Category Archives: Psychological

What Lies Beneath: Volatility in a Peaceful World

So this is a completely left-field post because it draws on other arenas of interest and influence to me that I don’t normally talk about here on the blog.  The entry point is volatility but the wider life lesson absolutely fits here.

First the definition of volatility:

“liability to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse.”

Then the link to the podcast that blew my mind:

What Lies Beneath: Volatility in a Peaceful World (Podcast Number 13)

So yes it’s a finance podcast and the key excerpts of value were from Chris Cole in his talking about viewing life as a hedge  (A hedge is an investment to reduce the risk of adverse movements in value of the underlying asset).  So for me running is a natural hedge (short term pain) for longer term health and longevity (long term gain) –  hopefully.  He even cites drinking as a short on life potentially negatively affecting the risk to your life caused by the health effects over the longer term.  Running reduces health risk while drinking increases health risk.  Except he explains it so much more eloquently and elegantly than I do!

He then mentions this brilliant watch called The Tikker:

The Tikker Watch was designed to provide you with a constant reminder that life is truly short and we should take advantage of the time we have on this planet.   The Tikker System will give you an estimate of your life expectancy and then counts down every second so you can make choices that will enhance your life such as exercise, a healthy diet, or finding ways to reduce stress.  Buy one now and you will see how it immediately and positively affects you and those around you.    Start a new way of looking at life today!

Some may find the premise of this watch maudlin but I think it’s inspired.

And then as a bonus Chris Martenson talks about the nuances of communicating emotionally charged ideas.  And lets face it talking about drinking to anyone can feel emotionally charged at times!

I thought I’d share it here because my mouth dropped open and tears sprang to my eyes on hearing it and for me that’s a indicator to document it here 🙂

Sober Insights: The Self-Torture Game

So continuing reading Healing the Shame that binds you by John Bradshaw and he talks about a process called the self-torture game.  He says that “it is almost always so habitual that it is unconscious”.  Felt pretty apt so I thought I’d discuss it further here.

It was identified by Fritz Perls as Top Dog-Under Dog Thinking.  Here’s a bit more definition from Wiki:

Topdog vs. underdog is a phrase coined by Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt therapy, to describe a self-torture game that people play with themselves in order to avoid the anxiety that they encounter in their environment.

The topdog describes the part of an individual which makes demands based on the idea that the individual should adhere to certain societal norms and standards. These demands are often characterized by “shoulds” and “oughts”.

The underdog describes the part of an individual which makes excuses explaining why these demands should not be met. It is often the case that these excuses act as internal sabotage to ensure that the demands are never met.

Gestalt therapists often guide their patients through an exercise where the patients takes on both of these roles. With the guidance of the therapist, the patients can come to gain insight about themselves which can help them have a healthier relationship with their environment.

I think I engaged in this a great deal when I was drinking and it definitely kept me stuck in shame.  My inner critic was my top dog ‘I shouldn’t drink in the week’ or ‘I ought to be able to have a few nights off without it being a problem’ and my drinking behaviour – the victim or underdog.

It’s been happening again recently but I’ve been noticing it.  I injured my back at work a few weeks ago and it has slowed me down and hobbled my usual activities at home, including running.  In my forced resting state I’ve been doing a huge amount of reading and learning and emotional growth which has been both insightful and overwhelming.  I can recommend three books for emotional recovery work: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker, Taming Your Outer Child by Susan Anderson and John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that binds you.  I wouldn’t recommend reading the three back to back as I’ve done as I’ve been the instigator of my own emotional overwhelm because of it.  Tread slowly and gently is what I learned!

I noticed this voice pop up around my reduced activity.  It shows up in my thoughts as anxiety related to gaining weight because I’m not running and about being lazy around the home because I’m resting my back.

Perlz argues that the internal conflict speaks to unfinished business.  What I mean by that is, in this scenario the top dog voice is my internalized early parent figure and the underdog is me as a child being chided for being lazy.  By bringing this into consciousness I get the opportunity to finish the unfinished business by acknowledging the dynamic, become more self-integrating (as this is a defensive split in the human personality) and self-accepting, process the emotions attached and thereby facilitate resolution on this specific personal representation of the ‘self-torture’ game.

Is this something that sounds familiar to you too?  Do you recognise this self-defeating thought pattern?

Depression in Recovery


So I’ve talked before about depression and drinking here so this is not a new topic.  However I’ve not really discussed it in recovery.

Often our drinking is a self-medication for depression and keeps us stuck in a place where we don’t look at the underlying driver to our drinking.  However when we stop we remove that coping strategy and also the distraction and suddenly our underlying low mood comes fully into view.  This can be disconcerting when we’ve achieved so much in stopping and are hoping for pink clouds and get dark skies instead.  This is something I’ve experienced in recovery so know you are not alone.

If you’re struggling with low mood can I recommend listening to the brilliant podcast featuring Mandy Stevens which was featured on Bryony Gordon’s MadWorld podcast series in April.

If you wish to read Mandy’s story you can do so here:

From NHS Director to mental health inpatient in 10 days

The podcast is superb because she talks so eloquently about her depression and suicidal thoughts as one with the insight of both mental health professional and also client struggling with this debilitating mental health illness.

Her words:

As I have worked in mental health services for 29 years, one would think I would be immune to mental illness. I am a Registered Mental Health Nurse with 15 years experience as a clinician and latterly 14 years as a manager and then Director. But there is no immunity; mental illness can come out of nowhere and affect anyone at any time.

From initial symptoms of depression to admission to a mental health unit 10 days later via the Crisis Team, depression ripped the rug out from under my feet and emptied my whole being. I have been completely disabled and incapacitated by this illness.

If I had been in hospital with a broken leg, or a physical problem, no doubt I would have been sharing amusing photos of my drip stand, the signed plaster cast and the hospital food; laughing with my family, friends & extended Social Media community. Instead I have hidden myself away, scared of my own shadow and told very few people. Sad to say, I have also been embarrassed, shy, suicidal, phobic, anxious and scared of everything.

She also in the podcast shares some superb resources including:

The Beck Depression Inventory

This is a free self-scoring resource that you can complete, print out and take to your GP to start a discussion with your healthcare professional should you find yourself struggling.

GO HERE TO ACCESS THE TEST

She also shares many tips including those for managing panic attacks and some excellent mindfulness resources.  It is well worth your time and I thank her for it.

As she advocates if you are struggling please reach out to someone – anyone be it family, friend or supportive stranger.  You can find a supportive stranger at the Samaritans here 🙂

 

Friday Sober Insight: The Addiction Game

So continuing on reading John Bradshaw he discusses Transactional Analysis and mentioned a Life Script I’d not heard of: the ‘no feel’ (addiction) script also described as Joyless.  In deeper exploration I found further talk of the addiction game.  The image to the right explains the script types further and this excerpt below from the core Transactional Analysis text explains the Addiction Game:

The drama triangle can be illustrated with the Addiction Game. (I’ve discussed the Karpman Drama Triangle before here.)  In the Addiction Game, the addict playing the role of the Victim of addiction, humiliation, prejudice, medical neglect and even police brutality seeks and finds a Rescuer. The Rescuer plays the role by trying to generously and selflessly help the addict without making sure that the addict is invested in the process of giving up drug abuse. After a certain amount of frustrating failure the Rescuer gets angry and switches into the Persecuting role by accusing, insulting, neglecting or punishing the addict. At this point the addict switches from Victim to Persecutor by counterattacking, insulting, becoming violent and creating midnight emergencies. The erstwhile Rescuer is now the Victim in the game. This process of switching goes on endlessly around the Drama Triangle Merry-go-Round.

To avoid the drama triangle in psychotherapy, transactional analysts insist on establishing a contract in which the person specifically states what he/she wants to be cured of. This protects both client and therapist: the therapist knows exactly what the person wants, and the person knows what the therapist is going to work on and when therapy is to be completed. In any case, the best way to avoid the Drama Triangle is to avoid the roles of Rescuer, Persecutor or Victim by staying in the Adult ego state.

SCRIPTS: Transactional analysts believe that most people are basically OK and in difficulty only because their parents (or other grown ups and influential young people) have exposed them to powerful injunctions and attributions with long-term harmful effects.

People, early in their lives come to the conclusion that their lives will unfold in a predictable way; short, long, healthy, unhealthy, happy, unhappy depressed or angry, successful or failed, active or passive. When the conclusion is that life will be bad or self damaging this is seen as a life script.

The script matrix is a diagram used to clarify people’s scripts. In it we see two parents and their offspring and we can diagram the transactional messages–injunctions and attributions–which caused the young person to abandon their original OK position and replace it with a serf-damaging not OK position.

When life is guided by a script there are always periods in which the person appears to be evading his or her unhappy fate. This seemingly normal period of the script, is called the counterscript. The counterscript is active when the person’s unhappy life plan gives way to a happier period. This is, however, only temporary and invariably collapses, giving way to the original scripting. For an alcoholic, this may be a period of sobriety; for a depressed person with a suicide script it may be a brief period of happiness which inevitably ends when the script’s injunctions take over.

In the Script Matrix of Joseph, a drug addict we see that the script injunction “Don’t think, drink instead.” goes to Joseph’s Child from his father’s Child. This powerful message influences Joseph’s life dramatically, when he follows his father’s injunction with drugs instead of alcohol causing him repeated drug abuse episodes through his young life and adulthood. The counterscript message “You should not  drink to excess,” motivates him to make repeated but ineffectual efforts to cut down on drug abuse and it goes to Joseph’s Parent from his mother and father’s Parent.

The Script message: “don’t think, drink instead” delivered from Child-to-Child-is more influential than the Parent-to-Parent counterscript message to abuse moderately: that is why the script messages will usually prevail unless the person changes his or her script. When scripts are not changed they are passed down the generations, like hot potatoes, from grown ups to children in an uninterrupted chain of maladaptive, toxic behavior patterns.

You can read more about TEN CONCEPTS IN TREATING ALCOHOLICS WITH TA written by Stephen Karpman:

10Alc

I’ve been wondering to myself whether the “hot potato” of the no-feel script, leading to addiction issues, is present in the UK because of our cultural tendency to a “stiff upper life” approach to life.

From Wiki:

One who has a stiff upper lip displays fortitude in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion.[1][2] The phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom “keep a stiff upper lip”, and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people in remaining resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity.[1]

And it’s not just me who’s been questioning the value of our stiff upper lip approach to life recently either:

The stiff upper lip: why the royal health warning matters

Just a thought.

Friday Sober Inspiration: Shame and The Squirrel Cage

So I’ve been reading John Bradshaw’s Healing The Shame That Binds You and oh my goodness when I read the section on Shame as The Core and Fuel of Addiction I almost fell off my chair!  It’s called The Squirrel Cage and is so reminiscent of this post I wrote it is spooky …..

I’m going to quote this section from his book but will share a series of Youtube video’s you can watch where he speaks about shame and this book’s premise.  There are 5 video’s in total and I’ll link the first one below.

Over to John:

Neurotic shame is the root and fuel of all compulsive/addictive behaviours.  My general working definition of compulsive/addictive behaviour is “a pathological relationship to any mood altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.”

The drivenness in any addiction is about the ruptured self, the belief that one is flawed as a person.  The content of the addiction, whether it be an ingestive addiction, or an activity addiction (such as work, shopping or gambling), is an attempt at an intimate relationship.  The workaholic with his work and the alcoholic with his booze are having a love affair.  Each one alters the mood in order to avoid the feeling of loneliness and hurt in the underbelly of shame.  Each addictive acting out creates life-damaging consequences that create more shame.  The new shame fuels the cycle of addiction.

The image at the top of the post is taken from Dr Pat Carne’s work, giving you a visual picture of how internalized shame fuels the addictive process and addictions create more shame, which sets one up to be more shame-based.  Addicts call this the squirrel cage.

I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking.  The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed.  Shame begets shame.

The cycle begins with the false belief system shared by all addicts: that no one could want them or love them as they are.  In fact, addicts can’t love themselves.  They are an object of scorn to themselves.  This deep internalized shame gives rise to distorted thinking.  The distorted thinking can be reduced to the belief, “I’ll be okay if I drink, eat, have sex, get more money, work harder, etc.”  The shame turns one into what Kellogg has termed a “human doing” rather than a human being.

Worth is measured on the outside, never on the inside.  The mental obsession about the specific addictive relationship is the first mood alteration, since thinking takes us out of our emotions.  After obsessing for a while, the second mood alteration occurs.  This is the “acting out” or ritual stage of the addiction.  The ritual may involve drinking with the boys, secretly eating in one’ s favourite hiding place or cruising for sex.  The ritual ends in drunkenness, satiation, orgasm, spending all the money or whatever.

What follows is shame over one’s behaviour and life-damaging consequences: the hangover, the infidelity, the demeaning sex, the empty pocketbook.  The meta-shame is a displacement of affect, a transforming of the shame of self into the shame of “acting out” and experiencing life-damaging consequences.  This meta-shame intensifies the shame-based identity: “I’m no good; there’s something wrong with me,” plays like a broken record.  The more it plays, the more one solidifies one’s false belief system.  The toxic shame fuels the addiction and regenerates itself …..

I would really recommend the book but if you’re a visual and auditory learner instead watch here:

Friday Sober Jukebox: I’m Free

So here I am once again reeling from insight after insight triggered happily by reading another Pete Walker book!  Finding that I’m free – or continuing to work myself free from old constraining ways of thinking around my shame from drinking and other perceived weaknesses which is often represented by the voice of our inner critic.  It’s just too good not to share and once again I strongly advise you to go read the whole book! 🙂

14 Common Inner Critic Attacks (He kindly provides a therapeutic thought-correction response with each attack/programme) and these are a great addition to my posts looking at Drinking Thinking errors.

  1. Perfectionism.  This is a self-persecutory myth.  I do not have to be perfect to be safe or loved in the present.  I am letting go of relationships that require perfection.  I have a right to make mistakes,  Mistakes do not make me a mistake.  Every mistake or mishap is an opportunity to practice loving myself in the places I have never been loved.
  2. All-Or-Nothing & Black-and-White Thinking. I reject extreme or over-generalized descriptions, judgements or criticisms.  One negative happenstance does not mean I am stuck in a never-ending pattern of defeat.  Statements that describe me as ‘always’ or ‘never’ this or that, are typically grossly inaccurate.
  3. Self-Hate, Self-Disgust & Toxic Shame. I commit to myself.  I am on my side.  I am a good enough person.  I refuse to trash myself.  I turn shame back into blame and disgust, and externalize it to anyone who shames my normal feelings and foibles.  As long as I am not hurting anyone, I refuse to be shamed for normal emotional responses like anger, sadness, fear and depression.  I especially refuse to attack myself for how hard it is to completely eliminate this self-hate habit.
  4. Micromanagement/Worrying/Obsessing/Looping/Over-Futurizing. I will not repetitively examine details over and over.  I will not jump to negative conclusions.  I will not endlessly second-guess myself.  I cannot change the past.  I forgive all my past mistakes.  I cannot make the future perfectly safe.  I will stop hunting for what could go wrong.  I will not try to control the uncontrollable.  I will not micromanage myself or others.  I work in a way that is ‘good enough’, and I accept the existential fact that my efforts sometimes bring the desired results and sometimes they do not.  A serenity prayer moment 😉
  5. Unfair/Devaluing Comparisons to others or to your most perfect moments. I refuse to compare myself unfavourably to others.  I will not compare ‘my insides to their outsides’.  I will not judge myself for not being at peak performance all the time.  In a society that pressures into acting happy all the time, I will not get down on myself for feeling bad.
  6. Guilt.   Feeling guilty does not mean I am guilty.  I refuse to make my decisions and choices from guilt.  Sometimes I need to feel the guilt and do it anyway.  In the inevitable instances when I inadvertently hurt someone, I will apologize, make amends, and let go of my guilt.  I will not apologize over and over.  I am no longer a victim.  I will not accept unfair blame.  Guilt is sometimes camouflaged fear.
  7. Shoulding‘. I will substitute the words ‘want to’ for ‘should’ and only follow this imperative if it feels like I want to, unless I am under legal, ethical or moral obligation.
  8. Over-productivity/Workaholism/Busyholism. I am a human being not a human doing.  I will not choose to be perpetually productive.  I am more productive in the long run, when I balance work with play and relaxation.  I will not try to perform at 100% all the time.  I subscribe to the normalcy of vacillating along a continuum of efficiency.
  9. Harsh Judgements of Self & Others/Name-Calling. I will not let the bullies and critics of my early life win by joining and agreeing with them.  I refuse to attack myself or abuse others.  I will not displace the criticism and blame that rightfully belongs to my dysfunctional caretakers onto myself or current people in my life.
  10. Drasticizing/Catastrophizing/Hypochondriasizing. I feel afraid but I am not in danger.  I am not ‘in trouble’ with my parents.  I will not blow things out of proportion.  I refuse to scare myself with thoughts and pictures of my life deteriorating.  No more homemade horrors and disaster flicks.  I will not turn every ache and pain into a story about my imminent demise.  I am safe and at peace.
  11. Negative Focus. I renounce over-noticing and dwelling on what might be wrong with me or life around me.  I will not minimize or discount my attributes.  Right now, I notice, visualise and enumerate my accomplishments, talents and qualities, as well as the many gifts that life offers me, e.g., nature, music, film, food, beauty, colour, friends, pets, etc.
  12. Time Urgency. I am not in danger.  I do not need to rush.  I will not hurry unless it is a true emergency.  I am learning to enjoy doing my daily activities at a relaxed pace.
  13. Disabling Performance Anxiety. I reduce procrastination by reminding myself that I will not accept unfair criticism or perfectionist expectations from anyone. Even when afraid, I will defend myself from unfair criticism.  I won’t let fear make my decisions.
  14. Perseverating about Being Attacked. Unless there are clear signs of danger, I will thought-stop my projection of past bullies/critics onto others.  The vast majority of my fellow human beings are peaceful people.  I have legal authorities to aid in my protection if threatened by the few who aren’t.  I invoke thoughts and images of my friends’ love and support.

1 – 9 are what Pete Walker describes as ‘perfectionism attacks, fueled by toxic shame, create chronic self-hate and self-flagellation’ and 10-14 ‘endangerment attacks, fueled by fear, create chronic hyper vigilance and anxiety‘.

Aren’t these just the best?!  What a freeing list to read 🙂

And if you’d like to work on easing your inner critic voice here is a meditation from Melli over at MrsMindfulness

Sober inspiration: Emotional Hunger and Addiction

So I’ve been reading Pete Walker’s second book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.  This is not the first time I’ve talked about Pete’s writing which has been revolutionary for me in deepening my understanding of the emotional recovery aspects of addiction and you can read them all here.  In this book he digs even deeper into recovery from emotional trauma and I felt compelled once again to share what he wrote specifically about emotional hunger and addiction.

He writes “The emotional hunger that comes from parental abandonment often morphs over time into an insatiable appetite for substances and/or addictive processes.  Minimization of early abandonment often transforms later in life into the minimizing that some survivors use to rationalize their substance and process addictions.  Fortunately, many survivors eventually come to see their substance or process addictions as problematic (*raises hand in acknowledgement*).  But many also minimize the deleterious effects of their addiction and jokingly dismiss their need to end or reduce their reliance on them (*raises hand again*).

When the survivor  has no understanding of the effects of trauma or memory of being traumatized , addictions are often understandable, misplaced attempts to regulate painful emotional flashbacks.  However many survivors are now in a position to see how self-destructive their addictions are.  They are now old enough to learn healthier ways of self-soothing.

Accordingly, substance and process addictions can be seen as misguided attempts to distract from inner pain.  The desire to reduce such habits can therefore be used as motivation to learn the more sophisticated forms of self-soothing that Cptsd recovery work has to offer.

Grieving work offers us irreplaceable tools for working through inner pain.  This then helps obviate the need to harmfully distract ourselves from our pain.

If you’d like to listen to someone talking about their experience of PTSD can I recommend the recent interview of Will Young on Bryony Gordon’s Mad World.

I appreciate that not all of those who visit this blog or read these posts come from traumatic or emotionally abusive childhoods, but equally some of us do.  As AA advocates ‘take what you need and leave the rest’ and hat tip to Anne over at ainsobriety who gets a mention in the recovery piece linked to this AA wisdom! 🙂

Sober Friday Jukebox: STAIR-way to heaven

So it feels like all the reading I’ve done of late has been heading to this point.  I recently received an email from Mind the Brain about Complex PTSD, STAIR and social ecology that you can read here.

STAIR is the acronym for Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation.  It’s a training programme that has been developed in the US by psychologist Dr. Marylene Cloitre.  Here’s  how the programme is described on the US Department of Veteran Affairs website:

STAIR is an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for individuals suffering from PTSD, including chronic and complicated forms as well as for individuals with PTSD and co-occurring disorders.

Complex PTSD results from repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic .

“Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past. Compulsive repetition of the trauma usually is an unconscious process that, although it may provide a temporary sense of mastery or even pleasure, ultimately perpetuates chronic feelings of helplessness and a subjective sense of being bad and out of control. Gaining control over one’s current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of healing” (Bessel A. van der Kolk)

Using STAIR will allow you to teach your patients skills in:

  • emotion regulation
  • interpersonal functioning

This online STAIR training consists of 8 modules covering several core treatment components. STAIR can be provided as a standalone therapy or as a complement to trauma-focused therapies.

Goals and Objectives

  • To become informed about the impact of trauma on emotion regulation and social (interpersonal) functioning
  • To be able to identify at least one strategy that increases emotional awareness
  • To be able to identify at least three strategies that improve emotion regulation in PTSD patients
  • To be able to formulate interpersonal schemas related to problematic social and interpersonal functioning
  • To be able to develop and test alternative interpersonal schemas with client
  • To learn at least two strategies for effective assertiveness behaviors
  • To learn at least one strategy for improving flexibility in interpersonal expectations and behaviors

What I found so striking about this is it mirrors the process I’ve been going through as part of my emotional recovery and particularly in my recent discover of the brilliant book The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker.

Here’s more detail on Session Two: Emotional Awareness:

  • Emotions, emotion regulation, and the impact of trauma on emotion regulation.
  • Why feelings are important, the influence of trauma history on feelings, how to use a feelings wheel to help label feelings.
  • How to use a self- monitoring form to identify the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

And Session Three: Emotional Regulation:

  • Recognize that all of their behaviors are efforts to cope with their feelings and environment.
  • Evaluate current coping strategies, their efficacy, and alternative strategies.
  • Learning physiological, cognitive, and behavioral channels of mood regulation

Link to full course content pdf here.

Maybe it’s just my experience and I am generalising wildly but I think many of us boozers struggle with emotions which is part of the reason why we drank how we drank.

There are well researched links between substance misuse and trauma (74% sexual abuse, 52% physical abuse & 72% emotional abuse in this research)  and sources estimate that 25 – 75 percent of people who survive abuse and/or violent trauma develop issues related to alcohol abuse.

All of these skills seem so applicable to a life lived well in sobriety as we learn to deal with all those pesky emotions and renegotiate relationships and learn about boundaries and agency without our crutch.  I’m sharing these resources here in case you would like to research further because to me they feel like a stairway to (emotional) heaven 😉

Hi My name is Lou, and I’m a recovering emotophobic

So this was another new word to me that I heard recently – emotophobia meaning to be emotophobic.  Not to be confused with emetophobic, the fear of being sick!

What is emotophobia?  It is the fear of negative emotion; i.e. a fear of expressing anger, frustration or disapproval.

I am a recovering emotophobic because I grew up with the ‘toxic trio’ as it is called in children’s safeguarding.  The term ‘Toxic Trio‘ has been used to describe the issues of domestic abuse, mental ill-health and substance misuse which have been identified as common features of families where harm to children has occurred. They are viewed as indicators of increased risk of harm to children and young people.

As I wrote recentlyIn my household growing up our family ‘didn’t do’ emotions as we were often reminded.  I now understand that we (the children) weren’t allowed to do negative emotions.  I learned very early on to keep my head down, my mouth shut and a smile on my face.  Look happy even if you were dying inside.

As Pete Walker describes “emotional emancipation happens when a person is both abused for emoting and is, at the same time, abused by toxic emotional expression.  This scares us out of our own emotions while simultaneously making us terrified of other people’s feelings ”  He goes on to say that “much of the plethora of loneliness, alienation, and addictive distraction that plagues modern industrial societies is a result of people being taught and forced to reject, pathologise or punish so many of their own and others’ normal feeling states.”

There was so much negative emotion expressed around me that I effectively developed a fear of them and learned very early on to dissociate as a way of coping with the anxiety and stress that it caused within me.  I also learned to self-soothe my anxiety by skin picking (also called dermatillomania).

Even now if someone around me is verbally expressing an aroused and heightened emotional state, and this is personally rather than professionally where I have learned to manage it well due to the nature of my job, I will tend to dissociate as I find it triggers emotional flashbacks to my childhood. And I still struggle with occasional skin-picking although it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be as I am only too aware of the many scars on my arms and legs that remind me of my past.

This is something I am working hard on as this is according to Braiker’s self-help book,[1] part of the “disease to please”/codependency behaviours I am aware that I struggle with along with these other cluster of traits:

My fear has meant that I have not been good at self-championing which is vital as part of our emotional recovery journey because as Matt at Surviving My Past says:

being our own champion and showing ourselves compassion, erases shame.

For me all of this comes back to shame.  Shame around my childhood and past experiences, shame around my drinking, shame around being me.

A great resource about C-PTSD, toxic shame and recovery from emotophobia is Richard Grannon and in this blog post he gives some great tips for working with toxic shame or in this video on  YouTube he talks about emotional literacy.  I am working my way away from it and towards self-championing one day at a time – a lifelong process.

Friday Sober Jukebox in memory of Robert Miles, RIP

 

 

Repetition Compulsion (Friday Sober Jukebox: I Heard)

So this is something I’ve been reading about in Pete Walker’s Tao of Fully Feeling.  The best description I read was from a blog by Graffiti Girl 2013 and she encapsulates beautifully what repetition compulsion is:

“Repetition compulsion is the repetition of a traumatic event and an attempt at mastery of one’s feelings and experience, in the sense that she unconsciously want to go through the same situation but that it not result negatively as it did in the past. Some people make the same mistakes over and over. The individual unconsciously arranges for variations of an original theme which he has not learned either to overcome or to live with.”

This is what Psych Central had to say about repetition compulsion:

Humans seek comfort in the familiar. Freud called this repetition compulsion, which he famously defined as “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.”

This takes form in simple tasks. Perhaps you watch your favorite movie over and over, or choose the same entrée at your favorite restaurant. More harmful behaviors include repeatedly dating people who might emotionally or physically abuse you, or using drugs (including alcohol) when overcome with negative thoughts. Freud was more interested in the harmful behaviors that people kept revisiting, and believed that it was directly linked to what he termed “the death drive,” or the desire to no longer exist.

But there may be a different reason.

It could be that many of us develop patterns over the years, whether positive or negative, that become ingrained. We each create a subjective world for ourselves and discover what works for us. In times of stress, worry, anger, or another emotional high, we repeat what is familiar and what feels safe. This creates rumination of thoughts as well as negative patterns in reactions and behaviors.

As an example, someone who struggles with insecurities and jealousy will find that when his significant other does not return a call or text immediately, his mind begins to wander to negative and faulty thoughts. The thoughts begin to accumulate and emotionally overwhelm the person, which leads to false accusations and unintentional harm to the relationship.

In spite of not wanting to react this way, the person has created a pattern over years that then becomes familiar to him. To react differently, although more positively, would feel foreign. When someone has done something the same way for years, he or she will continue to do so, even if it causes harm for both herself and others.

This idea also resonates with the concept known as the law of the instrument.  Maslow’s hammer (or gavel), or a golden hammer is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

People also revert to earlier states if the behavior is in any way rewarding, or if it confirms negative self-beliefs. For someone who inflicts self-harm in a time of emotional distress, it is a behavior that momentarily relieves the pain even if later on the individual feels shame over it. In the example of a person who continuously enters abusive relationships, we might find that he or she is highly insecure and does not believe that he or she is worthy of being cared for.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) can provide effective treatment routes for reshaping thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviors. These types of therapeutic approaches focus on bringing awareness to cognitive distortions, irrational beliefs, and negative thought tracks.

By working on different techniques, one can learn how to recognize when thoughts or actions are more harmful than beneficial, and how to stop them from occurring. The brain’s cognitive processes will be rewired and retrained to develop new patterns that are productive, rational, and positive, which ultimately leads to more adaptive behaviors and choices.

It takes years for people to develop maladaptive patterns, habits, and repetitive choices, and it may also take years to reshape them into something that becomes worth revisiting.

References

Dryden, W. (Ed.). (2012). Cognitive Behaviour Therapies. SAGE Publications Limited.

Inderbitzin, L. B., & Levy, S. T. (1998). Repetition compulsion revisited: implications for technique. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 67(1), 32.

I was struck by this psychological theory because it is something I’ve come to learn about only recently and it reverberates through my life in many ways, including my past use of alcohol to psychologically hammer my emotional discomfort.

I recently spent a couple of months working at Focus12 in a nursing consultancy capacity and the Consultant Psychiatrist I was working with there was an eminent and learned fellow.  His parting words to me that summarised his work and life wisdom was:

Sit still and do nothing.

I think much of my repetition compulsion would do well to heed this sage advice!  How about you?

This tune so sums up how this feels for me: