Browsing the archives for the therapy tag.
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Mental Schemas #15: Emotional Inhibition

Handling negative emotions

This post is part of a series on schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

A person with an Emotional Inhibition schema holds back emotions in situations where it would be healthier to express them–feelings like anger, joy, affection, and vulnerability get stifled. This schema is based on trying to act rationally and impersonally at all times, regardless of what’s going on inside. Someone with this schema may feel embarrassed or ashamed to feel or express certain emotions or may fear disapproval or losing control. If you find it difficult to tell people how you feel or see yourself coming across as wooden, you may find learning about this schema useful.

Where emotional inhibition comes from
People with Emotional Inhibition schemas often grow up in families where expressing emotions is frowned upon, mocked, or punished. Often the whole family–sometimes supported by the culture the family comes from–adopts a similar pattern of keeping emotions hidden at all times. In this kind of environment, hiding emotions becomes an act of self-protection. As the child grows, the habit can be very hard to break, so that someone raised this way can grow up continuing to be unable to express emotion even in situations where it’s perfectly safe and entirely constructive to do so.

Overcoming an Emotional Inhibition schema
As with any schema or personal limitation, the first step is to be able to see the problem as a problem. A person who is used to holding back emotions may not appreciate on a gut level the value of expressing them appropriately. It can help to think through the consequences of this kind of expression. For example, what is likely to happen if you tell a friend that you’re angry that they didn’t show up to an event you’d agreed to go to together–will the friend stop associating with you, or will careful expression of these feelings help clear the air? What are the consequences of telling a family member “I love you”? Is it likely to cause trouble if you laugh out loud in a busy restaurant?

In at least one way, overcoming an Emotional Inhibition schema is more difficult than overcoming other schemas: because Emotional Inhibition encourages handling everything rationally, trying to rationally assess one’s own thoughts about feeling inhibited can drag a person deeper into the Emotional Inhibition mindset rather than showing the way out. A person who falls into this snare can benefit from emotional experiences.

Using experiences to overcome emotional inhibition
Any experience that gives a person practice in constructively expressing emotions can help break down a habit of emotional inhibition. By definition these experiences tend to be uncomfortable–after all, people who do this are pushing back against deeply ingrained habits–but realizing this in advance and recognizing the discomfort as a sign of doing the right thing can be helpful.

Some examples of experiences that help with expressing emotions include group therapy, where a highly supportive environment can make it easier and more comfortable to talk about feelings; role-playing; confrontational sports like wrestling and martial arts (Olympic-style Taekwondo has a great sparring component); and dancing or dance lessons.

Spending more time with people who are comfortable expressing their emotions and using them as role models and guides can also make a positive difference.

As with any personal concern, if a schema or other personal issues feel too large or unyielding to handle alone, working with a qualified cognitive therapist can be a way to break through. You might be interested in finding a therapist qualified to work in schema therapy or some other kind of cognitive therapist.

Photo by Mags_cat

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How to Stop Having a Bad Day

Handling negative emotions

rainbow

Wednesday’s post talked about what it means to have a bad day and how that kind of day can often be turned around, even in really difficult circumstances, by changing our thinking. Today’s post goes into some practical approaches for using our thoughts to improve our mood on all levels. Here are some specific strategies.

Idea repair: Our emotions are profoundly influenced by what we tell ourselves. If we’re coming up with thoughts that are misleading and destructive, we can break through that interference and feel relief quickly with idea repair.

Emotional antidotes: Emotions tend to keep themselves going, while going out of our way to think of things that make us happy or inspire compassion or love tends to counteract negative thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation: Meditation can relieve stress and give us more emotional resilience. If you haven’t tried mindfulness meditation and want to, you might take a class or look up materials by Jon Kabat Zinn.

Music: Music can be a direct path to emotional responses. Listening to exactly the right kind of music can turn your mood around quickly and powerfully.

Changing the environment: Opening the curtains, going to a place you enjoy, sitting in a garden … anything that tends to make you happier or to remind you of what’s good in the world can get you out of a negative mental rut.

Writing things down: Problems are easier to deal with if they’re clear instead of vague anxieties. Listing things that are bothering you or that you need to do can create clarity and a sense of purpose in place of general stress. More generally, writing freely about your thoughts can accomplish the same thing when you’ve got a bad mood going on and are not sure why.

Talking things out: Like writing, talking things out with a friend who’s a good listener can help clarify the situation and relieve stress.

Changing facial expressions: As silly as it sounds, research seems to show that changing our expressions–especially smiling–can help change our mood on a chemical level.

Working with a good therapist: If anxiety, stress, or bad moods come up for you a lot more than you’d like, a good therapist can make all the difference. Unfortunately, a lot of people associate therapy with mental illness, but it’s clear from recent research that psychology has a lot to say about how even an entirely healthy person can become happier and more effective in the world, and there are some therapists who are very good at helping make that happen.

Photo by Today is a good day (again)

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