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When you are emotionally sensitive, getting through each day can feel like walking through a carnival full of interesting booths and people but alert to small dangers everywhere. The path is uneven, people are running in the crowds without looking where they are going, some of the games are rigged and mosquitos are buzzing around ready to bite. While most people barely register these issues, they can ruin the day for you. Someone making an off-hand comment, being criticized, learning that a friend didn’t invite you to join her and other friends for a movie, a boyfriend breaking a date–all are painful for you. While it’s not I-can’t-stand-it kind of pain, it’s enough to create difficult feelings of sadness and rejection, even when you know these routine events happen to everyone and weren’t meant to harm you. At the end of most days you’re covered with emotional bruises. And those bruises add up.
Emotional bruises are those hurts that make it more difficult to get through the day and bring your mood down. You’re tired and wounded–know the feeling?
You might protect yourself with anger. It’s like always having your boxing gloves on and in defense mode from the moment of your first encounter with the world. Others hide or withdraw; sometimes pretending they don’t really care about people or situations when they really do. Or you might hide from the world. You can’t get bruised if you aren’t out in the world, well, at least as much. Avoiding the sadness or hurt doesn’t work in the long run. Hiding from emotions is like hiding from life. You’re not really living life.
So what can you do to help those emotional bruises not be so deep and go away faster? How can you be less afraid of living your life?
Find Yourself a Rock
A Rock is an over the top, completely supportive person who absolutely believes in you.Whatever is up with you, that’s important to him too.This person wants to help, wants to be there for you, and obviously cares about and adores you. When others criticize you, your Rock has your back. Your Rock tells you the truth and it’s clear even when he’s saying something not so great that he still thinks you hung the moon. When you make mistakes he’ll tell you and it doesn’t change the way he feels even a little bit. Everyone needs a Rock. Having a Rock helps you stay grounded and gives you a sense of safety. Your confidence goes up and minor emotional hits don’t faze you so much or at all. Whatever others say, you’ve got your Rock. When you see him daily or frequently, it’s like you are wearing Teflon.
If you don’t have a Rock, find one. Until you do, maybe you have a Rock in your family or someone who you don’t see often. Maybe a grandmother. Throughout the day, whenever you’re feeling bruised, talk to that person in your head. Remember what they would say to you and how much they love and believe in you. Call them frequently if possible.
Also consider being a Rock for someone else. Giving that kind of support to another person seems to have some benefits for you as well.
Spend Time Laughing
When you’re emotionally sensitive life can seem quite serious all the time. Being on guard to protect yourself is serious business. So make time to be silly and fun. Dance. Find ways that you laugh out loud, big belly laughs that bring tears to your eyes. Even if there’s nothing funny, laugh anyway. And sharing the laughter with other people is even better. There’s something about laughing together that says you are accepted, you belong.
Find a Place to Belong
Having a place to belong is like having emotional safety. Part of the insecurity and reactivity of the emotionally sensitive is the fear of being cast out and rejected. Being alone in the world is a pretty scary idea when you think of it. In this case I’m not talking about going to the movies alone or being alone for dinner. I’m talking about not having a team–being alone to figure life out and to battle whatever might come your way. When you have a place you belong, a home, that’s emotional safety. We naturally seek to belong to groups. People join groups that have similar beliefs, values or interests such as midnight street skaters, people who have red hair, chess players, gourmets, movie goers, Baptists, environmentalists and singles.
Finding a place where you belong is not easy. Your place might be a hideaway in nature that you share with only one or two others. Maybe your place where you belong doesn’t include other people at all.
So when you have these emotional basics you aren’t so susceptible to emotional bruising. That’s a huge step actually because then you’re not so afraid of life. When you’re not afraid, you’ can live the life you yearn for.
My research study about emotionally sensitive people has been delayed but I am expecting final approval soon. If you contacted me about participating in the study, I thank you for your patience.
PHOTO CREDIT: CCConny Liegl via Compfight
Emotion regulation (ER) refers to attempts to influence emotions in ourselves or others. Over the past several decades, ER has become a popular topic across many subdisciplines within psychology. One framework that has helped to organize work on ER is the process model of ER, which distinguishes 5 families of strategies defined by when they impact the emotion generation process. The process model embeds these ER strategies in stages in which a need for regulation is identified, a strategy is selected and implemented, and monitoring occurs to track success. Much of the research to date has focused on a strategy called cognitive reappraisal, which involves changing how one thinks about a situation to influence one's emotional response. Reappraisal is thought to be generally effective and adaptive, but there are important qualifications. In this article, we use reappraisal as an example to illustrate how we might consider 4 interrelated issues: (a) the consequences of using ER, either when instructed or spontaneous (b) how ER success and frequency are shaped by individual and environmental determinants (c) the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that make ER possible and (d) interventions that might improve how well and how often people use ER. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
Emotion regulation: affective, cognitive, and social consequences
One of life's great challenges is successfully regulating emotions. Do some emotion regulation strategies have more to recommend them than others? According to Gross's (1998, Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299) process model of emotion regulation, strategies that act early in the emotion-generative process should have a different profile of consequences than strategies that act later on. This review focuses on two commonly used strategies for down-regulating emotion. The first, reappraisal, comes early in the emotion-generative process. It consists of changing the way a situation is construed so as to decrease its emotional impact. The second, suppression, comes later in the emotion-generative process. It consists of inhibiting the outward signs of inner feelings. Experimental and individual-difference studies find reappraisal is often more effective than suppression. Reappraisal decreases emotion experience and behavioral expression, and has no impact on memory. By contrast, suppression decreases behavioral expression, but fails to decrease emotion experience, and actually impairs memory. Suppression also increases physiological responding for suppressors and their social partners. This review concludes with a consideration of five important directions for future research on emotion regulation processes.
Color Psychology: How to Make Your Home Feel Good
Ready to paint? A little color psychology may be just what you need to create soothing and productive moods.
Home decor is often viewed as simply a matter of aesthetics -- what looks attractive. But proponents of color psychology believe that the colors you use to decorate your home can have a profound effect on the emotional well-being of you and your family.
"Color is a universal, nonverbal language, and we all intuitively know how to speak it," says Leslie Harrington, a color consultant in Old Greenwich, Conn. and a noted expert on the use of color in residential and industrial decor. "What color you paint your walls isn't just a matter of aesthetics. It's a tool that can be leveraged to affect emotions and behavior."
If you like the idea of using color to create an emotionally healthy home, color consultants say you should first consider the primary function of each room. Next, pick a predominant color. Although it can't be proven scientifically, color consultants say some hues work better than others at encouraging certain activities. Need ideas? Here's a room-by-room rundown of the colors believed to work best in each of the most important rooms of your home, and the moods they create.
Living room and foyer paint colors. Warm tones like reds, yellows, and oranges, and earth tones like brown and beige often work well in both the living room and foyer, because they're though to stimulate conversation. "These are colors that encourage people to sit around and talk," says Kate Smith, a color consultant in Lorton, Va. "You feel the warmth, the connection with other people."
Kitchen paint colors. Color consultants say that if you have fond memories of spending time in the kitchen when you were a kid, it might make sense to recreate the color scheme in your grown-up kitchen. "If you grew up in a blue-and-white kitchen and have great memories, blue and white may be the best colors for you and your family," says Smith.
If there's no particular paint scheme you remember fondly, reds and yellows can be great colors in the kitchen as well as in the living room and foyer. But watch out if you're watching your weight: in addition to stimulating conversation, color consultants say that red may prompt you to eat more, if only subtly. "If you're on a diet, you might want to keep red out of the kitchen," Harrington says, adding that the restaurant industry has long recognized the appetite-stimulating power of red decor.
Dining room paint colors. Because it's stimulating, red decor can be great for a formal dining room. In addition to encouraging conversation, it whets the appetites of your guests. "If your dining room is red, people may think you are a better cook," says Harrington.
Bedroom paint colors. The bedroom is where you go to relax and reconnect with your partner. Cool colors -- blues, greens and lavenders -- can be great choices here, because they are thought to have a calming effect. The darker the hue, the more pronounced the effect is believed to be. "Reds tend to increase blood pressure and heart rate and stimulate activity," says Harrington. "Blue does just the opposite. That's why we think of it as calming."
What if your teenager has a few ideas about how to paint their bedroom? In the name of family harmony, it probably makes sense to let your teen pick the paint -- within reason. Harrington says she let her own daughter pick a wild paint scheme for her room -- with the proviso that her daughter would repaint it white when she moved out.
Bathroom paint colors. Whites and warm colors have always been popular choices for bathrooms, in large part because they connote cleanliness and purity. But nowadays the bathroom is used not just as a place to wash up, but also as a private retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation. Says Harrington: "Most people feel comfortable with blues and greens and turquoises because these colors give a sense of being clean and fresh -- and calm."
But spa colors in the bathroom make sense only if they flatter you. "When you look in the bathroom mirror, you want to look great," says Smith. "If you would never wear a particular color, don't paint your bathroom that color. That's a recipe for disaster."
Workout room paint colors. "Reds and oranges can help you move," says Harrington. "But they can also make you feel hot." For this reason, blues and greens may be better choices here. Harrington says that yellow-greens and blue-greens may be the best choices because, in terms of color psychology, they're "happier."
Home office paint colors. The name of the game here is productivity: the faster you complete work-related tasks, the more time you'll have to spend enjoying family and friends. And color consultants agree that green can be a great choice for a home office. "Green is the color of concentration," says Harrington. "It's one of the best colors to be surrounded by for long periods of time."
The Dark Side of Your Emotional Needs – Meaning
Finding meaning in the wrong places can be a never-ending battle to feel fulfilled
“The word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
Without meaning we depress. With no purpose we wither. We fade far from who we might be. But think of the reverse.
When our lives feel meaningful we are energized and focused. Even suffering is made more bearable.
We live in times in which many people feel meaningless. Many of the old coherent belief structures, such as organized religion, have fragmented and diminished. We have, it seems, fewer providers of ready-made meaning.
The Dark Side of Your Emotional Needs series:
As well, many of the ‘secular religions’ such as communism have lost their appeal, certainly in the countries that had to live and die under them.
Cynicism seems epidemic. Suicide rates 1 , especially among young men, continue to climb. 2 We have entertainment aplenty. Distraction in spades. Material promise in abundance. But meaning?
The holy search for happiness
Religions, including secular ones, were and are about being pious rather than becoming or being personally happy.
Follow the dictates of this or that religion and you will become good and acceptable. Serve the holy tenets of this or that belief system to derive your meaning.
I’m not saying whether religion or any of the major political belief systems are true, but they certainly do and did provide people with a sense of purpose and meaning.
As religion has declined, in recent times the idea of ‘being happy’ as a goal in itself has become ingrained in our culture. Live for yourself! 3
But happiness is often seen not as a byproduct of meeting needs, or as an oscillating state of mind, but as some constant future state which will, once arrived at, persist forever. Oh really?
To give is to get
Perhaps the drive to ‘be happy’ or ‘be successful’ has replaced a sense of service to a greater cause. Or, I should say, the part that serving a greater cause played in making people happier has been replaced by the idea that we can make ourselves directly happier without meeting our needs in balance.
This is in part, maybe in large part, due to mass and massive consumerism. But seeking to meet one’s own greeds above needs doesn’t seem to make people particularly happy. Actually, quite the reverse. 4
The problem is that it’s hard to maintain a sense of strong meaning just by fulfilling personal financial or material goals. Or, in fact, by just focusing on the self. Sure, you might look great or have money to burn and a house to envy. But then what? What next?
Making idols of demons
It’s been said that if we make an idol of something that doesn’t have the qualities of a god we and others will inevitably suffer.
Trying to find meaning from inadequate sources will not work long term. In fact, the search to feel meaningful might have us flitting around like a crazed honeybee in an artificial flower factory.
One client, Derek, told me how he had constantly moved house because he felt the “grass was always greener on the other side”. He had been a communist (which I thought might have conflicted with his serial private property ownership!), a libertarian, a Catholic, and lately a fitness fanatic.
Each new enthusiasm was meant to make his life meaningful. But it never quite did. He had made money and didn’t need to work but felt, he told me, “empty”.
Derek epitomized the paradox of a search for meaning.
Whom are we doing this for?
Paradoxically, unless we serve something for its sake and not for ours, then meaning will shrink even as we try to approach it.
People often suddenly find their lives are filled with meaning when they acquire responsibility. Perhaps they have children or adopt a worthy cause. Or they suddenly feel needed in some other way.
I recall hearing about a project in a school in which antisocial older boys were asked to be responsible and mentor disaffected younger ones. The result? Apparently the younger boys benefited from the mentoring, but not as much as the older boys, who often relished their newfound responsibility and suddenly discovered a sense of meaning.
Perhaps responsibility should be a human right!
Mind you, it does seem kind of old fashioned to talk of the value of service. But that’s really what responsibility and meaning… err… mean.
Serving but not subservient
When we are responsible for something, we serve it, and it becomes more of a focus than we ourselves are. Manageable responsibility is wonderful for mental health. To feel needed helps us live longer and feel happier because of the meaning the responsibility gives us. 5
But unless what we worship has the qualities of a god, then religious-like, fervent belief in it may just be a cul de sac. The Nazis worshipped at the altar of their ‘religion’ and derived a huge sense of meaning from their divisive identity politics. But the idol they worshipped most certainly did not have the qualities of a god.
Fitness is great, but its worship can’t meet as many needs as a more all-encompassing faith or focus. It’s never going to provide all meaning. Derek had been trying to find a basket for all his eggs, and fitness wasn’t about to provide it.
Meaning, or excitement?
For Derek, meaning was synonymous with excitement, and excitement is really just another word for entertainment. Once the excitement of the current meaning-making device wore off, so did his commitment to it. Excitement without responsibility can’t provide a sense of meaning long term.
Indeed, as time passed, the latest focus never quite felt as meaningful as he had assumed or hoped. He would find rationales to explain why it wasn’t the right path for him after all. But he couldn’t quite see the wider problem.
He was flitting from one thing to the next in an ineffective search for meaning.
It wasn’t necessarily Derek’s approach that was misaligned, but the different dietary, fitness or political creeds he kept attaching to.
“If I can just live here or do that, then this hole in my heart where a sense of meaning should be will be gloriously and eternally filled!”
He was trying to worship idols that didn’t have the qualities of gods.
So you become the fittest man or woman alive. Then what?
We can find meaning, or we can make it. We can glean it from different sources, or we can find it mainly in one place. And it’s a byproduct of meeting our needs. But we can also fabricate it from something that doesn’t really supply it well, or for long, or widely enough.
So what is this ‘meaningful’ experience that so many people seem to be searching for? What does it feel like to have a sense of meaning?
When you have a sense of meaning you feel galvanized. Energized.
It’s cold? You’re tired? You’ve been invited to a party that you’d like to attend? It’s raining? It’s too early in the morning to get yourself out of bed?
You have something to do! And circumstances and perhaps other people depend on you. The something to do is more important than any of these lower considerations. A wider sense of meaning stops us being simply a bloated bag of appetites blown around by our immediate and fluctuating whims.
People who procrastinate may tell you that the thing they are not doing is “really meaningful” to them. But words are not actions. And we should watch what people do as well as say. We learn what others and ourselves are like by seeing what they and we actually do.
Serving a higher need
Meaning makes you feel not that you don’t matter at all, but rather that the meaning you serve is of greater importance – at least in the moment. Meaning also helps you feel integral to the responsibility of serving that meaning.
We need meaning, and when we don’t find it we make it if we can. We can find meaning in family, friends, work, creative challenge, and serving a wider purpose.
We may be encouraged subconsciously to find meaning from material products. But that’s akin to trying to fill up a bucket with a bucket-sized hole in it.
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A sense of meaning doesn’t eliminate suffering. But it can contextualize it. Learning generates meaning and so does truth seeking. And meaning and personal comfort don’t necessarily track alongside one another.
But there’s another problem, perhaps larger than incessant materialism.
Nothing really matters
The rise of postmodern relativism, 6 in which it is believed there are no truths but only perspectives, may have led to less fulfilment of the need for meaning. This is such an embedded idea that it may even seem absurd to point out that it is just an idea.
If there are no ultimate meanings then why bother? If everything is just a social construct, and the meaning of bad actions is no different than the meaning of good actions, then it matters not what you do or what you (don’t) take responsibility for.
But without a strong sense of meaning, which comes from making value judgements, having challenges and rising to them, meeting your needs in balance, and having a sense that you are serving some greater truth, or at least trying to, life feels pointless. A circular trudge rather than an exciting and fulfilling journey.
What I’ve tried to do
In this series on The Dark Side of Your Emotional Needs, I’ve tried to illustrate how thwarted and disastrously diverted primal emotional needs can be. How trying to meet needs blindly or from negative sources can have terrible consequences. Being so ‘thirsty’ that you’ll even drink engine oil happens all the time on the emotional level.
We’ve looked at how the need for attention can become so great that clients will even try to meet it in ways that emotionally poison them. We’ve seen how the needs for a sense of control, status, intimacy, challenge, connection and safety can, when the need is met desperately and blindly, lead to some terrible places. We’ve also seen how the thwarted and misplaced drive to meet the needs of the mind/body system can make us mad and sad.
Inevitably, because meeting needs produces that all-important sense of meaning, I have talked about meaning before. The meaning for me in writing this series is that so many people still seem unaware of how forcefully these unconscious drives to meet these needs affect them.
And also how without this self-knowledge we can assume we are doing one thing while really simply trying to meet a basic emotional need that might be better met elsewhere.
Here are a few ways in which the need for meaning can be subverted badly and damage your clients and loved ones.
But it means so much to me!
Relationships matter, and provide more meaning than wealth alone. 7 People seem keener to escape smoking because they appreciate how it might drag them through the gates of death away from time on Earth spent with loved ones rather than because they want to save money.
But if someone gets all their meaning from romantic relationships then, because of the vicissitudinal nature of relationships, they may be cruising for an emotional bruising.
If having a relationship is, to them, the ultimate meaning, then different things can go wrong. Maybe they become so focused on the relationship that they start to over-monitor it. If all their meaning is derived from this one area, they may become insecure and needy to the point of destroying the only source of their meaning.
Deriving all meaning from just one other person can be as bad as trying to derive it through pure focus on the self.
Emotional and Mental Causes of Illness. The List by Louise Hay
Many of us are now coming to understand that physical symptoms and illness often begin first in the emotional and mental bodies. We are not just a physical body. We each have an aura of subtle bodies including the etheric, mental, emotional, astral and causal. Energy healers, clairvoyants and shamans are able to feel or see these bodies. Our western system of allopathic medicine can offer emergency life saving surgeries, as well as subdue and control symptoms yet the root cause is often not addressed. Because our emotions and thoughts are energy, if they are not expressed 'in motion' they can become stuck in the body causing a block in energy flow. Trauma or inherited cellular memory can also result in less than optimal functioning of the meridians of chi or prana flowing through the body.
Reiki and other modalities that work with the energy field can have lasting healing results when the energies causing illness are gently unblocked. Shamanic techniques, which have been the traditional form of physical and psychic healing for thousands of years can remove dark energy intrusions, spirit attachments and offer soul retrieval through energy healing and plant medicine. These modalities coupled with counseling and lifestyle changes show that holistic treatments offer a more sustainable and lasting form of healing. There are many current studies to prove that energy healing works.
This list by Louis Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, is a valuable reference for your own healing journey. Working with her suggested affirmations can begin unraveling the psychic energy stuck in the body, emotions and mind to create space for healing. From my own personal experience this process is most effective in a multilayered approach combined with reiki, shamanic healing, flower essences, dietary changes, exercise and nature therapy.
Abdominal Cramps: Fear. Stopping the process.
Abscess: Fermenting thoughts over hurts, slights and revenge.
Accidents: Inability to speak up for the self. Rebellion against authority. Belief in violence.
Aches: Longing for love. Longing to be held.
Acne: Not accepting the self. Dislike of the self.
Addictions: Running from the self. Fear. Not knowing how to love self.
Adrenal Problems: Defeatism. No longer caring for the self. Anxiety.
Alcoholism: Feeling of futility, guilt, inadequacy. Self-rejection.
Allergies: Denying your own power.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Refusal to deal with the world as it is. Hopelessness and helplessness. Anger.
Amenorrhea: Not wanting to be a woman. Dislike of the self.
Anemia: “Yes-but” attitude. Lack of joy. Fear of life. Not feeling good enough.
Ankle: Inflexibility and guilt. Ankles represent the ability to receive pleasure.
Anorexia: Denying the self life. Extreme fear, self-hatred and rejection.
Anxiety: Not trusting the flow and the process of life.
Apathy: Resistance to feeling. Deadening of the self. Fear.
Appetite, Excessive: Fear. Needing protection. Judging the emotions.
Arm: Represents the capacity and ability to hold the experiences of life.
Arteries: Carry the joy of life.
Arthritic Fingers: A desire to punish. Blame. Feeling victimized.
Arthritis: Feeling unloved. Criticism, resentment. – Rheumatoid Arthritis: Feeling victimized. Lack of love. Chronic bitterness. Resentment. Deep criticism of authority. Feeling very put upon.
Asthma: Smother love. Inability to breathe for one’s self. Feeling stifled. Suppressed crying.
Athlete’s Foot: Frustration at not being accepted. Inability to move forward with ease.
Back Issues: Represents the support of life. Back Problems: – Rounded shoulders: Carrying the burdens of life. Helpless and hopeless. – Lower Back Pain: Fear of money or lack of financial support. – Mid-Back Pain: Guilt. Stuck in all that stuff back there. “Get off my back!” – Upper Back Pain: Lack of emotional support. Feeling unloved. Holding back love. – Back Curvature: The inability to flow with the support of life. Fear and trying to hold on to old ideas. Not trusting life. Lack of integrity. No courage of convictions.
Bad Breath: Anger and revenge thoughts. Experiences backing up.
Balance, Loss of: Scattered thinking. Not centered.
Baldness: Fear. Tension. Trying to control everything.
Bedwetting: Fear of parent, usually the father.
Belching: Fear. Gulping life too quickly.
Bell’s Palsy: Extreme control over anger. Unwillingness to express feelings.
Bladder Problems: Anxiety. Holding on to old ideas. Fear of letting go. Being “pissed off”.
Bleeding: Joy running out. Anger.
Blisters: Resistance. Lack of emotional protection.
Blood Pressure: – High: Longstanding emotional problem not solved. – Low: Lack of love as a child. Defeatism.
Body Odor: Fear. Dislike of the self. Fear of others.
Bones: Represent the structure of the universe. – Bone marrow: Represents deepest beliefs about the self. How you support and care for yourself. – Breaks: Rebelling against authority.
Brain: Represents the computer, the switchboard. – Tumor: Incorrect computerized beliefs. Stubborn. Refusing to change old patterns.
Breast: Represents mothering and nurturing and nourishment. – Cysts, Lumps: A refusal to nourish the self. Putting everyone else first. Over mothering. Overprotection. Overbearing attitudes.
Breath: Represents the ability to take in life. – Breathing Problems: Fear. Not trusting the process of life. Getting stuck in childhood. Fear of taking in life fully. – Bronchitis: Inflamed family environment. Arguments and yelling.
Bruises: The little bumps in life. Self-punishment.
Bulimia: Hopeless terror. A frantic stuffing and purging of self-hatred.
Burns: Anger. Burning up. Incensed.
Bursitis: Repressed anger. Wanting to hit someone.
Calluses: Hardened concepts and ideas. Fear solidified.
Cancer: Deep hurt. Longstanding resentment. Deep secret or grief eating away at the self. Carrying hatreds.
Candida: Feeling very scattered. Lots of frustration and anger. Demanding and untrusting in relationships. Great takers.
Canker Sores: Festering words held back by the lips. Blame.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Anger and frustration at life’s seeming injustices.
Cataracts: Inability to see ahead with joy. Dark future.
Cellulite: Stored anger and self-punishment.
Cerebral Palsy: A need to unite the family in an action of love.
Chills: Mental contraction, pulling away and in. Desire to retreat.
Cholesterol: Clogging the channels of joy. Fear of accepting joy.
Circulation: Represents the ability to feel and express the emotions in positive ways.
Colds: Too much going on at once. Mental confusion, disorder. Small hurts.
Colic: Mental irritation, impatience, annoyance in the surroundings.
Colitis: Insecurity. Represents the ease of letting go of that which is over.
Coma: Fear. Escaping something or someone.
Conjunctivitis: Anger and frustration at what you are looking at in life.
Constipation: Incomplete releasing. Holding on to garbage of the past. Guilt over the past. Sometimes stinginess.
Corns: Hardened areas of thought – stubborn holding on to the pain of the past.
Coughs: A desire to bark at the world. “Listen to me!”
Cramps: Tension. Fear. Gripping, holding on.
Crohn’s Disease: Fear. Worry. Not feeling good enough.
Crying: Tears are the river of life, shed in joy as well as in sadness and fear.
Cuts: Punishment for not following your own rules.
Cysts: Running the old painful movie. Nursing hurts. A false growth.
Cystic Fibrosis: A thick belief that life won’t work for you. “Poor me.”
Deafness: Rejection, stubbornness, isolation. What don’t you want to hear? “Don’t bother me.”
Depression: Anger you feel you do not have a right to have. Hopelessness.
Diabetes: Longing for what might have been. A great need to control. Deep sorrow. No sweetness left.
Diarrhea: Fear. Rejection. Running off.
Dizziness: Flighty, scattered thinking. A refusal to look.
Dry eyes: Angry eyes. Refusing to see with love. Would rather die than forgive. Being spiteful.
Dysmenorrhea: Anger at the self. Hatred of the body or of women.
Ear: Represents the capacity to hear. – Ache: Anger. Not wanting to hear. Too much turmoil. Household arguing.
Eczema: Breath-taking antagonism. Mental eruptions.
Edema: What or who won’t you let go of?
Elbow: Represents changing directions and accepting new experiences.
Emphysema: Fear of taking in life. Not worthy of living.
Endometriosis: Insecurity, disappointment and frustration. Replacing self-love with sugar. Blamers.
Epilepsy: Sense of persecution. Rejection of life. A feeling of great struggle. Self-violence.
Epstein-Barr Virus: Pushing beyond one’s limits. Fear of not being good enough. Draining all inner support. Stress.
Eye: Represents the capacity to see clearly past, present, future. – Astigmatism: “I” trouble. Fear of really seeing the self. – Hyperopia: Fear of the present. – Myopia: Fear of the future.
Face: Represents what we show the world.
Fainting: Fear. Can’t cope. Blacking out.
Fat or Weight issues: Oversensitivity. Often represents fear and shows a need for protection. Fear may be a cover for hidden anger and a resistance to forgive. Running away from feelings. Insecurity, self-rejection and seeking fulfillment. – Arms: Anger at being denied love. – Belly: Anger at being denied nourishment. – Hips: Lumps of stubborn anger at the parents. – Thighs: Packed childhood anger. Often rage at the father.
Fatigue: Resistance, boredom. Lack of love for what one does.
Feet: Represent our understanding – of ourselves, of life, of others. – Foot Problems: Fear of the future and of not stepping forward in life.
Fever: Anger. Burning up.
Fibroid Tumors: Nursing a hurt from a partner. A blow to the feminine ego.
Fingers: Represent the details of life. – Thumb: Represents intellect and worry. – Index: Represents ego and fear. – Middle: Represents anger and sexuality. – Ring: Represents unions and grief. – Little: Represents the family and pretending.
Food Poisoning: Allowing others to take control. Feeling defenseless.
Frigidity: Fear. Denial of pleasure. A belief that sex is bad. Insensitive partners. Fear of father.
Fungus: Stagnating beliefs. Refusing to release the past. Letting the past rule today.
Gallstones: Bitterness. Hard thoughts. Condemning. Pride.
Gas: Gripping. Fear. Undigested ideas.
Gastritis: Prolonged uncertainty. A feeling of doom.
Genitals: Represent the masculine and feminine principles. Worry about not being good enough.
Gland Problems: Represent holding stations. Self-staring activity. Holding yourself back.
Gout: The need to dominate. Impatience, anger.
Glaucoma: Stony unforgiveness. Pressure from longstanding hurts. Overwhelmed by it all.
Gray Hair: Stress. A belief in pressure and strain.
Growths: Nursing those old hurts. Building resentments.
Gum Problems: Inability to back up decisions. Indecisive about life.
Hands: Hold and handle. Clutch and grip. Grasping and letting go. Caressing. Pinching. All ways of dealing with experiences.
Hay Fever: Emotional congestion. Fear of the calendar. A belief in persecution. Guilt.
Headaches: Invalidating the self. Self-criticism. Fear.
Heart: Represents the center of love and security. – Heart Attack: Squeezing all the joy out of the heart in favor of money or position. Feeling alone and scared. “I’m not good enough. I don’t do enough. I’ll never make it.” – Heart Problems: Longstanding emotional problems. Lack of joy. Hardening of the heart. Belief in strain and stress.
Heartburn: Fear. Fear. Fear. Clutching Fear.
Hemorrhoids: Fear of deadlines. Anger of the past. Afraid to let go. Feeling burdened.
Hepatitis: Resistance to change. Fear, anger, hatred. Liver is the seat of anger and rage.
Hernia: Ruptured relationships. Strain, burdens, incorrect creative expression.
Herpes Genitalis: Mass belief in sexual guilt and the need for punishment. Public shame. Belief in a punishing God. Rejection of the genitals.
Herpes Simplex: Bitter words left unspoken.
Hip: Carries the body in perfect balance. Major thrust in moving forward. Fear of going forward in major decisions. Nothing to move forward to.
Hives: Small, hidden fears. Mountains out of molehills.
Hodgkin’s Disease: Blame and a tremendous fear of not being good enough. A frantic race to prove one’s self until the blood has no substance left to support itself. The joy of life is forgotten in the race of acceptance.
Hyperactivity: Fear. Feeling pressured and frantic.
Hyperventilation: Fear. Resisting change. Not trusting the process.
Hypoglycemia: Overwhelmed by the burdens in life.
Impotence: Sexual pressure, tension, guilt. Social beliefs. Spite against a previous mate. Fear of mother.
Incontinence: Emotional overflow. Years of controlling emotions.
Indigestion: Gut-level fear, dread, anxiety. Griping and grunting.
Infection: Irritation, anger, annoyance.
Inflammation: Fear. Seeing red. Inflamed thinking. Anger and frustration about conditions you are looking at in your life.
Influenza: Response to mass negativity and beliefs. Fear. Belief in statistics.
Ingrown Toenail: Worry and guilt about your right to move forward.
Injuries: Anger at the self. Feeling guilty.
Insanity: Fleeing from the family. Escapism, withdrawal. Violent separation from life.
Insomnia: Fear. Not trusting the process of life. Guilt.
Intestines: Represent assimilation and absorption.
Itching: Desires that go against the grain. Unsatisfied. Remorse. Itching to get out or get away.
Jaundice: Internal and external prejudice. Unbalanced reason.
Jaw Problems: Anger. Resentment. Desire for revenge.
Kidney Problems: Criticism, disappointment, failure. Shame. Reacting like a child.
Kidney Stones: Lumps of undissolved anger.
Knee: Represents pride and ego. Stubborn ego and pride. Inability to bend. Fear. Inflexibility. Won’t give in.
Laryngitis: So mad you can’t speak. Fear of speaking up. Resentment of authority.
Left Side of Body: Represents receptivity, taking in, feminine energy, women, the mother.
Leg: Carry us forward in life.
Liver: Seat of anger and primitive emotions. Chronic complaining. Justifying fault-finding to deceive yourself. Feeling bad.
Lockjaw: Anger. A desire to control. A refusal to express feelings.
Lump in the Throat: Fear. Not trusting the process of life.
Lung: The ability to take in life. Depression. Grief. Not feeling worthy of living life fully.
Lupus: A giving up. Better to die than stand up for one’s self. Anger and punishment.
Lymph Problems: A warning that the mind needs to be recentered on the essentials of life. Love and joy.
Malaria: Out of balance with nature and with life.
Menopause Problems: Fear of no longer being wanted. Fear of aging. Self-rejection. Not feeling good enough.
Menstrual Problems: Rejection of one’s femininity. Guilt, fear. Belief that the genitals are sinful or dirty.
Migraine Headaches: Dislike of being driven. Resisting the flow of life. Sexual fears.
Miscarriage: Fear of the future. Inappropriate timing.
Mononucleosis: Anger at not receiving love and appreciation. No longer caring for the self.
Motion Sickness: Fear. Bondage. Feeling of being trapped.
Mouth: Represents taking in of new ideas and nourishment. Set opinions. Closed mind. Incapacity to take in new ideas.
Multiple Sclerosis: Mental hardness, hard-heartedness, iron will, inflexibility.
Muscles: Resistance to new experiences. Muscles represent our ability to move in life.
Muscular Dystrophy: “It’s not worth growing up.”
Nails: Represent protection. – Nail Biting: Frustration. Eating away at the self. Spite of a parent.
Narcolepsy: Can’t cope. Extreme fear. Wanting to get away from it all. Not wanting to be here.
Nausea: Fear. Rejecting an idea or experience.
Neck: Represents flexibility. The ability to see what’s back there. Refusing to see other sides of a question. Stubbornness, inflexibility. Unbending stubbornness.
Nephritis: Overreaction to disappointment and failure.
Nerves: Represent communication. Receptive reporters.
Nervous Breakdown: Self-centeredness. Jamming the channels of communication.
Nervousness: Fear, anxiety, struggle, rushing. Not trusting the process of life.
Neuralgia: Punishment for guilt. Anguish over communication.
Nodules: Resentment and frustration and hurt ego over career.
Nose: Represents self-recognition. – Nose Bleeds:A need for recobnition. Feeling unnoticed. Crying for love. – Runny Nose: Asking for help. Inner crying. – Stuffy Nose: Not recognizing the self-worth.
Numbness: Withholding love and consideration. Going dead mentally.
Osteomyelitis: Anger and frustration at the very structure of life. Feeling unsupported.
Osteoporosis: Feeling there is no support left in life. Mental pressures and tightness. Muscles can’t stretch. Loss of mental mobility.
Ovaries: Represent points of creation. Creativity.
Pain: Guilt. Guilt always seeks punishment.
Paralysis: Paralysing thoughts. Getting stuck. Terror leading to escape from a situation or person.
Pancreas: Represents the sweetness of life.
Pancreatitis: Rejection. Anger and frustration because life seems to have lost its sweetness.
Parasites: Giving power to others, letting them take over and life off of you.
Parkinson’s Disease: Fear and an intense desire to control everything and everyone.
Peptic Ulcer: Fear. A belief that you are not good enough. Anxious to please.
Phlebitis: Anger and frustration. Blaming others for the limitation and lack of joy in life.
Pimples: Small outbursts of anger.
Pituitary Gland: Represents the control center.
Pneumonia: Desperate. Tired of life. Emotional wounds that are not allowed to heal.
Poison Ivy: Allergy Feeling defenseless and open to attack.
Polio: Paralysing jealousy. A desire to stop someone.
Premenstrual Syndrome: Allowing confusion to reign. Giving power to outside influences. Rejection of the feminine processes.
Prostate: Represents the masculine principle. Mental fears weaken the masculinity. Giving up. Sexual pressure and guilt. Belief in aging.
Psoriasis: Fear of being hurt. Deadening the senses of the self. Refusing to accept responsibility for our own feelings.
Rash: Irritation over delays. Immature way to get attention.
Right Side of Body: Giving out, letting go, masculine energy, men, the father.
Ringworm: Allowing others to get under your skin. Not feeling good enough or clean enough.
Scabies: Infected thinking. Allowing others to get under your skin.
Sciatica: Being hypocritical. Fear of money and of the future.
Scleroderma: Protecting the self from life. Not trusting yourself to be there and to take care of yourself.
Scratches: Feeling life tears at you, that life is a rip off.
Senility: Returning to the so-called safety of childhood. Demanding care and attention. A form of control of those around you. Escapism.
Shin: Represents the standards of life. Breaking down ideals.
Shingles: Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Fear and tension. Too sensitive.
Sinus Problems: Irritation to one person, someone close.
Skin: Protects our individuality. Anxiety, fear. Old, buried things. I am being threatened.
Slipped Disc: Feeling totally unsupported by life. Indecisive.
Snoring: Stubborn refusal to let go of old patterns.
Solar Plexus: Gut reactions. Center of our intuitive power.
Sores: Unexpressed anger that settles in.
Spleen: Obsessions. Being obsessed about things.
Sprains: Anger and resistance. Not wanting to move in a certain direction in life.
Sterility: Fear and resistance to the process of life or not needing to go through the parenting experience.
Stiffness: Rigid, stiff thinking.
Stomach: Holds nourishment. Digests ideas. Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new.
Stroke: Giving up. Resistance. Rather die than change. Rejection of life.
Stuttering: Insecurity. Lack of self-expression. Not being allowed to cry.
Sty: Looking at life through angry eyes. Angry at someone.
Suicidal thoughts: See life only in black and white. Refusal to see another way out.
Teeth: Represent decisions. – Teeth Problems: Longstanding indecisiveness. Inability to break down ideas for analysis and decisions. – Root Canal: Can’t bite into anything anymore. Root beliefs being destroyed. – Impacted Wisdom Teeth: Not giving yourself mental space to create a firm foundation.
Throat: Avenue of expression. Channel of creativity. – Throat Problems: The inability to speak up for one’s self. Swallowed anger. Stifled creativity. Refusal to change. – Sore throat: Holding in angry words. Feeling unable to express the self.
Thrush: Anger over making the wrong decisions.
Thymus Gland: Feeling attacked by life. They are out to get me.
Thyroid Gland: Humiliation. I never get to do what I want to do. When is it going to be my turn. – Hyperthyroid: Rage at being left out.
Tics, Twitches: Fear. A feeling of being watched by others.
Tinnitus or Ringing in the Ears: Refusal to listen. Not hearing the inner voice. Stubbornness.
Toes: Represent the minor details of the future.
Tongue: Represents the ability to taste the pleasures of life with joy.
Tonsillitis: Fear. Repressed emotions. Stifled creativity.
Tuberculosis: Wasting away from selfishness. Possessive. Cruel thoughts. Revenge.
Urinary infections: Pissed off, usually at the opposite sex or a lover. Blaming others.
Uterus: Represents the home of creativity.
Vaginitis: Anger at a mate. Sexual guilt. Punishing the self.
Varicose Veins: Standing in a situation you hate. Discouragement. Feeling over-worked and overburdened.
Vitiligo: Feeling completely outside of things. Not belonging. Not one of the group.
Vomiting: Violent rejection of ideas. Fear of the new.
Warts: Little expressions of hate. Belief in ugliness. – Plantar Warts: Anger at the very basis of your understanding. Spreading frustration about the future.
Wrist: Represents movement and ease.
To heal emotional inflammation, let distress inspire change
is a writer, specialising in health and psychology, and a certified health coach. She is the author, with Lise Van Susteren, of Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times (2020). She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
is a general and forensic psychiatrist in Washington, DC. She is the author, with Stacey Colino, of Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times (2020).
These days, it’s common to feel anxious or outraged, unusually stressed out or fearful about the future, hyperreactive, agitated or otherwise on edge. It’s a state that we have dubbed ‘emotional inflammation’, a phenomenon that’s similar to post-traumatic stress stemming from simply living in today’s tumultuous world. It’s not a term you’ll find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the standard guide for the classification of mental health disorders. But the condition, which afflicted millions living in our chaotic, confusing, often contentious world before the age of COVID-19, now rages off the charts.
There’s plenty of support for the concept of emotional inflammation because, as with the physical inflammation that occurs in response to, say, an injury, emotional manifestations can also make us feel hot, irritated, uncomfortable, and can even be painful it can make moving through everyday life more difficult and leave us feeling tired or depleted. Plus, a substantial body of scientific evidence now links negative emotions to the kind of chronic, invisible, systemic (or internal) inflammation that’s associated with life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. A recent study, for instance, revealed that adults who experienced considerable anger over the course of a week had higher blood levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker of chronic low-grade inflammation another study found a strong association between depression and higher IL-6 levels. A 2018 study found that several anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, are associated with increased levels of C-reactive protein, another biomarker of chronic inflammation. You get the picture.
The fact that our emotions are highly inflamed these days is indisputable – and this reality is harmful for our bodies and minds. A new study from researchers at San Diego State University and Florida State University revealed that in April 2020 adults in the United States were eight times more likely to meet the criteria for serious mental distress than adults surveyed in 2018. Alcohol consumption has increased considerably, according to surveys, and experts are concerned about increasing rates of alcohol consumption throughout the world since 1990.
Think back to just a year or two ago, and you might recall reading about new forms of distress and depletion – scandal fatigue, racial battle fatigue, compassion fatigue, ecoanxiety, news fatigue, apocalypse fatigue, solastalgia (distress caused by environmental change), and so on – that our culture has been experiencing at astonishing rates. People have been hurting emotionally and there’s little mystery as to why: we are shaken by news about gun violence and hate crimes, the ongoing stream of sexual abuse and misconduct scandals, racial injustices, human rights violations, disasters in the natural world, the climate crisis, as well as political discord and dysfunction in the US and around the world. COVID-19 is just the new kid on the block.
Then, these kinds of society-level challenges are superimposed upon our own day-to-day challenges – coping with demanding jobs for which we might not be sufficiently compensated, the high cost of modern life, raising kids in a world with increasingly difficult challenges and dangerous temptations, and the like. When we’re fortunate enough to begin recovering from one trigger or trauma, another often comes along and becomes the emotional equivalent of reopening the wound and ramping up inflammation anew.
Emotional inflammation is a natural response to the conditions we’ve been living with in recent years
Indeed, there can be a priming effect: when you’re in the throes of intense stress or emotional inflammation, you can become more sensitive, both physiologically and psychologically, to the next stressor you encounter. It’s an effect that’s a bit like throwing gas on a simmering flame – the fire gets bigger, hotter, angrier. Research showed that after reading negative news reports, women are more likely to remember the information for longer than men, and experience more enduring physiological responses – namely, a greater rise in cortisol in response to a stressful activity that occurs the next day.
When people hear about the concept of emotional inflammation and its symptoms, they often have an ‘aha’ moment of recognition, one that makes them feel understood and less alone. Knowing there’s a name for how and why you’ve been feeling so irritable, hot and testy, distressed or anguished helps these emotions feel a bit less unsettling or alienating. Some people have asked whether there’s anyone who isn’t experiencing emotional inflammation, given the current state of the world. Maybe if you lived in an isolated cabin in the woods and avoided all media exposure, you would be protected from emotional inflammation. But that’s not an experience most of us have or want.
As uncomfortable as emotional inflammation can feel, it’s a natural or appropriate response to the conditions we’ve been living with in recent years however, that doesn’t mean you have to be at its mercy. Nor do you want to be, because it can have insidious ripple effects on your physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing, in just about every conceivable way. The key is to help yourself recover from emotional inflammation, just as you would if you suffered physical inflammation after spraining your ankle or bruising your knee.
The good news is, with conscious effort, emotional inflammation can be managed and alleviated, from the inside out and the outside in. As a starting point, it’s essential to prioritise taking care of your body’s needs – by getting enough good-quality sleep, steadying your body’s circadian rhythms (by dimming artificial lights and setting curfews on digital devices), taking care of your gut microbiome (with foods containing probiotics and prebiotics), exercising regularly, and taking time to regularly decompress from stress (with meditation or even deep breathing exercises). These steps will help reduce the heat and swelling from emotional inflammation, allowing you to restore a foundation of calm and healing. Here are five more strategies to help you reclaim your equanimity:
Recognise your feelings. At various times during the day, it helps to pause and ask yourself: how am I feeling? What words describe my current mood or state of mind? If you have trouble identifying these feelings in your mind, it can help to engage in expressive writing with pen and paper or on your computer. James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, has repeatedly shown in his research that writing about your feelings can help you become better at recognising and processing them. In one study, he and his colleagues showed that when depression-vulnerable young adults made a habit of engaging in expressive writing for three consecutive days, their depressive symptoms declined significantly – as did their tendency to brood – over the course of six months. If you need some prompts to get going, ask yourself: what am I thinking about or worrying about excessively? What have I dreamt about that has stuck with me?
Reality-check your thoughts. Your thinking style can either ratchet up your emotional inflammation or help dial it down. Think of this as akin to choosing between applying heat or ice to a sprained ankle: heat would increase blood flow to the area and exacerbate the swelling (not what you want), whereas cold and compression would be more therapeutic. To prevent your thoughts from spiralling out of control into worst-case scenarios or what-if propositions, use critical thinking skills to evaluate them. Ask yourself: what evidence suggests this thought is true? Are there other ways I could look at the situation? Simply put, the way you appraise your thoughts and feelings can influence how they affect you. For example, a 2017 study found that when people’s mindsets were manipulated by film clips that featured a ‘stress is enhancing’ message before they participated in a mock job interview, the participants experienced sharper increases in positive mood, greater cognitive flexibility and greater attention towards positive stimuli than those who were manipulated with a ‘stress is debilitating’ message before the mock interview. This is just one example of what’s called ‘cognitive reframing’, a cornerstone of cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps people change the way they think and behave to alter how they feel.
Find the right balance between turning inward and reaching outward
Limit your media exposure. When we’re subjected to a continuous influx of disturbing or alarming news, that information overload can easily upset our emotional equilibrium, just as immersing a wound in hot or dirty water can increase physical inflammation and impede healing. A 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association involving 3,440 adults in the US found that 56 per cent of people reported that following the news closely caused them stress. More recently, a group of psychologists warned that repeated media exposure to news about a community crisis could present a risk of psychological distress, including increased anxiety and heightened stress responses that could lead to symptoms that are similar to post-traumatic stress.
Granted, the threshold of information overload varies from one person to another, so it’s important to identify your personal tipping point and prevent yourself from reaching it. You can moderate the amount of upsetting or alarming information that comes your way by putting yourself on what we call a ‘media diet’: resolving to read the news only in the morning, or setting limits on how frequently you check newsfeeds, or giving yourself entirely news-free days.
Connect with nature – and awe. The scientific literature is filled with studies illustrating how experiencing or even viewing scenes from nature relieves stress and physical pain, enhances attention and cognition, and provides other mind-body benefits. So take a walk in a park, the woods, a garden or near a body of water, and soak in the sights, sounds and smells of plants and trees, wildlife and other natural elements. Focus on the repeating patterns – called fractals – that are inherent in the veins of a leaf or crystals in an icicle viewing these patterns sends calming messages to the brain that heighten our sense of safety and equilibrium. Tune into the power of awe by gazing at the stars and planets at night, and appreciate the sense of wonder at being a part of something larger than yourself.
Become an agent of change. Taking any action to help make the world a more humane and equitable place can have a profound effect on your sense of empowerment and wellbeing. So make an effort to shift from inaction to action, from bystander to upstander (by recognising that something is wrong and speaking up, or standing up to work to make it right). You can do this in many different ways, both large and small – by financially supporting or volunteering for a cause you believe in, writing letters to elected officials about an important issue, working on a ‘get out the vote’ campaign, doing things to reduce your carbon footprint, and so much more. Every positive action you take contributes to moving the needle of progress in the right direction and inspires other people to do their part.
By taking these steps, you can come to your own emotional rescue at any time, without waiting for the world to change. Ultimately, the key to relieving emotional inflammation is to find the right balance between turning inward and reaching outward – by tending to your upsetting emotions and frazzled state of mind, and engaging in meaningful activities that bring you a sense of purpose, resilience and connection with others. Instead of simply feeling vulnerable and unsteady, you can redirect the energy behind your outrage, fear or despair into working to change the upstream conditions that fuel your worries, while finding like-minded people to be at your side. Seizing that opportunity is the hidden gift in emotional inflammation. It’s yours for the taking.
Can Words Really Hurt Me?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but can words really hurt me?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but can words really hurt me?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but can words really hurt me?
Content warning: emotional violence, abuse
Emotional abuse is real. In my line of work, I’ve watched women of all different backgrounds live through the pain it can cause, and I’ve seen it haunt them. I’ve seen them suffer the trauma of someone dominating, berating, criticizing, and chastising them.
It brings unanswered questions. Questions like whether the very act of breathing is allowed. I’ve witnessed their agony of hoping that someone, anyone, will finally notice their torment.
Although emotional abuse has many forms, it’s still wildly taboo and often considered something people should just get over or simply live through. It can leave victims completely unaware that they’re even being oppressed.
They feel that it’s not as nearly as “bad” as physical violence or that they aren’t in the same situation. And in some cases, they feel they simply aren’t worthy enough to call themselves violated.
Whether pain from abuse stems psychologically, verbally, physically, emotionally, or sexually—abuse is abuse. And it needs to be stopped before another person has to suffer in silence.
I’m reminded of the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But in all truth, words do hurt.
How emotional abuse feels
I stop short of the door and hold my hand against the frame. I just want to leave so bad. I know somewhere inside that I don’t have to take this. I am free to simply walk out of the door. But I am frozen. Transfixed by the threshold, unsure of how to cross while keenly aware of how many steps there are toward freedom. Gripped by courage, I take a step forward.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I freeze again, feeling the hairs stand up on my neck.
Hearing his voice so close, I want to scream. Subliminally I bolt, not physically but emotionally, running freely. I watch my imaginary self run away, stationary. I stare ahead, watching, oh how I envy her.
Psychologically, I can feel my overwhelming desire to just get away—to run and find a way to completely disappear. He speaks again and the echo of his hate hangs in the air, unsettled, like a rancid stench. I feel smothered by the scent and I grapple with the meaning of words that he speaks at me. The ruthless force of his weapon of words, aimed at my jugular, he wields indifferently. It is dehumanizing.
I wonder how many times I would let the effects of such an attack be a part of my life. How long would I stay put and continue to just endure? How long would I allow the steady stream of vulgarities and disparities to fill space in the vulnerable recesses of my self-esteem, or what was left of it? I can’t explain away why this hurts so badly, why the memories stay etched in the fibers of my muscles as if I were being physically struck every single time he opens his mouth.
I bruise in the form of a blush as my cheeks fill with heat from the harassment and embarrassment of the steady barrage of animosity that spews from his mouth when he directs his anger at me. I flinch and attempt to speak up. Raising my voice, I pretend to find courage.
Every time he is triggered, I fleetingly try to defend myself. I imagine standing my ground while weakly defending my principles as I am annihilated by the sheer brute force of his words. He speaks and his power shuts off my reasoning and takes seize of my oration. In stunned silence, his assault leaves me inundated with fear and has literally forced my words to recoil back into my throat, extinguishing the very air from my chest.
Defenseless and silent, I again attempt to summon my deserted courage, finding none. So many times, tears spill from once dry places, saturating my hot cheeks. And I take it. All of it. The full force of his revulsion, saying nothing in return.
How often I just take every verbal blow, every strike against the temple of my ego. I find myself listening hungrily, gobbling up every detail of what is wrong with my person. My sullied thoughts can no longer comprehend my ability to try and defend myself. I recognize that I don’t have any of the ammunition needed for this battle.
I wait, pitiful and exhausted, as his abusive tirade doesn’t show signs of ending. My attacker screams poison and I’m paralyzed as his vitriol intensifies, relentlessly pointing out fallacy after fallacy. I find that I cannot stand, so I finally sit down.
This only seems to reinforce my vulnerability and inferiority. Now he is standing over me, conquering me. His spittle flies from the hate-filled spaces in his mouth as he covers me in his blatant and unforgiving verbal attack. His speech never falters. He’s dramatic and animated, as if giving an audition to an unseen crowd. Forced to listen to his words, as he calls me a “slut and a whore,” I try to drive the unyielding impressions from my mind. Nevertheless, I can feel myself recording him, pervasively, into the deep and unprotected crevices of my hearing, defining me.
He waits only for silent applause from his own spirit. Enjoying his speech, he smiles at my deprivation as he goes for the kill. “Your stupidity knows no bounds,” he yells, “your incompetence is at an all-time high.” He screams more hate, “You’re fat, ugly, and useless. No one wants you, you’re unlovable, undeserving, undesirable,” and he ends with the booming, “You’re nothing.”
Again, I take it all in, memorizing every detail from the jarring baritone of his voice to the sadistic way he crafts his words. Every time I survive this experience, I still die, just a little, on the inside. I can’t help but seek the sweet and silent solace of death, feeling like this has to be the only way out.
Emotional abuse is just as damaging
This is just one example of how emotional abuse is experienced. It makes the recipient think there’s no way out, and no way to overcome all that they have gone through. The unhealthy tethers to their abuser are simply a coping mechanism and make it so much easier to believe the lies—like verbal abuse isn’t “real” abuse.
Most people don’t recognize that emotional abuse is just as damaging and traumatizing as physical abuse, sometimes even more so. While physical bruises will fade over time, emotional bruising leaves an invisible disfigurement that materializes as soon as the wound is reopened.
So many people suffer in an unacceptable silence, dealing with the emotional scars as if they were never there. No amount of makeup can cover the unseen evidence and as a result, many women try to pretend it never happened.
The heartless onslaught of pain that is created by verbal manipulation and abuse takes the battered to a place of hopelessness and introduces them to a type of emotional suicide. They never know how to accept what they are surviving. People around them tend to admonish them or minimalize their trauma.
“All he does is yell at you. You got it easy.”
These statements make abused women feel like they shouldn’t even try to escape. That they should be accepting and even appreciative that their abuser doesn’t physically assault them. No one sees the patterns of self-defeat and destruction that come from these types of assault.
I want women, and men, to recognize their worthiness. Everyone is worthy of being treated with respect. Your opinions and your desire to have autonomy over your life does not give someone the right to hurt you or your feelings. You deserve to find someone who truly loves you for who you are. Someone who understands what you need and doesn’t feel threatened by you offering your opinion.
Real freedom means “free at heart and free in mind.” You have to begin to realize that you are worthy and to remind yourself of this every day. You have to rebuild the positive levels of self-preservation that your self-esteem needs to heal.
You can do this. You deserve this and you have to see it first for yourself. You have to un-believe the lies and trust that there is hope for you.
It’s this way of thinking that will lead you towards the path of healing, and in the process, you’ll recognize that you don’t have to pretend not to hurt, you can recognize that your pain is real and that your voice deserves to be heard.
So speak up and acknowledge that words hurt, too.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
We can all help prevent suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. If you or a loved one are at risk, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
If you’re in an abusive relationship, you are not alone. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. You can also visit the web site.
Shantel is an entrepreneur, writer, and designer. She has a BA in Business Administration with a focus on Project Management and is currently working on a Masters in Psychology. She serves as the Director of Children Ministry at Bethany Community Church North. In her spare time, she lends her ear as a Life Coach. She is a wife of 28 years to an amazing man and mother to four beautiful prodigies, as well a host of godchildren who have been graciously bestowed to her throughout her and her husband’s life.