting my emotions got me into that mess. Doing the opposite saved my sanity and helped me learn to love, accept, value, have patience with, and be kind to all parts of my self.

The struggle to cope with these emotions and sensations still exists. Not until the past two or three years did I finally learn how to reconnect my emotions with my body and spirit wtihout triggering pain, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, etc. Don’t get me wrong, they still occur – intense and paintful – but not as often. And not for extended periods of time like before.

Emotional Self Protection Strategy

Empathic Struggles with Emotion

In the first paragraph, I mentioned being emotionally and physically numb. Here the main topic is about being an empath. Let me explain:

  • For all of my life I could feel (and sometimes experience) emotions. As a child, I expressed emotions and was punished or hurt each time.
  • Intellectually, I could identify, mimic, and understand emotions.
  • Training taught me how to express emotions as body language and facial expressions to make others believe I actually felt them.
  • Eventually, I stopped expressing or displaying emotions for others to see because pain is an excellent teacher.

But those emotions I felt and learned to identify? They weren’t mine. They belonged to the people around me.

When I tried to identify and experience my own feelings – I came up empty. That is until the wall crumbled when I turned 27. Then I couldn’t stop experiencing my own feelings. Nor could I separate what was mine from what belonged to other people. Or stop my body from losing control of its natural functions – like vomiting, elimination, and cramping – when feeling overwhelmed.

Since then, it’s been a struggle to learn how to separate my emotions from others and keep myself from absorbing/holding on to others emotions too.

Emotions Affect Our Senses

Back then, I didn’t know I was an empath, let alone that empaths were real and existed outside of fantasy fiction novels. It wasn’t until I moved across the country that I found a teacher and mentor whose guidance and learning style resonated with my questions. I was new to the city and found a spiritual learning bookstore that offered workshops and events with empaths, spiritual mentors, astrologers, etc.

That’s how I met Dave Markowitz, author of Self Care for the Self Aware and Empathipedia: Healing for Empaths and Highly Sensitive People. I attended one of his group workshops about empathic healing and learned a different way of thinking about emotions that allowed me to experience my own emotions while staying safe from other people’s emotions. He taught me that shields don’t always work because they keep the positive and negative emotions away. Then demonstrated alternatives that worked.

Unfortunately, I was not yet ready to keep learning from Dave back then. Nor did I have the money to pay for a lot of healing sessions or lessons not covered by medical insurance. So I continued on my spiritual journey – meeting with other practitioners about how they used their gifts and exploring different paths – until early this year when I had the time and money to pay for Dave’s books and individual healing sessions.

I read some of his books before scheduling the individual healing sessions. That gave me a good idea of what to expect during our phone call. The first call was intense for me. Dave helped me let go of so much grief (mine, my mother’s, and collective) that was stored inside and struggling to get out. Before the call, I spent so much time sad, feeling like a beast of burden struggling to move one step at a time, and crying all the time. After the call, I felt so much lighter, at peace, and joyful about myself, life in general, and my ability to cope with current challenges.

Integrated Self equals Protected self. Spirit, Mind, Body
Separation blocked out pain, but also everything else

In the second call, I experienced energy healing from the Source or Spirit. Dave always refers to himself as a channel or conduit for healing energy and not a healer. He uses intuition from the Source to identify what is needed each session and follows instructions to help his clients heal.

For me, that meant channeling healing energy into all parts of me to facilitate healing on many levels. At the end of the session, I felt tired, at peace, and tingly throughout my body. The next day, I started my menstrual cycle (without cramps and with less pain than normal) after not having it for over 3 months.

But what I did not expect and am so grateful for are the additional answers Dave provided as I asked questions about being an empath, identifying gifts, and my fears about how I experienced emotions (mine and others) in our session. These days, I feel more confident and less distracted when I leave my apartment to interact with others. I feel more able to protect myself from the bombardment of emotions coming my way and the negativity people sometimes direct at me without hurting myself and others too.

How do You Experience Emotions

Emotional Self Protection Coping Strategies

Emotional self protection is both similar and different than physical self protection. You can use grounding objects, but they work best in combination with routines and rituals you can take with you. Education helps too. Self-Help books, psychology books, fiction/non-fiction, movies, audio – however you prefer to learn and wherever you like to learn – it all empowers us to make our own Self Care and Protection choices.

Routines & Rituals equal Copng Strategies
Here are some strategies I find most effective and easy to use in difficult situations

Pulling It All Together

How many times were you punished, embarrassed, or teased for talking about your emotions? How often were you told that your feelings weren’t real? How often did you feel guilt or shame for feeling something different/more/stronger than the others around you?

My answer to those questions: ALL THE TIME.

Emotions are often ignored, rejected, and disregarded in favor of logic, intellect, and rationalizing in modern culture. Emotions are considered vulernabilities and weaknesses we can’t afford to have if we want to thrive in the world. Our parents, teachers, and caregivers weren’t hurting us on purpose by teaching these lessons – they were trying to help and protect us by sharing what they learned.

That means we are not taught how to safely identify, ackowledge, express, valdiate, accept, cope with, or discharge our emotions as we grow from childhood to adulthood. Especially when those emotions are strong and overwhelm us. Curiosity, self-study, and psychology classes in college combined with mental health counseling taught me what I know about emotions.

They taught me how to “talk about” my emotions as one way of expressing them. But that’s not the only way…

How do you express emotions?

And I point this out because people often tell me “I hate talking about my feelings” or “I’m uncomfortable talking about my emotions” or something similar. That is part nurutre as I dicsussed above and also part nature. Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style blog discusses this in her new wesbite called 16 Style Types – where she and other experts discuss the “psychology of style” and how personality types directly influence self expression.

Can you understand how self-protection is part of self care and integrates all parts of our selves? Our senses interconnect mind/emotion with spirit/faith and body/physical sensations.

I hope maybe it’s starting to make sense and thank you for following me on this investigation into the different connections. Next week, I’ll share thoughts about ways my alters and I protect and care for our spiritual self too.

Thanks for reading

Survival Mode: Body says “enough is enough”

Like the title says, enough is enough right now.

Present State of Being

Emotionally, everyone in the system feels happy, grounded, steady, and excited about our new home.

Spiritually, we all feel reflective and a little stressed out as bits and pieces of recent experiences add perspective to confusing past memories of family time.  And also that some friends turn out to be somewhat different than expected.

Physically, all tired and experiencing backlash – physical panic attacks, migraines, back pain, and exhaustion to go with nausea and cramps from that time of the month – from all of the changes.

I almost fell asleep without posting today :/

Plans for this week and two weeks into the future

So the next few weeks will feel like Survival Mode again – lots of self care; lots of self-soothing; coping with backlash and physical panic attacks; more sleep and less activity.

I have a resource post coming up this month, but not sure when.  Need to find some resources to link to for tapping.  Maybe YouTube videos this time?  Either way, I want to try out some of the tutorials before sharing here.

Also, some quick reminders:

Sometimes falling into old patterns is okay – many times it happens as part of an automatic defense mechanism without awareness until the experience is finished.  Other times, it takes a safe person (friend, therapist, loved one, significant other) to point out what is happening.

As my previous therapist and a friend later pointed out, sometimes our subconscious self is more aware of the reality of a situation than the conscious self and takes steps to protect everyone – i.e. implementing the automatic defense mechanisms.

Therapy does not make a person more selfish or self-centered.  Therapy encourages the individual or group to open up and be more authentic while also learning strategies to cope with internal struggles in healthy safe ways.  That includes “I” statements, being assertive, setting boundaries, and changing.

Finally, change scares a lot of people especially when they are struggling with their own demons and not happy when a pattern changes.  If someone accuses you of  a negative behavior or something similar unexpectedly, please remember that individual might be triggered by the changes and projecting her or his fears on to you without realizing it.

Takes a lot of resilience and strength to maintain your own boundaries during the conversation and then reflect on the experience to process it properly.  

You didn’t do anything wrong.

You are growing, changing, and becoming more you.

It’s something I have to remind myself of often this month.  I hope the reminder helps you stay strong too.

Thanks for reading.