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Dissociation and Expressing Emotions

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Many dysfunctional families condition their children to ignore their feelings. They also teach children that expressing their feelings is “bad”. Why? Because it is in expressing fear, pain, sadness, and other emotions that the actions of the abusers can be brought to light.

What this means for a person with DID is that many everyday occurrences can be potential panic triggers.

For example: A sad movie. People who haven’t been conditioned against showing how they feel might shed a few tears, releasing the tension around the feeling of sadness, connecting themselves to the situation and perhaps saying a few words to express how they feel.

A person who has been conditioned over years and with strict consequences and punishments NOT to express her feelings might still feel the sadness. But because it cannot be expressed, it can build up inner pressure, triggering and stressing the damaged nervous system.

This, in turn, can cause her to panic, as the feeling of sadness continues to rise. Since the sadness is combined with other feelings, like fear or even a sense of being out of control as the feeling won’t just go away, this can cause panic.

Panic can be expressed in many ways. She may run out of the room or theater, crumple into a ball and become childlike, shaking with fear and anxiety, or become angry or belligerent.

This causes a lot of misunderstandings, as the friends or people around her wonder what is going on.

What helps is to create a safe place to express emotions. Deliberately choose to watch a movie that will probably cause sadness to come up, knowing ahead of time that the feelings that arise will be called “sadness.”

One of the side effects of being conditioned against expressing sadness or other emotions is that when they come up, the affected person is not able to name how she feels. So if she deliberately chooses a safe place and time to open herself to feeling a specific emotion like sadness, she can begin to recognize what it means to feel sad and (hopefully) name it.

The more she is able to reclaim her emotions, the more she will be able to express the blocked emotions from the years of abuse. The more she is able to do that, the more she will be able to reclaim what was taken from her—her connection to herself.


 


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