This is a follow up to my post last week – Making progress: Learning to crack open to break free. Being more open in expressing my emotions is not as easy as I think I’d hoped – which is not really surprising, although it can be frustrating. Here are some thoughts on what I’m learning along the way. It’s probably appropriate to share this week too, considering it’s Mental Health Week.
I recently shared how, after a lifetime of being ‘in control’ I am discovering the need to better acknowledge my emotions. I’ve realised that keeping the emotions locked up doesn’t work. I’m slowly learning how to crack through the barriers, without breaking apart completely. And I’m discovering that there’s a big range of emotions going on, including joy.
It’s not as if I was totally closed off at all times but I was holding a lot within. And now I’m not holding as much in – I can’t any more. When I try to, my body lets me know.
I discovered this yesterday, when I realised just how angry and worried I’d felt for the past two days, and how achy, headachy and sore and tight my muscles were. As a friend said, many of us experience a physical reaction to mental pain such as anxiety: for instance ‘My body cries out in anguish when I’m stressed and anxious – particularly my head, neck, shoulders and gut’. I feel very similar.
Being open and understanding what’s going on helps. Recognising and accepting emotions helps take away their negative power, and also allows us to enjoy the good that comes with them (yes, even ‘bad’ ones like anger and fear can tell us something we need to address).
That’s the good side. But there’s a more challenging side (of course there is).
Learning to manage my emotions is hard
I’m coming to realise it’s not that easy to manage my emotions (without bottling them up – which doesn’t work).
It’s not just a matter of expressing these emotions. It’s also a matter of working out how and when.
Emotional reactions, undertaken thoughtlessly, can cause damage. It’s almost – without meaning to be dramatic – like suddenly having free reign over a powerful car which could easily smash into anyone or anything in its way. I need to learn to steer it well.
Over the past little while, I’ve been careening everywhere, up and down, and my husband and kids have borne the brunt of my unpredictability, mostly in terms of shouting, storming off, and bursting into angry tears – or the silent treatment. Or sometimes all of these.
Although I am lucky to have a caring husband and kids, they can only be pushed around emotionally for so long, and it’s not fair on them to have to be treated in this way. Nor is it fair on me to be like this with them.
So, the next step in the process begins – cracking open was just the start, it seems.
Being kind to myself
It’s important that I remember I’m relearning so many things, including:
- How and when to express different feelings – sometimes they do need to be expressed straight away, but sometimes they are better approached with reflection (and sometimes the need to express them might pass).
- How to be honest with myself about how I feel while not instantly flying off the handle when certain triggers are pushed (and even recognising some of the common statements, attitudes, or situations that trigger certain reactions within me, and prepare myself for them).
- Whether I’m fair in my reaction – am I actually reacting to something that has happened, or is it reminding me of something from the past that is really the reason for the emotional response? And, if that’s the case, am I responding to the wrong person?
- How to judge being justifiably angry about something that is wrong, and when to let things go (which I suspect is a life-long lesson).
- What things really don’t matter – there is a lot in the world which we can chose to emotionally engage in and get worked up about, but sometimes I know I do it to avoid issues closer to home.
That’s actually quite a lot to deal with. And I still get into the mindframe of thinking I should have it all sorted out straight away. And keep doing the things I was doing – plus the things I’ve been aiming to do.
I’m realising I’ve been putting a fair bit of pressure on myself – plus I’ve been unrealistic. I’ve got to pull back for a while, and give myself space to work through this stage. I need to remember it’s a step by step process and be patient.
Instead of berating myself, I’m going to try a different approach
I have been stuck worrying about how to deal with this new, emotional me (which is still currently mostly in the teary, worked up stage, but still – a more emotional me). Instead, there are more productive approaches I can take.
I can use different techniques to try and develop my skills in managing and expressing my emotions. And that’s what I’m starting to do.
I’m testing different approaches to see what works for me:
- As you can tell, I work by thinking through issues. And that’s good. Writing out my thoughts helps and more journaling is something I am starting to do more of again.
- As I said above, a lot of my emotional reactions are played out in my body – through tension headaches, sore backs, and the like. Different forms of exercise – more intensive aerobic activities – through to gentler forms, such as yoga, can really help. I have always been quite haphazard with exercise, with the exception of walking (which is great). I don’t want to pressure myself too much by making another commitment I might not keep, but I am exploring a range of different approaches.
- I’m also tentatively trying some mindfulness approaches. I have a number of programs that I’ve downloaded over the years which I am now sampling, and a great book (One Second Ahead) to read and apply the lessons within it. I am working through these.
- And then there’s my overall health, in particular my diet and sleep. These are ongoing challenges for me, and I need to keep these top of mind. I am sick and tired, though, as is my family, of hearing my commitments to change which I don’t then follow through with, so at this stage, I am not making any public commitments. But I will continue to aim to improve in these areas- making it easier on myself by limiting choices (packing lunches, sticking with my breakfast routine which seems to work) and making small but steady changes.
I need to be kind to others
I especially need to be kind to my family because I am in so much closer contact with them, and they have been the ones most affected. Why is it the ones you love the most that are in the firing line?
Yes, I need to go through this process of discovery and change, but that doesn’t give me the right to trample over them in the process.
I need to work out how to recognise how I feel, take a pause and reflect before reacting to my family. And firstly asking myself questions like:
- Am I reacting to them or something else?
- Am I judging too quickly? Am I assuming the worst, rather than the best, in their intentions? Could there be another factor I’m not considering?
- Is there another approach I could take rather than lashing out?
These are only split section questions – not to be laboured over. They just require a pause. So often I don’t allow for that pause to reflect. But, as the following quote from Viktor Frankl reminds us, that pause can be very powerful.
And I need to recognise that I have a little more to give, too. I need to allow space to be with them – emotionally, mentally and physically. But I’m not superwoman. To do this, I might need to give up some other things that have kept me busy while we all recalibrate to my new way of being.
Because they – and I – deserve better than what we’ve all been experiencing lately. Which is not to be self critical. I think I needed to go through this and experience the impact along the way. But now, it’s time to pick myself up again, and slowly move closer to where I’m heading.
Have you ever had to make major personal changes in your life?
Are there any lessons or tips you’d like to share (I’d love to hear them!)