Living With Difficult Emotions - Indigo Daya

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Living With Difficult EmotionsSelf-help bookletAnxietyI grew up feeling scared of strong emotions,especially anger.Then I experienced a terrible trauma in myearly teens and was overwhelmed by shameand fear. I spent years as a young adultalternating between suppressing theseemotions or indulging them. Neither worked.Eventually I ‘went mad’ and found my wayinto the mental health system.I waited years for someone to help menavigate through my difficult emotions. I’vewritten this booklet because I don’t wantothers to have to wait as long as I did. I havetried to share some of the ideas that helpedme on my healing journey. It won’t be rightfor everyone, and it’s just a place to start from,not the whole deal. But I hope it helps at leasta little.About 10 years ago I was told that I wouldprobably never recover, that I was unlikely toever work again, and I was even made togive up my dog because I couldn’t care forher, or myself, properly.Today I am still in the mental health system –but not as a consumer. I manage a peersupport service, deliver talks and trainingabout recovery, and sometimes I am evenhired by psychiatric hospitals to contribute myideas. I live in a lovely little flat, with mygrumpy little pet cat, Angus, and I love my life.Don’t ever let anyone take away your hope.Change is not only always possible – it isinevitable.I wish you well on your journey. Hang in there.IndigoMay 2013 Indigo Daya, 2013. Please feel free to share this flyer withanyone who may benefit from it. Not for commercial use.Hardly anyone in mental health talked aboutemotions – it was all about ‘symptoms’ or‘behaviours’. My medication made meemotionally numb, and mostly I was told to‘distract’ myself. It felt like my workers were asscared of my emotions as I was. Yet it wasonly when I was truly able to embrace myemotions - to understand, express, share,release and accept these difficult feelings –that I was able to begin healing my

New ways to think aboutdifficult emotions.Difficult emotions sit at the heart of almost every mental health issue.How well do you understand and work with your difficult emotions?‘Bad’ emotions?I think one of the fundamental issues in coping with emotions is the way we tend to judge themas being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘positive’ or ‘negative‘. Most people think, for example, that loveand happiness are positive, while anger, sadness, shame & fear are bad .Judging some emotions as bad encourages us to avoid them, rather than work with them.All emotions are essential.While it’s true that some emotions definitely feel better than others, the truth is that all emotionsare essential because they give us important information that we need to act on.If we never got angry then nothing would everchange! Anger has driven all of the importanthuman rights movements throughout abolishing slavery, women’s rights, andfreedom of speech.If we never felt fear then we wouldn’t be ableto keep ourselves safe when in danger – all ourprehistoric ancestors would have been eatenby predators because they weren’t scaredenough to run away to safety.Separating emotions from responses.One of the reasons we think some emotions are bad is because we confuse the emotion withthe response or behaviour that follows it. For example, someone gets angry and then theybecome violent. We are scared of the violence and so we also become scared of anger, andwe decide that anger is ‘bad’.It is true that violence is almost never a good thing, but violence is only one of many possibleresponses to anger; violence is not the same thing as anger.We need to remember that with support and persistence we can all learn new ways ofresponding to our emotions. Doing this can dramatically reduce emotional pain and transformour

Changing theway we respondto emotions.Changing how we respond to emotions takes time – but it is possible. I knowbecause I’ve done it myself, and seen many others do the same.No, it’s not easy. It involves learning a new self-awareness, new habits, andthen practicing them over and over. Some helpful first steps in changing theway we respond to difficult emotions include:1.Don’t suppress your emotions – this is a key contributor to mental healthissues. The more we push emotions down, the more they ‘pop out’ innew & distressing ways.2.Notice what emotions you are feeling and when you feel them. Keepinga journal can help to get a new perspective.3.Listen to the messages behind your emotions – why are you feeling this?There are always reasons (but some may be difficult to acknowledge).4.Address the issues behind your emotions. Denial does not work. Feelingsorry for ourselves makes it worse. But getting into ‘problem solvingmode’ can really help.5.Practice ways of responding to your emotions that really try to resolvethe message behind the emotion, and the way that it impacts your mindand body.6.Remember that just because other people may respond in unhelpfulways– and even if you have done the same in the past – does not meanyou can’t change.7.Get support. This can be from good friends or family, from a supportworker, a peer, a support group, counsellor or therapist. Getting helpcan make all the difference, but be aware that it can take a while tofind the right person for you.8.Remember the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill who also struggledwith difficult emotions "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, giveup. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up."

FearNothing in life is to be feared, it is only to beunderstood. Now is the time to understandmore, so that we may fear less.Marie CurieAnxiety just a medical word for fear.We feel fear when we don’t feel safe.Sometimes fear continues long after the dangeris past, so then we need to learn how to be safeagain.There are three types of reactions to fear:Fight: Attack the threat, violenceFlight: Run away or hideFreeze: (or ‘dissociate’) Go numb, don’tmove, float away in our mindsHelpful responsesIf you are not safe right now, leave thesituation. If your home situation is not safefind support to get into a safer situation.Slow steady breathing helps your body torelax. First focus on breathing out slowly,then breathing in deeply and slowly.Understand what makes you feel unsafe(people, situations, feelings) and why.If you are afraid of a threat that is now in thepast, get support or counselling to processyour feelings. It is common for fear tocontinue long after a significant danger –but this can change.Give yourself small challenges to confrontlittle fears. Ask loved ones to help you dothis.Create a safe space at home for comfort.Create an imaginary safe space in yourmind, complete with lots of detail, thenrecall it when you need to – imagine thesights, smells & sounds.Build up your physical strength in your body.Unhelpful responsesAvoiding lifeDrugs and alcoholStaying in unsafe situations“I learned that courage was not the absence offear, but the triumph over it. The brave man isnot he who does not feel afraid, but he whoconquers it.”More about FearFear is our mind’s way of telling us it thinks we’re indanger. Fear can completely overwhelm us. Fear isgiving us a strong and simple message – GET SAFE!If a car is speeding towards us then we need to bedriven by fear - it will help us jump to safety. But if fearis crippling us all the time when everyone else seemsOK, then it can be a big problem. We can even endup hiding for our whole lives because we are soscared.A lot of people say that the best way to conquer fearis to confront the thing that scares you. Exposuretherapy is based on this idea, as is a good little selfhelp book by Susan Jeffers called ‘Feel the Fear andDo It Anyway’. I think sometimes this can really helpif done gently.My own experiences have shown me that sometimesit is also necessary to look deeper into our fear andunderstand why it is there in the first place. I am a bigbeliever that knowledge brings power – and power isa great tool against fear. What has happened in yourlife to cause such strong fear? Have there been timeswhen it was not possible for you make yourself safe?Have you been in unsafe situations over long periodsof time? If this is the case then your fear responsestoday may be out of proportion – but understandablyso.There could be great value for you in understandingthe historical sources of your fear and addressingthose issues in a therapeutic environment. Perhapsyour fear is actually a messenger about unresolvedissues that need to be addressed. Address them,explore them, take the chance.Nelson

Fear WorksheetAm I safe in my life right now Physically? Emotionally? Mentally?If not, what can I do to get safe? Who could help me?What things, situations, people, times or places make me feel fearful?Why am I afraid of these things? Are they hiding deeper fears or past dangers?How do I respond to my fear? Think about ‘Fight – Flight – Freeze’ responsesHow would I like to respond to my fear?Are there small steps I could take to challenge my fear and test my strength? Who couldsupport me to do this? How can I get started?

ShameShame tells us when we think we’vebetrayed our values.Shame makes us think we are ‘bad’ inthe eyes of others.Shame makes us want to hide or punishourselves.Helpful responses“Owning our story can be hard but notnearly as difficult as spending our livesrunning from it.Embracing our vulnerabilities isrisky but not nearly asdangerous as giving up on love andbelonging and joy—theexperiences that make us themost vulnerable.Only when we are brave enough to explore thedarkness will we discover the infinite power ofour light.”Take time to understand what you feelashamed about – really spell it out.If your shame is about your responses tobeing hurt or abused, learn more abouthow abusers trick us into taking on theirshame.* Put the shame where it belongs.Shame is a social emotion – you can’trelease it on your own. Share yourfeelings with others you trust.If you genuinely did something wrong: dowhat you can to put things right thenforgive yourself & let it go.Practice self-love, even when it feelsinappropriate (that’s when you need itmost).Go to public places or support services –don’t be alone.List your strengths, gifts and achievements– no matter how small.Find a counsellor or therapist or supportgroup that works for you. Let others inand find ways to recover.Unhelpful responsesIsolating yourselfPunishing yourselfGoing over and over your ‘sins’Drugs & alcohol*Survivors of abuse often feel shame that really belongs to ourperpetrator/s, not to us. Perpetrators are skilled in making usthink it is our fault. It is not. If you were abused, you havenothing to be ashamed of. Many of us who have survivedabuse also feel shame about our responses after the abuse.You may be surprised to find out your responses are commonand nothing to feel ashamed about. It can be extremelyhelpful to get counselling to understand and process thesefeelings, and it can be a wonderful release when we discoverthat we are not alone.Brené BrownMore about ShameShame is helpful in reminding us to be true to ourvalues and those of the society in which we live.Shame drives us to reflect on our actions and to dothe right thing. This is very useful. But sometimes wecan feel shame that is not appropriate and whichcan become way out of proportion.My own mental health issues were driven by shame.I felt ashamed for having been sexually abused, andfor my responses to that abuse. At my worst I wasconvinced that I was ‘evil’. My shame drove me toself-harm, to hide away, to give up on life, and toget lost in another world inside my mind, to get stuckfor years in the mental health system.It wasn’t until I received a lot of support and did alot of work myself that I could see that I had nothingto be ashamed of at all. I was a victim and I am asurvivor – all of the shame I felt really belongs to theman who hurt me. It was long and arduous journeyto work this out, but I cannot recommend it highlyenough to others.Finding people I trusted and sharing my story withthem was essential to overcoming my shame. Ineeded to see my story in the eyes of others – ithelped to forgive myself. It was enormously hard,but worth every moment of pain.Read my personal recovery story to find out moreabout my thoughts on shame. I also found thatpeer support, and the writings of Brene Brown, JudithHerman, Babette Rothschild, Helen Bass & LauraDavis were a great help and comfort to

Shame WorksheetHow does shame affect your life? Would you like it to be different?What has happened in your life that has contributed to feeling ashamed?What are the things you feel ashamed about? It can be helpful to get shame out of our heads andonto paper. You may find you have many things to list here (I know I did).Would you consider talking to a counsellor or therapist about your shame (if you could findsomeone you really trust, someone non-judgemental and loving)? How could you make thishappen? Who could help you find the right person?Have you ever talked about your shame with people who have been through similarexperiences – such as a support group? How could you make this happen?Are there small steps you could take to challenge your shame and affirm your goodness?

AngerAnger tells us that something feelsunfair.Anger motivates us to makechanges.Anger builds up lots of energy orpressure in our minds & bodies.Lots of people are scared of angerbut actually anger can be a goodthing.Helpful responsesStep away from situations that make youfeel angry – get somewhere that feels lessthreatening.Try to avoid immediate responses toanger – give yourself time to calm downand think.Take slow, steady breaths.Work out what it is that feels unfair orwrong – the heart of the issue.Find respectful and constructive ways toright the wrongs if possible.Talk over your anger with others who careor who have ‘been there’.Release physical energy safely. things thatcan help include martial arts, exercise,dancing, singing and laughing.Learn about and practice assertiveness,which is very different to aggressiveness.Practice acceptance & compassion.Unhelpful responsesViolence or disrespect to yourself or othersSuppressing feelings; pretendingeverything is OK.Judging your angerDrugs & alcoholSometimes we are powerless to change thethings that make us feel angry.In these cases we have a choice: stay angry andmiserable, or accept the situation and let it go.Acceptance can bring release and emotional freedom.It is not the same as approval.“If you try to get rid of fearand anger without knowingtheir meaning, they will growstronger and return.”Deepak ChopraMore about AngerAnger is a great emotion because it lets us know whensomething is not fair. Then it motivates us to take actionand put things right. Of course if we respond to ouranger with violence then that is not good. And if wedon’t respond to our anger at all it can literally drive usmad.It was not until about eight years ago that I learnt angeris not to be feared but to be embraced. This learninghas changed so much about how I think about theworld and how I go about my life.I think there are 3 common responses to feeling anger:Destructive: Hurt others or ourselves.This is when we try to get rid of the thing that’s unfair, orhurt people to try and make them stop. This is what Iused to think anger was all about because this was howI’d seen others respond to their anger. It is the commonview of anger which gives anger such a bad name.Avoidance: Pretend that nothing is wrong.This is how I used to respond to my own anger and wasa reflection of my own fear of anger. I think it was partof why I was ‘mad’ for so long (pun intended).Constructive: Create peaceful change.These are the wonderful responses I have learnt inrecent years –to take my anger and use it as amotivating force to try and bring about positivechange. Gandhi used constructive anger through nonviolent protest. Peaceful rallies are also constructiveuses of anger. Talking out our issues with respect,assertiveness and non-violence is another example.These days when I feel angry I stop and ask myself ‘Whydo I feel that this is unjust? Is this something I want totake action about? What can I do that is respectfuland nonviolent to bring about change?’I have been particularly delighted to find that, for meat least, acting on my anger in constructive andpositive ways seems to be a great antidote fordepression. It has helped me to become a writer andactivist, and to have renewed dedication for my work.More than this, learning to channel my anger intopositive change has increased my sense of personalpower, and helped me to think of myself as a survivorrather than as a

Anger WorksheetHow does anger affect your life? Would you like it to be different?What has happened in your life that has contributed to feeling angry?What are the things you feel angry about?Is there anything you think you ‘should’ feel angry about – but don’t? This could be a clue that you are suppressing youranger. If you are suppressing your anger, in what other ways might it be coming out or affecting you?*How do you respond to feeling angry? Are you destructive? Do you avoid it? Are youconstructive with it?If anger is a big problem in your life, have you ever talked about it in a support group? Wouldyou like to? How could you make this happen? Who could you ask to help you?List some constructive, non-violent responsesthat you could use next time you feel angry.List some safe ways that you could releasethe energy you feel when you get angry:If you are not used to expressing your anger it can feel reallywhen you first release it. Practice expressing your* scaryanger with someone you trust or in a safe

The most glorious moments in your life are not theso-called days of success, but rather those dayswhen out of dejection and despair you feel rise inyou a challenge to life, and the promise of futureaccomplishments.Gustave FlaubertMore about SadnessDepression is a medical term thatincludes extreme sadness, despair,grief and sometimes a vast gnawingemptiness.Sadness tells us that we have lost ornever had something that wefundamentally need, such as love,safety, connection or purpose.Sadness takes away our motivationand so it can be hard to overcome.Helpful responsesThink about what you are missing or havelost what do you need to fill your heart?Find long lost dreams or create new ones.Take tiny, little steps towards these dreams.Find someone to share your dream withand who can help with motivation.Acknowledge what you grieve for but alsotry not to dwell on it too much.Make plans for your future.Be with other people more often.Set ‘5-minute’ challenges to raise yourenergy – have a shower, walk to theletterbox If it feels comfortable, ask others for hugs orpositive feedback.Visit funny sites on the internet.Read or watch inspiring stories.Let yourself cry when you need to.Do kind things for others.Unhelpful responsesRuminating/dwelling on problems.Oversleeping.Being alone too much.Drugs and alcohol.Seeking sympathy instead of solutions.But what we call our despair is often onlythe painful eagerness of unfed hope.George EliotIn many ways sadness is the most difficult of all thedifficult emotions because it is so demotivating.Sadness doesn’t drive us to do anything, rather ittakes away our drive.Sadness is a message that we need to stop, reflect,grieve and gather ourselves - rather than ‘do’. Theproblem is that sometimes we stop and get lost in thesadness rather than reflect on and learn from it. Andother times we can reflect for what feels like aneternity without being able to see a way out of thedarkness.Sadness has become very pathologised in themodern western world. There seems to be a socialexpectation that we should always be happy andpositive, yet we live in a world that contains cruelty,loss, isolation, extraordinary disadvantage, war thelist goes on. Positivity and optimism are great things,but they are not always appropriate.I think sadness is a natural response to devastatingcircumstances, and that sometimes we need to giveourselves time to stop and feel the sadness. Withgrief, for example, we are given space to reflect onwho and what we have lost and the value it had inour lives.Sometimes though, like with the other difficultemotions, sadness can become overwhelming andout of perspective – a labyrinth of darkness that ishard to escape from. When this happens we need totake action. Not because we have a disease ofdepression, but because life is more than loss, andthere are wonderful things in this world as well ashorrid things. There is children’s laughter, crunchyautumn leaves, the exuberance of a dog running atthe beach, hot soup on a cold night, belly laughs,friends and love.We must push against the lack of motivation andforce our way back into the world, into socialsituations, into activities that interest us, even intothings that anger us (remember, anger is motivating –a great countermeasure against sadness). This takesa huge sustained effort, but hey – it really is worth

Sadness WorksheetHow does sadness affect your life? Would you like it to be different?What has happened in your life that has contributed to feeling sad, empty or despairing?Who or what have you lost? What important things or people have been missing from your life?If you could wake up tomorrow as a completely new person in a completely new life whowould you be? What would you do? Who would be around you? What can you do in thislife to move closer to this dream life?What ‘5-minute’ challenges can you set for yourself to raise your energy? Who can you enlistto help you stay motivated?What people are in your life that you can share your feelings with, seek comfort from, andshare time with? If you don’t have many people in your life, what could you do to start to meet new people in a safespace? Eg, join a club or interest group, start a short course What makes you laugh? How can youbring more laughter into your life?What do you find beautiful or inspiring?How can get more of this in your life?

Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful.How can Ismile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural - you need tosmile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.Thich Nhat Hanh“The capacity for hope is the mostsignificant fact of life. It provideshuman beings with a sense ofdestination and the energy to getstarted.”Norman Cousins“Worry will not reduce my chanceof pain tomorrow, but it willcertainly increase my chance ofpain today.”Unknown“It is one of the most beautifulcompensations of this life that noman can sincerely try to helpanother without helping himself.”Ralph Waldo Emerson“Rivers carve their own valleys. Water flowing over rockand soil cuts channels, which grow deeper with everypassing year. The contours of the channel then define thecourse of the river. The river creates the banks, and thebanks create the river.Our emotions are like rivers that create gullies forthemselves. The more water flows in a particulardirection, the more likely it is that water will continueto flow in that direction.But as irrigators can change the flow of water,so too can we change the way that ourthoughts and feelings flow.”www.wildmind.orgThe Dalai LamaThe positive value of anger is not limited to peaceactivists, but is relevant to all who work for socialchange. It may be argued that anger is the personalfuel in the social motor that resolves the institutionalcontradictions that arise in the course of history. Assuch it applies to the activists who rid the world ofslavery, and who moved the political economicsystems from feudalism to capitalism and fromcapitalism to socialism, and who are fighting todayto rid the world of racism and sexism.David

way we respond to difficult emotions include: 1. Don’t suppress your emotions – this is a key contributor to mental health issues. The more we push emotions down, the more they ‘pop out’ in new & distressing ways. 2. Notice what emotions you are feeling and when you feel them

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