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

PTSD: When my angry energy makes me tired

Fear keeps me awake.  Anxiety disturbs my thinking processes/cognitive ability.  Adrenaline gives an energy boost until the crash.

But anger???  Anger does two things:

  1. In the moment, I feel like I could take on a legion of warriors and win.  Energy is swirling around me and adding strength to my muscles.  Not so much aggression (although it looks like that to most outsiders) as battle-readiness
  2. After that, or if the anger lasts a long time, I feel exhausted.  Instead of waking up ready to take on the day, eating or doing chores, or enjoying myself with people and hobbies, I feel sleepy.  And if I don’t listen and sleep, I start to feel sleep deprivation even though I am not sleep deprived.

Why talk about it now?  Because I don’t want to feel tired when I am this angry.  I want to find a safe way to let it out so that my body/mind/spirit can feel some relief.  I want to listen and attend to the needs of my physical self through exercise, and yes, a punching bag or some kind of activity that involves self-defense/fighting.

Growing up, I didn’t like sparring, but I also didn’t fear it.  Sparring taught me a lot and helped me feel confident I could protect myself.  Not until the teachers and classmates started criticizing and humiliating me on purpose did I start to fear classes.  And when the flashbacks started in college, I couldn’t stop the rage from taking over and making me more aggressive during sparring and practice sessions.  Something that did not go over well with my teacher, younger brother, friends, or other classmates.

Eventually, I got so scared of hurting someone that I stopped all together.  When you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, it’s hard to feel in control and able to spar without hurting someone.  And when everyone around you is talking about you behind your back and watching you like you’re going to “lose it” and hurt someone, you just want to get out and leave.  Or at least, we felt that way.

I want to not be afraid of going into the “zone” of rage and dissociation whenever I feel angry or scared.  I’d like those parts of me to come out into the light and be an active part of our system.  I am proud of them.  The other parts in our system are proud of them.  We want to feel what they feel when they defend us.  We want to participate in learning self-defense and protection.  We want them to be able to use our body and experience the endorphins and happiness that comes from physical activity too.

But enough of that for now.  I am tired.  My parts are tired.  Yesterday at therapy was intense.  And the self care we did after our morning session was even more tiring.  So a nap is in order for now.  Then following up on our new routine and some more self-care to get ready for work tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery Challenge: illness or colds as triggers for emotional distress

I caught my first cold of the season and spent the last two weeks trying to take care of myself.

Between that and cramps, last week felt like an emotional roller coaster.  And the triggers kept piling on themselves.  The voices, the negative self talk, the memory fragments deisgned to shame me into self-harm or reckless behavior, and the pressure of feeling sick without knowing if I was sick or experiencing body memories made for a tiring week.

Emotion regulation is something I struggle with a lot.  When my temper is loosed or my internal defense mechanisms get triggered, the words and tone of voice coming out of my mouth are harsh, blunt, honest, to-the-point, and designed to bring the indiviual’s weakest points or insecurities in his or her face.  The tone of voice deep, loud, and commanding – aka harsh and bitchy to some – and does not take prisoners.

I don’t always remember what I say to people – usually this kind of reaction triggers a switch in alter personalities – in the moment.  But I find out afterwards in dreams and dissociative moments.  I also know this happened by the way people react to me afterwards.  With coldness – silent treatment or the cold shoulder or chilly politness – and insulting rudeness whenever I try to talk to them or they have to talk to me.  And they rale the anger out in smeaky passive-agressive ways like saying one thing and doing something else, spreading nasty rumors, making promises and not keeping them, lying, and trying to blame me for all of it.

That is some of what I have been remembering this past week.

On the flip side, I have also been remembering what my third therapist taught me about these moments:

1) I have a right to feel angry and express myself with assertive/ non-aggressive tone and language that is honest without being mean or insulting.

2) The language I used (my alters recounted my words and sometimes the other individual’s words too) was not inappropriate for the situation.  My tone was not as modulated as I would have liked, but it was not aggressive either.

3) My body language does get confusing because I automatically go into a protective stance that can read as agressive to others.  Plus my aura and energy spikes so I appear larger and stonger than my physical presence suggests.

4) I was taught to hold everything in and then trapped or baited into losing my temper/raging by my abusers as proof to everyone else how mean and unstable I was.  They shamed me and taught me I was uncontrolled and dangerous and abusive and scary for no reason so I couldn’t ever be angry. I couldn’t control the feelings or the words or the violence that came with getting angry for a long time.  And people used it against me because of the obvious guilt and shame every loss induced.

5) I am not the type of person who deliberately is mean or insulting to others.  That comes out as a defensice mechanism to protect myself.  However, I am perceptive and learned how to read people at an early age – survival skill.  That skill comes into play when I lose my temper and put one or more persons in their place.

6) I am not responsible for how other people act or react towards me, but I am responsible for how I act or react to myself and others.  That said, I do step up and try to make amends if I am wrong.

7) Often the people who call me harsh and bitchy are the ones who have crossed my boundaries more than once and did not listen the first, second, or many times I respectfully and politely let them know and reset the boundary.  They don’t like hearing what I have to say or that I won’t take responsibilty for their part in what happened along with my part.  Nor are they happy I caught them in lies, broken promises, and acts of trying to manipulate me.  So they blame me, project on me, and treat me poorly to try and shame me into obeying their rules instead of sticking to my boundaries.

It’s a conundrum because I still don’t really understand the difference between friendly polite and friendly crossing boundaries well.  Small talk is difficult and my opinions, when I give them, are strong.  I also am not very subtle or smooth; I am blunt in my speech.  And I don’t take insults well; in fact I tend to turn them around on the givers and piss them off.

But even know all of this, using emotion regulation coping techniques, realizing that I did not do or say anything shameful, mean, or insulting does not stop me from being triggered and sxperiencing the backlash that comes from expressing my anger and frustration and sadness.

When I get sick, my emotions are all over the place.  My alters get scared.  Do I have to take medicine?  Will I have to go to the doctor?  Am I safe?  How will I tale care of myself?  How will I sleep and rest with everything on my to-do list?  How can I still get everything done to acoid punishment?  Am I really sick or just being lazy like my mom?

And I start to lose control over my emotions and how they are expressed or communicated to others.  That scares all of me because it’s when I am most vulnerable to getting into emotionally dangerous situations.

In spite of all of this, I have discovered that people in my new city tend to have very good or very bad boundaries.  And interacting with them is teaching me a lot.  Especially the people who judge me at face value and then get pissed off because I politely disarm their veiled insults amd condescending attitude by sharing facts and more detailed information to counter their assumptions.  Only one time did that not happen; and I made my point by staring her down and politely refusing to make any purchases or sign up for store promotions.  All I can say is that I will not be going back their to shop.

Thanks for reading tonight’s rant about struggling with emotional distress and emotion regulation.