This week has been all about why having a deep understanding of your emotional life is essential to your well-being and the health of your relationships. Today, I will concede that this can be difficult work. I’ve argued before that emotions are information, but decoding the clues they provide sometimes takes a master sleuth.
Did you know that chronic emotional states like anxiety, depression, numbness, anger, or irritability can actually be a way to cope? Many people first come to therapy because they want to decrease these emotions. However, this can be tricky for some people because these states developed as a way to cope with even more painful emotions.
For example, if you witnessed a tragedy or violence, you may develop chronic anxiety to cope with terror and powerlessness. The mind wants to feel in control, so you worry about everything and stay on guard all the time. This is a way to make you feel like you have control. On some level, you believe that if you worry about it “enough” it won’t happen. You worry about things that don’t necessarily look on the surface like the trauma you experienced, but they are related. The anxiety is the coping state to deal with those more painful emotions- fear and powerlessness. However, we become worn down by the constant worry. To make the anxiety go away, the trauma also needs to be addressed.
There are many different ways that we may become traumatized. We are more vulnerable when we are young because our physical safety is tied to our caregivers. If we feel emotionally neglected, abused, or witness something intensely scary as children, it brings on deep fear because our sense of safety is threatened. Many people have some sort of situation growing up or as an adult where they felt alone, powerless, afraid. Any of these situations could be traumatizing.
If you end up as an adult with a tendency to persistently fall into a pattern of anxiety, depression (or numbing out), or anger in response to emotional situations, it may be a sign of trauma. Most people say, “I don’t think about that bad thing that happened to me, so therefore it’s not an issue.” The memories may not bother you, but that’s because you are doing great with your coping state. Except the coping state is probably the thing you have an issue with.
I know that this is complicated. It’s hard to realize that you or someone you care about may be impacted by trauma in ways that are not obvious. This is difficult to figure out and taking steps to address the issue is often overwhelming. That’s why I’m going to try to provide some vital information on this blog and tell you that there is reason to have hope. There are many ways to recover from trauma.
Tomorrow, I will feature a very thoughtful post by trauma expert, Rudy Skowronski, LCSW about this topic. He will explain in more detail how these Dominant Emotional States (what I call a coping state) work and what a skilled trauma therapist is able to do to help you. I hope you will take the time to read it and ask questions if you have them.
I believe wholeheartedly that it’s worth addressing your emotional life, even if it’s difficult. What do you think professionals can do to make the process easier?