Big Confusing Feelings

Any of us can feel overwhelmed at times by waves of strong feelings. At those times, we may not be able to think clearly (it is a scientific fact) and can only respond in a flight or fight mode until we are able to calm down and breathe.  Then the more logical part of our brain can reflect on our feelings—take a step back and evaluate if our feelings in the moment and any intense reactions on our part may have been unfair, overly harsh or critical or attacking of those around us.  We may then get flooded with feelings of shame and embarrassment and become devaluing of ourselves.  It can become a vicious and unproductive cycle.   We can also become overwhelmed by big feelings while we are alone, plagued by negative thoughts about ourselves and our life—in a sense we are usually beating ourselves up in those moments and have a very distorted view of ourselves.  Often these negative messages have been around for a long time and usually arise from dynamics in our families as we grew up.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind and suggestions to actually learn something from these episodes and break free from the pattern:
Feelings are just that—feelings  
They won’t kill us.   We can learn over time, bit by bit, usually with the help of a trained psychologist, to build a muscle to tolerate them and react less impulsively out of a need to protect ourselves from an imagined or real threat. 
We can slow down our thoughts
Take a deep breathe, step away from the encounter to calm down.  Protect and care for yourself instead by saying that you need time to think and calm down. If you are alone and overwhelmed by strong feelings you do not need to understand your feelings and what is prompting them in the moment—you probably can’t just yet and that’s ok.  But again, they are feelings and they will pass, lessen over time, and you can learn to be less frightened by them by getting into therapy with a trained psychologist.  However, if your feelings do not subside and you truly feel like you may harm yourself or others then call 911 or go to a nearby hospital immediately.
Interrupt the cycle 
You can also start to pay attention to the buildup of tension in your body and emotional upset and use that as your cue to interrupt the cycle before you get to a breaking point and lose control with another person or engage in self destructive behaviors such as drinking, drug use, compulsive shopping, gambling or compulsive sexual activity—these are just some of the ways that we numb and avoid feelings—relief in the moment in exchange for long term pain, grief, and isolation!  Get referrals for licensed trained therapists from friends or family members who have benefitted from therapy, look up names of psychologists in your city on the Internet.

If your feelings feel unmanageable, you feel overwhelmed and confused by them then reach out now!  The reason I have trained to do this work for over 20 years and find it so meaningful is because it works for people I have treated in my own practice and I have witnessed remarkable positive change and growth in their lives.

Abby Kesden, Psy.D.
(310) 581-0313

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