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Emotional Health & Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Last updated on September 25th, 2023 at 03:32 pm

Access Emotions for a Healthy Relationship

Emotions are intense.  They rock us.  We have to deal with them. Someone says something the wrong way, or we are in a difficult situation and all of a sudden we might find ourselves in a fury, or in deep grief, or perhaps an awful sense of embarrassment and shame as if we are ‘bad’. If we learn to access and deal with our emotions we can achieve emotional health and avoid creating emotionally abusive relationships.

When we are in these feeling places we usually don’t have any perspective or not much.  It is like we got dropped off and lost in some horrible bad place and we cannot get ourselves out.  We have no control.  We don’t know what happened to us.  And on top of that, we often judge ourselves for having these lapses of control, or even worse, deny they ever happened. (This last one is sure to wreak havoc on your relationships.)   And it is scary.  What if our out-of-control feelings cause someone to judge us or reject us? Yet, it is essential to be able to access emotions for a healthy relationship.

One way people deal with this fear is to prevent ourselves from having feelings.  When I run into this in my practice, I generally refer to the ‘basement’ with all the feelings that are locked in and can’t get out.  You have to disconnect from yourself to do this.  You may feel more in control, but it is a disastrous state for a human being who has to know his or herself and relate to others.  We end up depressed, or detached and shut down, or having reactions way out of proportion to events that jump out and ambush whoever is unlucky enough to trigger us. Shutting down our feelings this way can cause marital problems, because it makes intimacy in relationship difficult.

Acting our our feelings is also a problem. Instead of processing and talking about feelings, someone might punish another with their feelings. 

Recently for me, I had some very large feelings come up. They just pushed their way through and I let myself experience them. Meanwhile, I felt confused, ashamed, and small, wondering what was wrong with me.  Pretty interesting as I’m somebody who is extremely good at unearthing and processing the hard stuff.  It made me realize how primal these feelings were and how hard it is for all of us as emotional beings to let the emotions take over and just experience them without judgment and without control.

The fear, I think, is that either we are crazy, or that these feelings will pummel us for the rest of our lives and we won’t be able to live with ourselves, be adult, logical, and rational.  And yes, this can be part of the process of somebody with a major mood disorder, but that means they don’t have the other piece of solid ground they can hold onto and use as an anchor.  Instead, it is a place they live in.  But this isn’t true for most of us.

I realized something else too.  The only way I was going to transcend what I was struggling with was by allowing the feelings to come through.  So, lying on my yoga mat during savasana, I just let the tears come up and I let myself completely feel the shame and grief that was moving through me.  Then it got clearer.  I could see a piece of my past differently than ever before.  I could see a very specific negative message I had gotten and how it had hindered me.  And I could see that by allowing myself to feel, I was processing and letting go of this belief.  I couldn’t change the belief until I experienced and released all the feelings that were connected to it. I couldn’t transcend the old me until I let myself go and really experienced what these feelings were.  This type of change is not a mental decision, but an emotional process.

This is the part of therapy that people who haven’t had therapy don’t understand. Yes, we talk about things and make sense of them, but often, for many of us, there is a very emotional piece that must occur.  It is like a tidal wave coming through, taking whatever is not solid with it, so that after it retracts the landscape is different.  Who we are has been changed permanently.

Yes, it is scary to descend into the depths of our feelings where the logical rational world isn’t present.  But it is also a very important aspect of healing.   We do survive these lapses.  And we have to tell ourselves, “these are just feelings”. “I am not crazy.”  Experiencing feelings in this way is important. They are telling us something we need to know, something about how our reality has been constructed. This is the releasing process that occurs when we are making big changes in who we are.  It is part of what must happen when we have core beliefs that need to shift.

Experiencing feelings is part of being human. It is also part of the process of healing.  Reacting out of our feelings is very different than feeling these feelings.  For instance, snapping at somebody and blaming him or her for something is very different than experiencing the grief of being disappointed and hurt. For example, rather than snapping, I might say to my husband, “I feel so hurt because it seems like you aren’t here for me now.”

My husband was able to respond supportively, because I had access to my deep vulnerable emotions. When one or both partners are in this reactive state because they don’t have good access to their deeper vulnerable feelings, it can be a cause of fighting and arguing for couples. But once you allow yourself to descend into the disappointment and hurt, you can find the part of you that wasn’t valued at another point in your life.  You can explore and come to understand how that has impacted you.  You can get to know that grief and then you can heal from it, allowing you to move forward into intimacy in your marriage on a new level. You can develop emotional health and avoid creating emotionally abusive relationships

How do you deal with your feelings?

Do you recognize them as a valuable part of living?

Do you try to avoid them?

Do they jump out at inopportune moments and sabotage you?

Do you allow yourself to have them and process them?

Do you get stuck in them, or can you understand their message and release them?

Do you act them out in a way that causes emotionally abusive relationships?

For more about dealing with painful emotions in a positive, healthy way that will help improve intimacy in your relationships, read “Embrace the Suck.

Emotional Release Guided Meditation

You can do the following Emotional Release Guided Meditation (audio) to help you connect more fully with your emotions:

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3 thoughts on “Emotional Health & Emotionally Abusive Relationships

  • December 8, 2010 at 5:14 am

    I am definitely a “wounded” person, but I don’t know where it comes from. I have never been one to show emotion. As a child, if we had to cry or were angry, we were sent to our bedrooms to do it or get over it. My parents were mere kids themselves when they had us, so I understand their rationale in how best to deal with four kids when they were teens themselves. I have been a police officer for over 13 years and am extremely understanding and accepting of all emotions that my “customers” are feeling or expressing, but I can’t do it in my personal life. I am 34 years old and have only had one relationship last more than a year, with most ending sooner. I don’t know what it is about my emotions, but I am always the one to end it. It’s not emotional for me, I just decide I’m done and that’s the end of it. In talking to past “partners”, it is my lack of emotion that hurts them more than anything. In my mind, it gives clarity that it is over. I just wish I understood why I shut down when I do (generally with no clear-cut reason-it just doesn’t feel right) and if I will ever give someone a chance or if I am just meant to be single. I really think I am fine with either, I only wish I understood the “why”. Do I need counseling? I honestly have tried to recreate relationships, events and feelings and don’t know what I could say or do differently. Thank you for your article. It made me re-think things, though I don’t have an answer for myself. 🙂

  • December 8, 2010 at 9:19 am

    You might not be able to do it differently or imagine doing it differently right now. Yet it sounds as if you have a ‘skill’ of making a decision and moving on ‘when things don’t feel right’ that really served you as a child, but isn’t necessarily helping you in your adult relationships. Exploring ‘when it just doesn’t feel right’ sounds important. What brings that on? Are there are disappointments? Is it a way of protecting yourself? If you want to change this, and I suspect you can, I would give counseling a try.

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