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 recently: “In 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, part of the “disease to please”/codependency behaviours I am aware that I struggle with along with these other cluster of traits:
- addiction to earning the approval and acceptance of others
- lack of assertiveness and ability to say no
- blurry sense of identity (with soft personal boundaries)
- low self-reliance
- external locus of control
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