Distraught, depressed, and confused.

In spite of the hopeful, positive dream I had early this morning where I seemed to discover my own power over my inner demons, I actually have been feeling very bad.   For the past week or two, I’ve been much more stressed than usual, more depressed, more nervous, more negative, quicker to anger, less mindful, and generally just feeling a lot more triggered by small things.   I feel like I’m on the verge of tears a lot too, even though I can’t actually cry. People at work have noticed too, and I got asked a couple of times this week if I was “alright.”   I hate the fact that people can tell and I’m so bad at hiding the way I feel (it pisses me off–but am I pissed at them for noticing or am I pissed at myself for being unable to maintain a false front of good cheer?  I don’t know).   People have always thought I was a little “off.”  But they are right.   I am not “alright.”

The only explanation that makes sense is that because I’ve been looking more closely at my early life, and at my family’s behavior toward me, it’s triggering a lot of unpleasant feelings and making me feel dangerously vulnerable and also angry at the same time.   All this negative emotion could mean I already dived into the void and if so, then that’s a huge step toward healing (which the dream seemed to be about).    I don’t know.  I always email my therapist what I want to talk about and have him print a copy so I can remember (I like doing things that way), but I think I might have to talk about this instead.   Thank God I see him tonight.   I’m going to ask if I can see him twice a week while I’m going through whatever emotional crisis  I’m in right now.   I’m just feeling really…bad right now.  Is it normal to feel better at the beginning of therapy and then start feeling a lot worse later on?   I know we’re starting to dig up things I wanted to leave buried before.   Maybe its sort of like giving birth–and these are emotional “labor pains.”  I don’t know.

4 awesome reasons to cry.

awesome

One of the things my therapist and I have been working on is getting me to cry in session.   I’ve talked before about how hard it is for me to cry, except in private, and even then it isn’t always easy.   As a child I cried all the time.  Because I was usually shamed for my tears, sometime during my teens or early 20s, I pretty much stopped being able to cry and outbursts of anger, seething resentment, or “freaking out” seemed to replace the tears.  Rage and anger, while they have their place, is often destructive to others and yourself, and if used as an outlet where tears would be more appropriate, isn’t really very healing.  Freaking out is never adaptive because it just makes you appear crazy.   Before I learned mindfulness in DBT, I’d act out against others or freak out without thinking about the consequences, and usually feel regret, embarrassment, and shame later, much more so than if I had just cried instead.

Sure, tears can be manipulative.  Narcissists cry to get attention or to manipulate others into pitying them or giving them what they want.   Babies and young children do this too.  That’s the kind of crying that has given tears such a bad reputation.     But if a child is crying for other reasons–because they are hurt, because they are sad or overwhelmed with any other emotion (ANY strong emotion, not just sadness, can cause tears)–parents should never tell them “big boys (or girls) don’t cry” because that just teaches them to stifle their emotions, and stifling emotions is bad for you and can even affect your physical health.  If a child is shamed out of crying often enough, they may learn to turn off the tears and become unable to cry as adults.  This is especially common for boys in a culture that has traditionally frowned on men and boys crying because it’s a sissy or “weak” thing to do.  But this no-crying policy applies to women as well, especially in the business and professional world, where showing softer emotions is a big no-no.

People cry for many reasons, but I think there are four basic reasons for genuine emotional (not manipulative) tears: (1) need for help or care; (2) connection, empathy and love;  (3) awe, gratitude and joy; and (4) stress relief.   I’ll go through each of these and explain why each one is awesome.

1. Need for help or care.

babycrying

When a baby cries, it’s usually because they need something.   They may be wet, in pain, hungry, tired, or just lonely.    A baby’s cry brings mom running to give the baby what it needs, after which the baby stops crying.   We are born into the world crying; tears are a pre-verbal language and the first language we ever learn. When we are born, we cry to communicate our distress or other needs, and get what we need to survive.   If healthy attachment is achieved, a baby learns more sophisticated ways to get their needs fulfilled later on, but there are still times when needy tears are appropriate and NOT manipulative, even for grownups.

It’s always healthy and appropriate to grieve after a devastating loss, such as the death of a friend, family member or beloved pet.  It’s appropriate to cry when hearing very bad news or when in great emotional or physical pain.     There are survival reasons for this.  A crying person usually draws people near them and attracts sympathy.  If we have normal levels of empathy, we have an instinctive urge to touch or physically comfort a crying person.     A person who has just found out their best friend has cancer or Fluffy died needs the comfort of others.  They need to be held and hugged and have their back stroked and their hand held.   They need physical contact.  They need to be able to pour their story out to another person.   It would be cruel to deny someone in great physical or emotional  pain that kind of succor.  Some societies understand this need, and that is why there are public rituals such sacramental wailing in some cultures, or sitting shiva in the Jewish faith after a loved one dies.  Only when it becomes excessive or is done to attract attention to yourself does this type of crying become annoying to others.

2.  Attachment, empathy, and love.

crying_bride

This is closely related to the above, but a bit different because the tears shed aren’t intended to draw help or comfort, but to connect with others or with the world.   Many new mothers find that they become very emotional during pregnancy and for a few months after their babies are born.   Even though as an adult I’ve always found crying difficult, an exception was made when I was pregnant or lactating.  My emotions went into overdrive!   I remember when I nursed my babies, sometimes I became overwhelmed with pure emotion I couldn’t name or explain, and silent tears began to run.  It wasn’t unpleasant at all.  It just felt natural and real.  I think those tears connected me more deeply with my children.   Tears are words an infant can understand instinctively, and when a young infant sees his or her mother’s tears, they understand this means attachment and love with her has been achieved, and a good mother responds to and feels her baby’s emotions too.

Grownups, even men, sometimes just feel overwhelmed with emotion, sometimes very positive emotion.  People who are deeply in love sometimes find as they gaze into their lover’s eyes, their own well up.  It can happen at any moment when the love they feel seems bigger than they are.   This is why sudden tears are common in lovemaking that isn’t merely for sexual release, but to more deeply connect with the lover.

Tears of attachment and connection indicate high levels of empathy.   A person who is able to feel the emotions of a friend who is sad can sometimes actually cry with their friend, and this serves to connect them on a deeper level.  A world in which we can’t share the emotions of those around us–either negative or positive–is a world where no one cares and everyone is out for themselves.    Any society that regards empathy as a weakness is a sick and dangerous one.  If the human race is doomed to self destruction, I’m pretty sure the growing lack of empathy and care for others we see around us today would be the primary culprit.

3. Awe, joy, and gratitude.

KellyClarkson
Kelly Clarkson learns she won American Idol, 2002.

Tears of awe are the kind you shed when you are blown away by an incredible sunset or magnificent landscape.   Some people get very emotional in church or when hearing a certain piece of music or reading a certain poem.   I think these are the kind of tears we shed when moved by something we perceive as being greater than ourselves.  They are humbling and remind us of our insignificance, but not in a bad way, because at those times, though we feel humbled, we also feel more connected to the universe or to God.  Tears of awe connect us with the divine.

People shed tears of joy when something wonderful happens to them, usually a great surprise.  Winning the lottery, winning a contest, your team winning the Superbowl, walking into your house to a surprise birthday party, hearing your baby’s cry for the first time…all these things make people cry.    They’re anything but sad or manipulative!   Tears of joy may also be a form of stress relief, as in some cases, there’s often an element of relief, which I’ll explain more in the next section about stress relief. For example, contestants in singing or dance competition shows or in pageants almost always cry when they win.   For many months, they’ve been under enormous stress.   The moment of winning not only validates all the hard work they’ve done, it’s also a sudden release of months of the built up stress of heavy competition.   It’s okay to let go!

Related to tears of joy are tears of laughter–those times we laugh so hard we begin to cry.  Crying and laughter are physiologically very similar and serve a similar purpose of relieving stress, so it’s not too surprising that sometimes our bodies get laughter confused with tears!

Finally, there are tears of gratitude.  Sometimes we are taken by surprise when someone does something nice for us.   Especially when it’s unexpected, kind words or deeds can bring on tears.   Colloquially, this is known as being touched, which differs from being moved because it’s more human and less spiritual/humbling than being moved.     Tears of gratitude connect us with each other.

4.  Stress relief.

cry_in_shower

Some unpleasant emotions aren’t normally expressed through tears.  For example, people don’t usually cry when they’re afraid or anxious or angry.   To do so wouldn’t be in our best interests survival-wise.  When we’re in danger or there’s some kind of threat facing us, showing vulnerability might get us killed.   So when we’re angry, we want to attack.  When we’re afraid, it’s fight-or-flight.   When we’re worried, we want to remove the source of worry or solve the problem.   But once the danger or stressor has passed, and we feel a measure of relief, it’s common for people to break down in tears.   A child who has become lost doesn’t usually cry while they’re looking for their caregiver, because that’s too dangerous.   They cry the minute they see Mom or Dad’s arms reaching out to them (and very often Mom or Dad cries right along with them!)

Sometimes people cry even when the danger hasn’t passed, when they just feel overwhelmed and have given up trying to fight or escape or trying to solve their problem.   In those cases, crying is a last-ditch effort to solve the problem.   If all else has failed, then crying may bring help or comfort from others.   It’s not necessarily manipulative if everything else has been tried first and nothing has worked.

Sometimes even when the threat is gone or the issue resolved, or the horrible outcome we expected didn’t come to pass, we still cry, because it’s finally safe to do so. The tears shed at those times are really tears of relief because they help release all the emotion that was pent up while we were in danger.  When thought of this way, it makes no sense to tell someone not to cry, because it doesn’t mean they’re upset, it means they’re relieved and finally feel safe enough to release all that bottled-up stress through tears.

And then there are those times when you just need to have a good cry, and you don’t even know why. After a few minutes or hours of sobbing, pouring out snot and tears, you come away feeling like a million dollars. So if you want to cry, go ahead and let it out. It’s good for your body, mind and soul.

Come closer…go away.

I hesitated about posting this here, but I’m going to take the plunge and do it that because I’ve never once regretted “running naked in public.” (I haven’t changed the URL yet because it costs money for me to do that so I have to wait.)

Emotional blockages.

emotional_blocks

I think my challenges in really feeling my emotions are due to blockages of energy within my body. I discovered this simply by focusing on how my body felt in my therapy sessions or when I feel an emotion bubbling to consciousness. There’s a definite tightness in three parts of my body, which actually correspond to three of the chakras. If the emotion is strong, there can be a dull pain, as if the pain of the emotion is trying to get out and can’t. I can never fully let go, because of my fear that if I do, I might completely lose control.   I’m learning that ironically,  I have less control by holding negative emotions inside because when I do that, they continue to act as a slow-acting poison long after their job is done, instead of passing out of me like the release they’re supposed to be and freeing my soul to be able to experience more positivity in my life and more able to access my creative spark.

I think I’ve grown to trust my therapist enough that I’ve begun to let go just a little.

There are three places where my emotions are blocked:

The middle of my abdomen. This corresponds to the third, or solar plexus, chakra, which represents competence and power. I’ve always felt so powerless and incompetent.

My chest. This corresponds to the fifth, or heart chakra. This is where the higher emotions such as agape love, empathy, all kinds of (nonsexual) connectedness, and gratitude reside. It’s always been so hard for me to really connect with others, due to fear and lack of trust.

The middle of my throat. This corresponds to the 6th, or throat, chakra, which represents the ability to communicate with others. I’ve always been a shy person afraid to speak up, even if it’s for my own rights as a human being.  Blogging has helped, but it’s not nearly enough.

I think by focusing in on bodily sensations and becoming mindful of your feelings, you can zero in on which ones you need to work on and focus on relaxing and breathing deeply into the blocked areas to be able to feel it fully enough so you can purge it.

Storyteller.

storytellers

My therapist told me I’m a good storyteller.
This was one of the most validating things anyone ever told me. He likes my stories. I keep him entertained. I make him laugh and keep him on the edge of his seat.
Yay me!

Maybe I really could write that novel and keep millions entertained and become rich and famous after all. Why not? Its never too late. Hell, Grandma Moses didn’t become a famous painter until her 90s. There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer.

I always thought of myself as a pretty boring person and an even worse storyteller, because I didn’t think I had any stories worth telling. But I’m finding out that’s not the case.
We all have a story to tell. We’re all actors on this stage called life.

But feeling complimented isn’t really the reason I’m over the moon about what he said. It doesn’t matter if I have the capacity to entertain anyone. I don’t really care if I can make people laugh or keep them quaking in suspense or move them to tears. That’s not my reason for being here.

It means a lot because I feel like he cares. I keep him entertained because he cares about me or at least does a pretty good job pretending he does (but I don’t think it’s pretending). He’s very good at what he does, but more importantly, after four sessions, I feel like we have established trust and a good working relationship. He’s one of the few people who ever showed me any real empathy. I feel like I could tell him almost anything.
Except one thing.

I realized this week I’ve developed strong transference feelings. That’s supposed to happen in psychodynamic therapy. It’s like limerence but without the sexual aspect. I just want to be cared for and protected by him, as if he’s the nurturing and caring surrogate parent I should have had. These feelings can be intense. They replicate ancient attachments from early childhood. You’re supposed to work through them. Right now I just feel incredibly excited to be seeing him again tomorrow.

I know this euphoria won’t last. It might even become painful. I’m prepared for that. I’m idealizing someone I don’t even know. All he is is a mirror, in which I can see whatever I want–or see aspects of myself I can’t own yet. I went through this when I was 22 and wound up walking out on my therapist because I couldn’t handle the intensity of my feelings anymore. But I’m older and more mature now, and know a lot more about how this stuff works than I did back then. Therapy isn’t easy. It’s work, hard work, and I’m prepared to roll up my sleeves and get busy instead of slacking off and expecting to just suddenly not have any problems anymore.

He doesn’t know yet. I don’t know if I’m ready to tell him. He may figure it out even if I don’t say anything. Maybe I can tell it like a story.

Emotional Energy

I found this fascinating. Weirdly, this reminds me of the Tone Scale used in Dianetics/Scientology (which is the only thing I ever liked about that “religion”) because I actually thought there was something to it.

The Emotional Tone Scale:

tone_scale2

Empathy and conscience are not the same thing.

Empathy-definition

I recently saw this little gem on another website.

If you feel upset, worried, and guilty that you don’t care about others enough, then you don’t lack empathy. That right there shows you you have a conscience. Also guilt is a sign of empathy. If there’s guilt, there’s empathy. There can be no guilt without empathy. No empathy, no guilt because they are part of each other.

I’d like to take issue with this paragraph. The author is stating that feeling guilty or having a conscience means you have empathy. I beg to differ.

Empathy is the ability to feel an emotion with another, to be able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes.” It has nothing to do, really, with having a sense of right and wrong, which is what both guilt and conscience are based on. It’s entirely possible to be a self-righteous, stiff-necked prick and not have an ounce of caring for the way others feel. Think of that teacher you hated. Chances are, that teacher had a very strong conscience and a clear idea of what was right and wrong (and held themselves to the same tough standards they expected you to meet), but thought nothing of making you feel like a wad of old gum on her sensible orthopedic shoes when you violated their lofty standards. It’s also possible to feel guilty over things that aren’t even your fault but be completely oblivious to the feelings of others. Think of the worst covert narcissist you know. Chances are, that person is constantly saying “I’m sorry” and flagellating themselves until they draw blood, but their over the top guilt stems from a need to prove they’re really a good person, not because they really care that they just put your feelings through a cheese-shredder. They aren’t going to feel your pain with you–they just want to redeem themselves and have you forgive them.

Empathy and conscience do often go together though–they’re like the peanut butter and chocolate of the world of emotions–and I don’t think it’s possible to be a high empathy person and at the same time have no conscience or the inability to feel guilt or shame. But to assume that a strong conscience or the ability to feel guilt automatically indicates high empathy just makes an ass of u and me. All having a strong conscience or sense of guilt means is you’re not a sociopath.

“Why I Am Teaching My Son That Tears Take Courage”

Here’s a wonderful article from The Good Men Project about a mother who is encouraging her young son to express his emotions instead of stuffing them. If only more parents encouraged this sort of thing, we’d live in a world with more empathy and less narcissism.

Why I Am Teaching My Son That Tears Take Courage
By Colette Sartor, for The Good Men Project

sartor_article

My son didn’t cry on his first day of preschool; he cried on his thirtieth. The school was a tiny, progressive place that took a surprisingly stern approach to drop offs: Say goodbye and leave. No looking back or lingering. This was fine by me. I hate to cry in public, and I knew I might, which would scare my three year old and make him cry.

So, that first day, I watched him cautiously pile blocks for a few minutes, then I told him I’d pick him up later, kissed him, and left for work. He barely glanced up. He was absorbed in the newness of everything: new kids, new toys, new sights and sounds and smells.

Every day that month, I repeated the routine. I’d briefly watch him play, kiss his cheek, and leave. Every day, I breathed easier. “He loves his new school,” I told people. How well adjusted he is! How happy! Yay him! Yay me! I thought. Then, on the thirtieth day, he raced to me with outstretched arms. “Mommy, stay!” he sobbed. I gathered him up, buried my face in the talc of his hair. “I’ll be back, honey, don’t worry,” I whispered before his teacher gestured to hand him over. He cried and reached for me, struggling to extricate himself from the teacher’s grasp. “Just go,” she mouthed over his head. I nodded and walked out, my own tears streaming as he sobbed behind me.

♦◊♦
When I was growing up, our family motto was, “If you want to play with the big dogs, don’t piss like a puppy.” Which meant no crying.
♦◊♦

My son cries easily. He gets it from me. I cry over life insurance commercials, sappy movies, real and imagined slights. I usually hide my tears, even from him. When I was growing up, our family motto was, “If you want to play with the big dogs, don’t piss like a puppy.” Girls were puppies by default. They showed the world when they hurt. They cried. To play with the big dogs, girls had to be tough. Which meant no crying. So I learned not to cry. At least, not in public. Still, I try not to discourage my son from crying. I love his sensitivity. I love that he cries when a friend is hurting, that he cries when he feels he’s being treated unjustly, that he cries at all.

See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/why-i-am-teaching-my-son-that-tears-take-courage-jnky/#sthash.FTqEhBGI.dpuf

“Fragile Heart”

A friend sent me this video. Have the tissues ready. 😥

Lyrics:

There’s no place for a sensitive soul
In a space where your ego freely roams
And you’re a little bit narcissistic
And I’m a little too understanding, sadly
So you held me like your rose
Only to watch me whither slowly

But there’s no hope for the weaker minds
This, I know

You can’t take me down
For my fragile heart
I’ll start over now
With my fragile heart

Worry: the useless emotion.

worry_guy

In recent years, several emotions have been called out as unhealthy or maladaptive for human happiness. These emotions are worry, shame and guilt. In a narcissistic society where selfishness is held as a virtue, these three emotions are indeed maladaptive, especially shame and guilt. But shame and guilt keep us civilized. They keep us from doing bad things to others and they are the reason we have laws such as not murdering someone we don’t like. Shame and guilt (when appropriate, of course) have a pro-social function and are the inner brakes that keep us from hurting others or making restitution if we have. A car with no brakes is a dangerous thing. So is a human being. Shame and guilt are only “bad” when they’re excessive or unnecessary. But a person without the ability to ever feel shame and guilt is a sociopath with no conscience and without the ability to feel empathy for others, not a proper human being.

Worry is a different ball of wax. I can’t think of any good reasons for worry to exist. I’m one of those people who worry all the time, about everything. It’s not a fun emotion and is a huge damper to happiness. Worry is related to fear, but is a little different. Fear has its proper place. It keeps us from being harmed or killed. If we are walking in the woods and a bear blocks our path, it would be stupid to try to reason with the bear or fight it. We feel fear instead, which causes us to run or back away. If we meet a person who gives us the willies, fear is a natural response that keeps us from becoming that person’s victim. We learn to avoid that person. Fear is a survival emotion.

worry_quote

Worry is a kind of fear that isn’t set on the here and now. It’s set on what might happen in the future or sometimes what happened in the past. It causes a person to ruminate excessively and not be able to enjoy what’s taking place right then and there, because they’re too focused on nonexistent events or events that have already taken place and can’t be undone. If you worry constantly about losing your job, that will usually cause you to act less confident and make more mistakes and can even bring on the event you fear the most. If you worry your mate might leave you, your worry causes you to act clingy and possessive, and they could feel smothered and actually leave you. Worrying over things you have no control over is just, well, stupid.

Sometimes people worry about things that have already occurred too. If you snapped at your girlfriend for no reason, you might worry about that because you’re afraid they might leave you. Guilt–not worry–would be appropriate in a situation like this. Guilt will make you apologize to your girlfriend, after which you both feel relief. Worry will do nothing except make you obsess and ruminate over your mistake. Rather than act as an impetus to action or a motivation to correct your mistakes, worry over past events causes you to turn inward and beat yourself up without taking any action.

Some people are addicted to worry though, and go through life imagining the worst things imaginable. It’s impossible to be happy constantly believing the world is a dangerous place full of landmines and booby traps. I have no idea why so many people are addicted to worry, because it’s not a drug that has a pleasant high. It can even kill you because it causes excessive stress which is hard on your body and can lead to illness. I think worry was pounded into those of us who were victimized by narcissists because we lack confidence in our own ability to control the events in our lives. We believe we have no more control over things than a leaf blowing in the wind. But that’s another lie they tell us.

There are a couple of sayings I’ve heard about worry that sum it up pretty well and made me realize just how useless this emotion is.

1. Worrying about something is like paying interest on a debt you never owed.
2. Worry is useless because if the event you fear never happens, you lived through it for nothing; and if the event does happen, you lived through it twice.