It is incredibly difficult to navigate our emotions in a world that sees emotions as invalid and unnecessary.  If we cried as children, we were often threatened to stop.  If we expressed emotions, we were called dramatic or attention-seeking.  If we were angry, we were labeled as problem children.  And society didn’t help.  With such a strong focus on achievement and external performance, there isn’t much time to examine our internal state of being.  And as we grew into adults, the inner and outer stakes were raised.  If we were emotional, we were labeled as crazy or unreliable.  Somewhere along the way, our society decided that human emotion was the bane of existence.  Emotion became crazy while the suppression of it became acceptable.  That seems a bit backwards to me.

But when we add trauma to the mix, it creates an emotional confusion that looks like an Escher drawing.  Nothing makes sense.  We get emotional because of triggers we can’t see.  We get emotional without any triggers.  We move from anger to hopelessness to sadness in the blink of an eye.  And when we try to understand it, the mind throws us into an endless cycle about nothing.  Everything leads to a dead-end.  Or so it seems.  But there are secret messages behind these emotions that seem to come from nowhere for no reason.  When we learn how to unlock those secret messages, we realize all these emotions do make sense but not in the current moment.

Emotions are flashbacks.  I am not suggesting that the sadness over your pet dying is about the past.  You are sad about your pet dying.  But some component of your sadness may be related to past pet and human losses that have not been processed.  You might be a bit fearful to start a new job and that’s real.  But the anxiety and constant obsessive worrying about everything that could go wrong is not about this new job.  It is the fear related to traumatic events that felt (and may have been) life-threatening.  You might be feeling a bit angry and hopeless when your kid gets another bad grade in math.  But the suicidal feeling of being completely trapped in a life that is trying to destroy you is about living with your abusers as a child.

I know what you might be saying.  “That makes sense on a cognitive level, but how the heck do I pull myself out of the constant Jedi mind trick that tells me differently?  How do I stop believing the emotions are about right now when I am feeling them RIGHT NOW?”  I understand.  I really do.  I have spent too much time tricked by the mind and completely overwhelmed in emotion.  And after years of practicing this in my own life, I still get confused sometimes.  So let’s discuss some ways to build your deeper understanding of your own emotions and what they have to say.

Ground!  I know all the collective controllers just started screaming at me.  I know you are sick and tired of hearing about grounding.  You might even be thinking it isn’t possible for you.  That is what your controller wants you to believe.  But I am not talking about taking major actions to ground.  You don’t have to do two hours of yoga to begin bringing your energy down into the body.  I encourage you to find 30 to 60 second exercises you can complete several times per day.  It can be anything from watching your breath to scanning your body.  But keep checking in.  It will make a bigger difference than you think.

Watch your mind.  When your emotions come to the surface, the mind is ready to take action.  The controller runs the mind and is very quick to send you in as many false directions as possible.  They will ruminate about the past.  They will obsess about the future.  They will create scenarios that don’t even exist.  The more you are in your mind (and believing it), the less you will connect with the emotion and what it really has to say.  So don’t believe the mind.  Try your best to shut down the constant stream.  You might be able to do it for 10 seconds before it starts again but keep going.  Do it repetitively.  Your controller won’t give up so don’t give up either.

Sit with the emotions.  These emotions are coming for one reason.  Your inner parts need to be heard.  They have been through trauma and they need to express their pain to you.  When you have built up a practice of grounding and gaining more control over your mind, you will be able to spend moments with your emotions.  And you will be able to hear their real messages.  And you will finally know what they are trying to say.  And they will make sense.

Emotional intelligence is a buzz word that is touted all over the world.  But when it comes to emotions, we need to do more than read books and articles to understand them.  We must take the time to practice this on a deep level.  That’s why the Survivor’s Guide for Life membership program will focus on interpreting emotions in February.  Join us if you want to build your emotional understanding and take your recovery further.  It is possible to make sense of the chaos.