(I know, the list is of “things” is getting ridiculous by now. It’s like I paid money to go learn things or something. Only I didn’t learn this in class.
Anyways. (Have you noticed I’ve gotten so bad at intros that I’ve abandoned them entirely? I know I’ve noticed this.) I learned an interesting fact about the brain. Several facts, in fact. Current research into neuropsychology has turned up fascinating information about how we process emotions. It turns out that in the face of extremely traumatic situations, if we can’t process the emotions that are overwhelming us, our brains tend to “burn a fuse” and distance us from the situation. This is especially true in the case of negative emotions such as anger, shame and fear– if we can’t deal with them at the time (which is filled with trauma, after all) we deal with them later. And this is a perfectly healthy coping mechanism– we’re not supposed to be processing all emotions all the time. On the one hand, not all social situations call for a detailed examination of that shame you just experienced, and on the other side of the spectrum, not all car crash sites call for a full working through of the fear you just felt when your car impacted another one. So, you deal with it later.
And this is where things get interesting and directly applicable to my life. Because anyone who’s had to be a first aider is familiar with the “I’ll deal with this later” feeling, right? But you HAVE to deal with it at some point. If you just leave it alone, the trauma doesn’t go away. It just sits there, nesting in the back of your brain, like a little time bomb, waiting to go off. Because if you don’t deliberately deal with the emotions in a safe environment, you’ll come to something that will set it off when you’re not prepared. And you’ll start bawling in a public place. Or you’ll become filled with shame over a joke someone tells you, to a completely unrealistic degree. Or you’ll just have amazingly intense anger over something that doesn’t seem to warrant it.
When this effect was being described (we were talking about Inner Healing, btw), I’m pretty sure I was sitting in the back of the room with a strong resemblance to a bobble-head doll. Shame, Rage, Sorrow, Check… but when that happens, you just stuff it back and think through it, right? You take refuge in your reason?
Wrong! (Well, mostly kinda wrong.)
It turns out that when you’re dealing with emotions that “blew a fuse,” that you were not able to deal with at the time, when they are triggered they actually make your brain stop playing nice with itself. It can be seen on a scan that when this happens there’s all kinds of activity in blood flow and activity in the areas that control emotions, but very little in the areas that control places like language and reason. This would be another reason why these emotions feel overwhelming, because you are literally losing contact with the facilities that help you articulate these feelings or figure out why they are happening. You can do it, but it is really hard. And there does reach a point where you are not at home to reason any more, especially if your emotions have a fast fuse in normal life.
And to make things even nicer, the more times this little time bomb of emotions is set off without begin dealt with, the more twisted up it gets. You’ve got this chain of emotions that started with– say– fear. Legitimate fear because you were in a car accident. And then five months later you dissolve into a shivering wreck because you hear glass break, and someone laughs at you instead of employing empathy (that person is a jerk, btw) and then you’ve got shame attached, and it gets wound up tighter again when you stuff it back. And then you hear brakes squeal at that frequency, and you’re instantly filled with fear– only this time there’s shame attached too. And so on, with more shame and fear and anger at yourself for falling prey to this stupid reaction, (cause you know you’re not in danger this time, what is WRONG with you,) till it becomes this THING, this thing you just think of as a handicap, which you can’t control, and you just believe of yourself as being broken instead of that there’s something in your brain that never quite healed.
Started well, that sentence.
All this to say– bottling up emotions only works for so long. Moreover, also to say that thinking your way out of things is hard, and emotionally flagellating yourself for having emotions is not the best path forward.
Also: I’m using 2nd person pronouns just cause if I used first the full time it would look pretty egotistical. And I wouldn’t want my personal blog to look egotistical, would I now? Hah no. I’m relating to my neurosis, not anyone else’s, just so you know. I’m sure this blog post is applicable to no one except me, in fact. All my friends are at least 250% better than I am at dealing with emotions. I just thought it was INTERESTING, and might be useful to writerly-people. (And maybe for life? Who knows your internal cartography better than you? It wouldn’t be me, for certain sure.)