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



10 thoughts on “Hi My name is Lou, and I’m a recovering emotophobic

  1. “Being our own champion and showing ourselves compassion, erases shame.” I totally agree. I do find it difficult to do though – specifically when my patterns tell me to do the exact opposite.
    Sorry to hear that your childhood has been so dark. Glad you are here now to share your experiences of recovery. Sending hugs if needed :-).
    xx, Feeling

    1. Hey feeling 🙂 Me too on the having to act counter-intuitively to what our patterns tell us to do! As for the past -it is what it is and we move forward xx

  2. Hi Lucy!
    I too am sorry you had such a hard childhood.
    Although my childhood was good overall, I was definitely taught to ignore emotions…I remember my parents often saying, “Don’t be silly”, when I was expressing something.
    My sister and I learned to be people pleasers for sure.
    My father was an alcoholic, and although he was not drinking heavily during our childhood, we still had a lot of shame instilled in us.
    Big Hugs,
    And thank you for sharing more of your story, and giving us all hope!

  3. Wow, I’ve never heard this before!

    I met someone recently who has suffered with compulsive ‘picking’ for years and it really opened my eyes to the many ways we can abuse ourselves to cope.

    Great post lovely

  4. Another great post, Lou. It’s Mothers Day here in the U.S. and I’m floating on a sea of anger, grief, and guilt… floating, not drowning, which is a milestone. Saw my mom yesterday. It seemed so much easier when I would spend these visits three sheets to the wind so I could conjure up feelings of warmth and conviviality. Now when I see her I feel mild repulsion and sadness for the way her life has played out. She’s looking old and frail now, and seems confused as to why we’re not close anymore. I’ve broached the subject a few times, why I’m not drinking, why I don’t like spending time in my childhood home, but she doesn’t want to hear it, probably because it will hurt too much. She didn’t mean to cause damage, and that’s where the guilt comes in because I wish I could just “get over it.” It’s not even a matter of forgiveness, it’s more like the well has run dry and I have nothing left to give. And as I type this, I find myself picking at my cuticles. 🙂 Well this has turned into a long comment! I do want to thank you for sharing such personal emotional work . You’ve really helped me on my sober journey and let me know that I’m not alone and I’m not crazy. Some of the articles I’ve read about childhood trauma have stressed that we need to learn to mother ourselves and to accept mothering from other wise women. You certainly are one of those wise women and I appreciate you!

    1. Hey Julie. Mother’s Day can be so hard can’t it? We’re expected to feel a certain way and when our experience doesn’t match the expected feelings we feel guilt – like it’s somehow our fault. I appreciate that they did the best they could with the resources that they had but precis that statement with how Pete Walker talks a great deal in his book about the danger to us in our emotional recovery work of premature forgiveness. This whole journey for me has been about re-parenting myself and I so appreciate those who travel alongside me and who respond compassionately to what I share 🙂

  5. I learned something new today. Wow, the things I didn’t know, I didn’t know. as I move on it recovery, I too, see ways that my inability to be present subconsciously creeps in and expresses itself. I love this journey of learning, because it means I am never stuck with yesterday’s stuff. Great read. L.

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