Can You Trust Your Feelings?

Emptiness A big part of recovery from the legacies of sexual abuse is getting to a point where you have a sense of control over your emotional states. That means not to be thrown around all the time – or a lot of the time – by feelings of hurt, anxiety, fear, panic, suspicion, envy, hopelessness,"self-loathing, and hate.

On one hand we are taught to trust our feelings and use them as a guide for the way we behave and interact in this world. "How do you feel about this …?" A common questions we are asked to answer, not only in therapy but also in all other areas of life.

A misconception is, however, to take the answer to the feeling question as a revelation of 'the truth' or of 'reality'. Nonetheless, our feelings are very important information and we have to pay attention to them – not necessarily act them out.

Some prime examples: A survivor won't go for walks at a busy beach because s/he doesn't feel safe. A survivor feels hurt in a conversation because s/he perceives the other person's reaction as disrespectful or attacking. A survivor feels rejected or unloved because her/his friend is not calling as promised. A survivor feels hurt or hopelessness because her/his 'important other' does not understand or anticipates what the survivor is feeling or dealing with. A survivor goes into a shopping centre and has a panic attack.On the other side a survivor stays in an abusive relationship and disregards her/his feelings of hurt or indignation.

These are all very common experiences. How survivors are then dealing with or using their feelings is crucial to their well-being. "I don't know what to do with these feelings" is a statement often uttered by survivors, implying that there would be a way to get rid of them. There is nothing you have to do with feelings. Don't suppress them, don't avoid them, don't distract yourself from them or ignore them.

That being said, when you feel you can't cope with the intensity of feelings, employing all the emotion regulation skills and distress tolerance skills you know is very vital.

In all other situations feelings – no matter how pleasant or unpleasant – are your friends. Feelings are your bodies way of telling you that you have to pay attention. In a multiple way, you can say that your feelings are messages from your younger parts. It is your task to understand these feelings and put them into a context that makes sense.

Feelings are neither good nor bad, instead, they tell you something about your situation right now. Lets assume we are dealing with fear.

  • First you have to use your adult reasonable thinking and determine whether your fear is based on actual danger in your current life or whether it is a transferential feeling, meaning a feeling from your distant past triggered by a thought you had or a thing you saw, heard, or experienced.
  • If you are currently in real danger, you have to take action to protect yourself and get yourself into safety. Feeling fear when you are swimming with sharks is a perfectly reasonable and normal reaction. You better head for the shore as quick as you can.
  • If with an reasonable adult thinking process you can't detect elements of danger around you, you need to take a journey into your past.
  • ask yourself: How old do I feel when I feel the feeling in question?
  • What were the circumstances when you had that feeling as a young person? Did someone bully you, reject you, didn't notice you, or hurt you?
  • Is your current situation in anyway similar to what happened back then?
  • When you get a sense of a fit between the past feeling and the present situation, then turn your attention to the younger you and speak to her/him. Reassure that part of you that you are now an adult and that you will make sure that nothing bad will happen. Let her/him know that you are there to protect her and that you care.
  • Tapp on your chest in the sternum area and calm that younger part down. "It's ok now, I will take care of the situation".
  • Express that you are sorry for her/him for having had such a hard time. Tell that part that you are glad to have found it and that you want to listen and understand.
  • Thank that part for helping you to solve yet another part of the puzzle and thereby helping you to recover.

There are many more soothing and calming things you can say. First it will not be easy, but over time the parts you didn't like to get in touch with will start trusting you to be able to deal with difficult situations. Gradually you will notice an improvement. You will have learnt the most important emotion regulation skill: soothing yourself down.

If you don't explore the origin of the feeling but act out on the feeling you have: for example you feel anxiety in the shopping mall and you leave immediately to make the fear go away, then you missed out on an opportunity to heal yourself. Instead you are re-inforcing lessons learnt in childhood that prevent you from leaving a meaningful life today.

Give it a go! It's worth it!

13 Comments

  1. Sophie

    It is most heartwarming to hear that you had parts that you liked and parts you didnt like – yet finally you could love them all!!!!! I have felt so confused over this conflict – i have spent , what i think is an incredible amount of time in therapy and still have problems accepting some of their feelings. It can still be hard to sit ‘with’ the feelings – they still can seem overwhelming. Yet with others – the more out time the better! But i can now understand the reason and there aint no way round it!!! Bugger!! I hate to imagine what it must of been like for a kid – your comparison of spinning round and round sums the state so well – it is a state that is so hard to deal with. Yet other times are fine. You give me hope that things will work out. Thank you for the time you took to comment – one of the hardest things sometimes is thinking will there come a time when we wont be thrown around so much by triggers, feelings, memories…. For all of us who are following behind on this journey -A BIG THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

    • sophie

      Jae – the last comment was for you – i forgot to write your name.
      Thanks 🙂

    • Jae

      Hey there Sophie, It is hard to get to this place of understanding because we start to find out just what it was like when we were kids and thats why it takes so long to get to this place of understanding our parts and feeling compassion instead of anger, frustration and trying to shut them up.
      These parts have spent years trying to keep things shut up for us now they deserve to scream, shout, cry and be heard and then loved
      jae

    • Sophie

      Hi Jae
      Yeah – what you say seems so right – the little ones do need their own time and acknowledgement – it couldnt or didnt happen when they were going thru it – and to more forward seems like they have to be able to speak and acknowledge what i have up to now considered the unspeakable. It is a bit like a plant kept in bad conditions – it is never going to thrive if not given the right requirements – the right amount of light/shade, nutrients, water…(i have plants like that in my garden – maybe sometimes our outer life is like our inner life)
      I suppose they need the right requirements and I feel able some times for this to occur but other times they seem to have a mind of their own and take over completely – and my awareness is so much greater of this. I have been thinking how a mosaic is constructed – when the pieces are separate they dont look like much – but when it is fully together – it can be incredible – this i hope is a bit like what happens when everyone has their time to heal –
      Sophie

  2. sophie

    we keep coming back to this entry and somehow beginning to understand what it means. Like finally ‘getting’ it. Accepting they need you and are there not to cause trouble but that they need reassurance and understanding – it seems so simple.! If they want to cry its for a reason, if they are scared its for a reason – they are not just causing more trouble! if they want to be a bloody fool – that ok too. Maybe I am the slow learner – going into battle , running from them – when it takes Listening to them, talking to them – not being aftraid – especially of one. I feel now she doesnt really want all of us to die – she reallyneeds time for us to understand her pain. I think i’m getting it. thanks gudrun for this post – n

    • Jae

      Hi Sophie, I love that phrase “SLOW LEARNER”. I remember comming to that place of understanding you discribe in your post, also the talk I gave myself afterwards, I remember words like, God Im thick, A snail can slide faster than my ability to learn and so on.
      I think it takes a lot of committment and hard work to come to a place where you can feel safe enough to trust your feelings. Many of these feelings are so conflicting it it impossible to even know at time whats up and whats down.
      We know what is Up and what is Down when everything is just as it should be but try spinning around about fiftey times and then try and decide I dont think I would trust myself at that time to take a chance, I would have to sit down and wait for things to settle and then trust what i felt.
      We all no our feelings are telling us things but understanding where there comming from and why takes along time, the parts of us that hold the hardest feelings are the ones that usually hold the hardest memories so trusting your feelings can be a very painful time so please give your self a big hug for treading slowly and careing for all of you.
      This time for me was one of my most important times in our healing, this is where I started to love all of my parts not just the nice ones!
      Go well Jae

  3. Leonie

    Gudrun, this makes a lot of sense 🙂 I find mowing lawns or digging in the garden a positive physical way to release or lessen angry feelings.

  4. Suzy

    I guess that even the smartest people forget that when they are angry then!

  5. Hi Suzy, your response shows clearly the difference between FEELINGS and BEHAVIOURS. Feeling angry is always ok. It tells you that someone has hurt you in some form. How you respond to it is a very different kettle of fish. Firstly, you can be angry about something that YOU have mis-perceived, where you’ve only got half of the facts straight. Secondly, your expression of anger is a behaviour and it is your responsibility not to be abusive to the other person.

  6. Suzy

    What about when your angry over something that can’t be changed? Do you make a person feel like shit when they already feel like shit? Is it acceptable to abuse someone and oppress a person because they’ve made you angry, even though it was unintentional and there were reasons, yet you don’t want to know the reasons or hear apologies because you are too angry? Is that acceptable behavior? It is definitely acceptable to be angry but isn’t it what you do with that anger that makes all the difference? If it pulls someone down and causes a trauma for that other person an acceptable way to express anger? What if the other person has done something to justify your anger but they made a mistake, is sorry about that but the situation cannot be reversed is it acceptable to take your anger out on that person and cause them distress that takes them back to a traumatic time in their childhood – is that an acceptable way to express your anger? Is it acceptable to take your anger out on a person who wasn’t at fault? Is it ok to take your anger out on someone and treat them in a worthless and abusive way because they annoy you, or because they remind you of someone from your past? I think the answer to these questions is NO! NO! NO! IT IS NOT OK!

  7. mj

    I also have strong reactions to news paper articles and many other things that are discussed around me. I talk to the part of me that struggles with this and is triggered off by a lot of things in the media, especially the resent ones on Ferlicity Goodyear-Smith. If I get to in touch with these feeling they start becomming a reality for us as a whole and I find it impossible to stop this becomming so over whelming I loose myself, I find myself getting more and more immersed in the fear this part holds that life its self becomes a maze of ducking and diving messages that are not really there, the energy it takes to trust my feeling and this younger parts feelings is exhausting, I know I have to stick with this so we can move through this and have a different relationship but things become so intangled and intense Im not sure what is right and what is not.Her feelings are her reality and I dont seem to be able to get her to trust me enough to let go, I need to keep on loving her and hope that one of these days that will be enough and I dont go insane in the proccess

  8. Mad

    Thanks for this article. On your list of prime examples, I would like to add that the daily newspaper is quite an issue for me. It just creates fear. I have decided to stop reading it rather than having to sort myself out after reading it. Next thing is to try not to listen to other people’s conversations about the newspaper stories!

  9. Leonie

    This makes a lot of sense, thank you Gudrun.

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