At a boiling point?

Trying to connect with a feeling, for me, can be like trying to boil a kettle with no water. You can click the button, but all you get is a few vapors. You can go through the motions, but with no hot water at the end of it. Ironically, being unable to tap into your emotions can leave you in hot water.

Conversely, denying yourself access to your own emotions can be a good coping mechanism. When you are going through the most horrendous, gut-wrenching, traumatic time, blocking the associated feelings, can sometimes be beneficial in recovery and resolution. Having experienced some traumatic events, survival was key. Particularly when raising children. Being able to keep calm and carry on is no easy feat. And, I am not being flippant when I say I just brushed my feelings aside. It is not as simple as that. In fact, on many occasions, it was not always a choice.

State of mind

There are three states you can enter as a reaction to adverse circumstances. The first of these states being, fight; screaming, anger, rage, tears, in other words, a complete overflow of emotions. An outpouring of what you are being subjected to. Then there is flight; whereby you become anxious, restless and nervous with an inexplicable urge to run, both metaphorically and physically. Finally, there is the freeze response. Which is more common than you would think as a reaction to trauma. Being in the state of freeze, is a state of numb, a large sense of heaviness, not being able to place or connect with feelings. All these responses, however different from one another, are normal responses to trauma. They are like a reflex.

Being in the aforementioned; freeze mode has its upsides, in being able to display some level of coping yet, it can be like there is a strange sense of disconnection within yourself, what your thoughts are. You can maintain a ‘going through the motions’ like state, but it does affect your ability to make decisions. Rendering you indecisive, confused and unequivocally numb.

Anti-freeze

This dulled sense of emotions can develop into disassociation which has many levels of losing connection with yourself. Even as far as forgetting who you are, where you live etc. I experienced this, probably in its mildest form. Following many years of domestic abuse, homelessness, and other difficulties my mind began to withdraw from emotion. I could articulate a situation but not the emotion attached to it. This, on the surface, was good. It meant day today I could function, yet I felt like life was a little foggy. Sometimes I didn’t experience things fully. I didn’t feel fully immersed in anything. Not all the time anyway. Which led people to believe I was perhaps cold (emotionally), and also left me susceptible to accepting more than I should. I found it hard to differentiate between what is right and wrong because I couldn’t feel it. All I had to go on was my moral compass and boundaries. And my boundaries were hazy at this point. Because I wasn’t addressing my feelings, I began having panic attacks. Which involved hysterical laughter, intense crying, an out of body feeling and shortness of breath. These episodes of anxiety were exhausting, but they released a build of unresolved emotion.

I mist myself

Addressing buried feelings can be difficult. It is only in recent years I am beginning to identify feelings and try to hold onto them. Writing an emotional diary can help, jotting down words that come to mind. And noticing how you react physically to situations can help too. Is your heart racing? Does your chest feel tight? This can help to ground you. It can help to focus, in the fog of your own dazed mind. It seems not so simple to regain yourself. How you feel and what you want. When you shut this down for so long it can become second nature. But, continuing to give yourself space to feel, and allowing the emotions to pour in (at your own pace) can allow you to find you again.

By Claire Exley

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