The following excerpt from Jonice Webb’s book Running on Empty : Overcoming Your Childhood Emotional Neglect may help you if you struggle with emotions. I know in my own life a lot of problems were caused by not understanding nor fully accepting or trusting my own feelings. An education in a Catholic school taught me certain emotions were really bad, such as anger. Ideally in childhood we should be helped to understand and identify our emotions so we can use the information they give us and respond wisely, but if we were emotionally neglected we never got to build these skills. I hope this excerpt may be of help to others who struggle with understanding and accepting their emotions.
If you were emotionally neglected, chances are you have difficulty with accepting and trusting your feelings. Some emotionally neglected people are completely unaware of the existence of emotions. Others push their emotions down because they have a deep seated notion that feelings are bad, will burden other people, or can make them a bad person. Remember the following three rules:
1. There is no bad emotion
Emotions themselves are not good or bad, right or wrong, moral or amoral. Every human being has felt rage, jealousy, hate, destructiveness, and superiority, for example, at one time or another. Most people have even had homicidal feelings These feelings are not bad, and do not make us a bad person. It’s what we do with them that matters. Do not judge yourself for your feelings. Judge yourself for your actions.
2. Feelings do not always make rational sense, but they always exist for a good reason.
Emotions do not follow the principles of logic. They can seem inexplicable and unpredictable. But every emotion can be explained if you try hard enough. With every emotion our body is trying to send us a message, no matter how bizarre that might seem. As an example, lets go back to David, the forty something businessman who had zero supervision as a child. David once shared with me that he occasionally felt an unbearable disgust and repulsion when he saw a random person eating at a restaurant. He was mystified by this feeling, and worried that it might mean he was crazy. Eventually, through a lot of exploration of his Emotional Neglect, we figured out the reason : David’s limbic system, unbeknownst to him was equating eating, the taking in of food with nurturance. David himself took no enjoyment from food. He had great difficulty letting himself enjoy nutritional nurturance as well as emotional nurturance. Unconsciously, he felt disgusted when he saw someone letting down their guard, and allowing themselves to enjoy taking in nurturance. This is an example of a feeling that seems on the surface irrational and meaningless, but was actually quite meaningful, and existed for a very good reason.
3. Emotions can be powerful but they can be managed
Emotions that are hidden tend to have a lot of power over us. When we are aware of an emotion, we can then take charge of it. David felt at the mercy of his intense feelings of disgust, and sometimes avoided going to restaurants in order to avoid that feeling. Once he realised the source of the feeling and didn’t judge himself for having it, he was at a point of full awareness and acceptance. He started to fight it off, and the feelings of disgust lost its potency. Eventually it disappeared altogether.
The IAAA Steps
IAAA may sound like a retirement fund but it is not. IAAA stand for Identify, Accept, Attribute, Act. These steps are a culmination of the three rules above. They are the four steps to maximising the value of our emotions, and gaining energy and guidance from them. First, Identify the feeling, then Accept it. Do not judge it as bad or good. Third, try to discern the reason you are having the feeling, or Attribute it to a cause; fourth, identity whether there is an Action that the emotion calls for and, if so, take it appropriately.
Whar are you feeling right now? Close your eyes and ask yourself that question. If the answer is ‘overwhelmed” don’t despair. The process of making friends with your emotions may seem complicated, or even insurmountable, but you can do it. Yes, it will take time. But if you keep working at it, you will start to notice small changes in yourself. The changes may be subtle and may at first seem unimportant. But each time you have an emotional realisation that’s new to you its a sign that you are growing and learning. If you find yourself struggling too much, or on the verge of giving up, look for a therapist to help you. A skilled therapist will be able to help you to build these skills, so that you can become fully connected, present and alive.