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How does it feel when someone says to you:
“Relax” when you are anxious.
“Calm down.” When you are angry.
“It happens for a reason.” When you share a personal struggle.
“Don’t cry.” When you are crying.
“You can choose to be happy.” When you explain why something feels difficult.
“It will be okay.” When it’s absolutely not okay at the moment.
It hurts; it’s frustrating; it makes you feel not strong enough.
But how often do we hear those sentences? Wayyyy too often.
Of course, sometimes, we can be caught in a loop of emotional dumping when we don’t realise we are throwing at a friend the same old story of anger/deception/disappointment about the same old topic, and it can be helpful then to be interrupted in this cycle.
But most of the time, we just need to share. We, mammals, regulate our nervous system with another. It’s wired in us.
So what happens, hopefully, when we struggle? We share, we ask for help, and doing so, we are vulnerable.
It takes a lot of courage in a polished society that puts positivity as a standard of success to show ourselves to the world when we are in the dark.
But that’s how we process the hard stuff.
Animals in the wild don’t hold trauma in their system. Because when they experience threat and they escape, they naturally shake and tremble to sequence the traumatic experience out of the body.
But how can we do that today?
Where can we cry without shame?
Where can we scream our fears and demons without scaring people?
When can we say, please listen/help/stay with me here?
I would say with a bunch of loved ones and with professionals who are trained to hold a space for your “negative” emotions.
Negative…as it’s not supposed to happen. It turns out negative emotions are as valid as the so-called positive ones. They should be felt and expressed. They have an important role: they drive the pain outside of your body and allow you to move on.
A lot of scientific studies link the appearance of diseases to some emotional shock that occurred a while before the first symptoms appeared, or to some ongoing anxiety.
I see it when I visit my mother at the nursing home. She has a sort of Alzheimer or dementia; the doctors are not sure. She had a terrible childhood and then 40 really happy and harmonious years with my dad. All that she mentions are experiences related to the traumatic part of her life. And all the patients who are like her do so too. It’s a generation that didn’t access or believe in self-development work. I observe them; it seems like their unprocessed traumas, if they have been too repressed, explode to the surface of their consciousness like a bomb at the end of their lives.
I see it constantly with my clients. The unsaid, the unprocessed, is living somewhere in their nervous system.
I can spot it with some cues like: they talk fast, a lot, and don’t breathe deeply; they default constantly to compulsive thinking.
Their brain tries to compensate and make sense of where they spend the most time in their nervous system. To make it short, I would say: in the dysregulated realm versus the regulated.
The unsaid and the unprocessed take some space. But what takes even more space is to hide it from our consciousness.
Under the carpet.
And let’s add on the top of it, some positive affirmations to make it worse. Who already said, “I am fine, I am okay” with an angry tone ? I bet some women who often heard the common misogynistic advice: “smile” did.
When I work with clients, we first want to clear that cluttered space because it creates such an energy leak.
The relief is immense, and space is the element from which new possibilities are created.
It’s raw, messy, and challenging because they usually never gave themselves permission to feel and express all this before.
Because when they tried, “You’ll be fine.” “Trust the universe.’” “Choose happiness”—stopped them.
And if you catch yourself saying things like this, even if you mean well, please stop.
When someone is sharing her vulnerability with you, she is saying to you, “I trust you can see me in my mess and be there with me.”
And that itself feels good.
Because we are mammals. And again, we just want someone else there with us because that’s how we regulate our nervous system.
When you say “it’s okay,” “just relax,” what you convey is this:
“I can’t see you like that and stay with you there. Or, because I am not equipped emotionally or because I feel bad that I can’t fix this, I am gonna paint some glittery varnish on the top of it.”
They don’t need fixing.
You want to help? Go there with them. Create a space energetically between you and them, where they can pour their pain out of their nervous system.
“I can see it’s challenging.”
“What support can I offer?”
“Feel free to vent or cry.”
Convey more of “I am here with you.”
And that’s what helps them calm down or relax eventually.
We humans experience a various range of emotions.
As much as we love to share what feels amazing, we need some help to sequence the pain out when we are overwhelmed.
Let’s offer each other that.
Written from my quarantine hotel where I thank my lovely friends who gave me a call and helped me to regulate the anxiety this isolation can generate.
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