Category Archives: Thinking about feeling

Working with triggers

*this is about triggers, no triggering content*

A person who is triggered, experiences a devastating physical reaction to a situation. This does not mean feeling sad, or scared or a bit hurt, in the way people who like to downplay it will suggest. It’s about finding yourself reliving what happened to traumatise you, or re-feeling it in your body, or feeling the kinds of all consuming terror that go with your body thinking you are about to be back in that situation.

It’s not a thinking process, and as a consequence, it’s very hard to get in control of it, or slow it down, or pull yourself out of it.

I’ve discovered very recently that if I can recognise my response as triggering, I have just a tiny crack into which I can insert some leverage. Rather than getting caught up in the body response, and the horror of the body response, if I can notice the process, I can challenge it. The only way I’ve found to do this is to consciously and deliberately risk-assess the situation I am in, to see how real the threat is that I’m actually going into an awful and dangerous situation. There are patterns of behaviour that trigger me because in another context they would have been danger signs. However, in my current context, maybe those things aren’t as threatening as they seem.

It gives me room to bring conscious thought into play, and that puts me back in control.

One of the things underlying my panic, is the fear that the cause of historical mistreatment was me – that I acted in ways that encouraged, enabled, maybe even caused what happened. For a long time I believed it was what anyone would do, faced with someone like me. To break out of that, I’ve needed years in the company of people who do not see any aspect of who I am as a justification for mistreatment of any sort. I’ve started to trust that.

Which leads me to a very important point: I’ve got to the point of being able to unpick some of my triggers a bit, and I could not have done this alone. What it has taken to get me to this point is the love, kindness, patience, support, affection, generosity and welcoming good natures of a whole of lot of people.

I have said it before and I will say it again – individual mental health is not an individual issue, we do so much better when we take care of each other. Healing wounds to head and heart requires safe spaces and support, there’s just no other way. What’s going on here is a broken sense of trust, a broken relationship with other humans, caused by trauma. To heal, is to feel safe in the company of other humans, and to do that you need other humans who will help you feel safe. Profound thanks from me to everyone (and there are a lot of you) who have played a part in this journey. Some of you have walked through fire with me to get me to this point. I could not have done it without you.


Is it bullying?

Person A says that person B is bullying them. Person B denies it. Who do you believe? If you ignore it, you could well be enabling bullying and leaving a victim open to further abuse. One of the biggest problems in this scenario is that bullies are often very quick to claim victim status. Take as an example the man in the habit of screaming ‘you’re abusing me’ at the woman whose bones he broke (true story).

There are no foolproof ways of resolving this kind of situation, but here are some things to bear in mind.

People who can get out of bullying situations early on, do. However, where there’s a power imbalance – as there can be with workplace bullying, the victim may not be able to leave. Domestic abuse can include hidden power imbalances. Money, work, age, physical condition, size, and the invisible power of emotional blackmail can all be factors here. That a person has not managed to leave is not proof that they aren’t a victim.

People trapped in bullying situations become demoralised and less able to protect themselves. They may internalise blame and shame and feel it really is their fault. The person who admits they’re a horrible, worthless person may not actually be the bully. Demoralised people stay because they don’t believe anything better could happen anywhere else – this is what they deserve, it’s their fault and they may feel obliged to stay and try to put things right.

It is not bullying to express pain, difficulty, distress, or unhappiness. It is not bullying to disagree with someone or say no to them. People who bully seem to feel they have to be right, superior, more important and more powerful. This means they often can’t hear genuine negative feedback. They may try to call out as a bully anyone who doesn’t actively support their fragile egos. People in this situation are actually in trouble and potentially headed for more trouble – tortuous double thinking and mental health problems arise for people who can’t admit they make mistakes, and can’t hear negative feedback. Most of us are not equipped to deal with their problems, and misplaced support can increase the cognitive dissonance for someone unable to face their own shortcomings.

However, when all you do is feed back in a negative way, while insisting on staying in a situation, all you do is grind the other person down. What should happen if one person is doing a dreadful job but can’t be told and can’t be removed, and reacts to truth as though they are being victimised? And how do you tell this from a person who is actually being victimised?

A genuine victim will very likely be glad of any help and support, even if they feel they are to blame. They are likely to want to co-operate, and will be looking for ways to deflate the situation, make sense of it, reduce the drama, improve their own safety and get things on a more comfortable footing. They may be confused about what’s going on, distressed, or they may be angry if they understand what’s happening.

A bully pretending to be a victim wants attention and drama above all else. They don’t want the situation to resolve – and if it does they will rapidly create a new one to replace it. They will likely make demands about outcomes, they will be more likely to want the kind of justice that harms their ‘aggressor’ and their actions are more likely to move things towards isolating, excluding or otherwise harming the person who is actually their victim. They won’t hear criticism and they won’t accept mediation that requires them to take any responsibility at all for their own role in things. They may present as wounded and distressed or as angry alongside this.

It isn’t an easy way to go, but often the best way to find out who is actually a victim, and who is playing the victim in order to bully someone, is to get in there and offer help and mediation. Go in as a neutral party with a view to resolving things, and you’ll see the inside of the situation more clearly, and the responses of those you are trying to help. That gives you a basis in personal experience from which to decide how then to proceed. If it’s genuinely a personality clash, you can help resolve it, and if there’s really a victim and an aggressor, you’ll be better placed to see who is taking which roles. In situations of domestic abuse, the victim is in most danger of being killed or injured at the point when they try to leave. I strongly advise seeking help from the police. If you can’t take the mediator’s role, actively support a path towards mediation.

People die as a consequence of bullying – from aggression that goes too far, deliberate violence that murders, and as suicides. It’s important to take these situations seriously, because often it takes input from someone else to solve this and keep people safe. I suggest that if anyone claims to be being bullied, they should be heard with compassion and respect, as a first move. A person who comes forward as a victim is always in trouble, it just may not be the kind of trouble they’re claiming it to be.


How’s the Water?

There’s a lovely cartoon out there of two young fish swimming past an old fish, and the old fish asks ‘how’s the water?’ and the younger fish are confused. That which seems normal is bloody difficult to spot.

There are a great many problems that are difficult to tackle if you haven’t figured out what the water is. The beliefs and assumptions we carry. Our sense of what is acceptable, the things we’ve had to become used to. If being in pain is the water, then noticing it in a way that makes it possible to do differently is essential to change things. The same is true for anxiety. If you’ve settled into a place where fear is normal, noticing how fear acts on you and what might alleviate it, is surprisingly difficult.

If our water is the belief that we are utterly good people, we may not be able to recognise when our behaviour is hurting someone else.

So, how do you figure out what you’re swimming in? You have to be prepared to discover something you might not like, and face up to it. You have to be willing to change. If you go into this looking for affirmation that you don’t need to make any changes, you can’t do this kind of work.

Clues to the nature of your water will come from the differences you have with others. Things you say that other people seem to struggle with. Things you do that don’t get the results you expect. Bits of your life that plain aren’t working. Anything that inexplicably hurts, frustrates, annoys you or makes you anxious is worth a look. If you know why you feel as you do, leave that area of your life out of it, as likely it can’t tell you much. Who winds you up for no obvious reason? Who makes you feel insecure? Who are you itching to take down? Who are you afraid of, or jealous of?

When things aren’t working for us, it is often because we have stories, no longer relevant coping mechanisms, or other wonky or outdated thought patterns that are stopping us from thinking clearly or acting in relation to what’s actually going on right now.

What’s in our water can make us complicit in situations that don’t help us at all. My own deep sense of worthlessness and my feeling that I don’t deserve to be well treated have been part of my water for so long that I’d not noticed them impacting on my actions and relationships. Ironically, it took someone pushing beyond what I consider acceptable behaviour to make me look properly at my sense of self worth, and rethink my attitude. I’ve a way to go yet, but the water is a good deal less murky for me than it used to be.

On some levels, I self sabotage. Treating myself as worthless, I’ve not been careful of resources, of physical or emotional wellbeing. I’ve allowed other people to wear me out. I’ve not held boundaries or stepped away when I needed to. I could flip this over into beating myself up and telling myself that all my problems are of my own making, but that actually keeps me in the same murky water I was in before. To change the water I swim in, I have to be genuinely willing to think about myself in different ways. I have to be willing to negotiate differently with other people, and to rethink my relationships with everything and everyone I encounter. It’s not easy. Recognising complicity does not mean making myself responsible for how others have treated me.

How’s the water? Confusing. But I do at least know that it’s there, and this is progress.


The Energy of Anger

Anger gets things done. It gives us the drive to rise up, making noise and change. If someone can tap into our anger, we can be persuaded to act in all kinds of unsavoury ways, feeling justified by the force of our emotions. As we live in a culture where anger itself is seen as a reason for violence, if we get angry, any physical or psychological violence we undertake as a consequence can seem justified. We may even be proud of it, our anger having told us that we have the moral high ground, and that the ends justify the means.

I think it’s always worth being wary about what we can be manipulated into doing. So much of what is nasty in politics right now comes from feeding the anger of people who feel squeezed and then telling them who to blame. And so the anger that should more rightly have been directed towards power and money is instead used to hate the poor, refugees and other powerless, vulnerable people who make easy targets.

The energy of anger feels powerful, but the trouble is that on its own, all we can use it for is to knock down. Sometimes a bit of knocking down is necessary, but it’s never a whole solution. If all we have to work with was anger then we are not prepared for dealing with the aftermath – again modern politics is littered with unfortunate examples. We go to war, we have no idea how to build peace.

In the short term, the rush of anger energy may seem productive, but it tends to emotionally exhaust people. It won’t feed or inspire you, and to stay angry you have to deliberately keep stoking the fires of hate, and this seldom does anyone much good. Groups whose unity depends on anger have to keep finding new things to hate in order to keep moving. When anger is your energy there has to be a bad guy, an enemy, and something to fight against. You can’t make anything better when your whole way of being relies on having someone to fight. You can’t smash patriarchy, you have to build an alternative.

It’s really important not to get caught up in anger, but instead to keep an eye on what we are fighting for. What’s the real goal? What are we building? How are we going to make things better? Anger used alongside this, for short term necessary bursts of action, can serve a cause well. Anger on its own can only lock us into more fighting and destruction.


Victims, survivors and new stories

(No triggers, I think)

People who have been the victims of traumatic experiences tend to self-identify as ‘survivors’. It’s a pretty simple thing – ‘victim’ is a word that reinforces the feeling of being powerless and defenceless. ‘Survivor’ is a word with some strength in it, and a reminder that however awful it was, you got through. Not everyone survives of course, those of us who do, know that we were lucky.

Whether you see yourself as a victim or a survivor, those words can come to be the focal point of who you are. The story of what happened can become the biggest, most important story you have. I think in the short term this is necessary – it’s part of the processing of events, and reassembling your life and identity in the aftermath of whatever changed you. We can never go back. We can never be the person we were before *that* happened. What a survivor has to do, is figure out how to assimilate *that* into a sense of self that can move forward, and isn’t defined solely by the experience.

Traumatic experiences take over your thoughts. It’s part of what it means to be traumatised, that something you didn’t want is able to set up camp inside your own head and keep torturing you from in there. People who don’t manage to sort this out are more vulnerable to future trauma. What’s dangerous here is the way in which traumas can normalise themselves, inside a person’s head. It’s when we start to believe that the thing which happened is part of how the world works, that we have  reduced hope of getting free from it. If you can see it as a one off, an accident, bad luck, something that won’t happen again, the inside of your head is better protected.

Of course, with one off trauma experiences, it’s a good deal easier to recognise that it was a unique event, and you won’t have to face it again. What’s really hard is when you live with an ongoing trauma situation – people in war zones being the most obvious example. Trauma really does become normal in that kind of situation, and changing how you view the world is really hard when that happens.

It takes time to overcome things. It can take years to be something other than the person to whom a thing happened. For many survivors, that sense of self as survivor is always going to be there. With support, and opportunities, we may all have the scope to be more than the sum of our scars, but these are hard things to do quickly, or to do alone.

So if there’s a wounded person in your life, and you don’t understand why they’re still so caught up in the past, be gentle with them. It takes time. We all heal at our own rates, depending on experience, and subsequent support, and on who we are. That’s ok. How fast we may think a person should get over it is no measure of how long it will take.

If you want to help a person heal, one thing that you can do is spend time helping them affirm other parts of themselves. Help them remember other aspects of who they are, allow them space to try and be those aspects of who they used to be, and if that’s hesitant, just hold the space and let it be ok. Over time, small things can make really big differences.


Learning to fail

I’m rubbish at failing. Not in the sense that I don’t fail at things – I do so a great deal. More about how I don’t deal with it. Being able to fail is essential for learning. There is no way of learning without making mistakes, and feeling safe to experiment and getting things wrong is essential. Most of us aren’t psychic enough to be able to negotiate all of our human interactions and life choices perfectly, so we need room there to deal with mistakes as well.

When it comes to other people messing up, I think I do ok. There’s room in my head for honest human mess, for good intentions that played out badly, for people not knowing, or realising. Most of the time I can accommodate that.

It’s when it comes to me that the problems start. I expect perfection. It doesn’t matter if I’m under-informed, or under a lot of stress, or haven’t got the skills. I expect myself to get everything absolutely right in all ways for all people all of the time. I know that’s not even possible, but even so, faced with a cock-up or a shortcoming, my body response is panic. I expect to be told off, put down, ridiculed. I expect to be kicked out of spaces for the slightest error. I find it very hard to imagine that anyone can tolerate or forgive me for being less than perfect, and it has to be said that this anxiety puts a lot of strain on my relationships.

It takes a lot of time for me to learn to trust that someone will be ok with me being human.

Of course there’s a lot of personal history tied up in these reactions – I know what of the past is shaping it. Knowing, I have also found, is not the same as being able to not get caught up in something. The head is faster than the rest of the body and unlearning a long-established fear response takes time. I can do it, I have done it in some key relationships.

One of the problems this causes me is that, faced with complaint or criticism, my automatic response is to feel guilt and responsibility and to try and turn myself inside out to appease the person I have offended. I’ve spent much of my life accepting the idea that it is ok for other people to punish me for failing, and the fear of punishment is a big part of my bodily reactions to my own inevitable shortcomings.

One of the big changes this year has been to question this. I’ve become suspicious of the people who want to hurt me for honest mistakes, human imperfections and not magically knowing what they wanted. I’ve become able to hold the idea that I shouldn’t stay in spaces where I am required to hold some kind of superhuman level of all-pleasing perfection.

Perfection is not a human quality. Life is too full of contradictions and conflicting needs for any of us to be able to do all the things perfectly for everyone all of the time. The person who demands that, and who won’t tolerate any kind of mistakes or shortcomings, is basically saying ‘you aren’t a person’. There’s no room in a world where you have to strive for people-pleasing perfection, to have thoughts, feelings or needs that are your own, and that aren’t perfectly convenient to everyone else.

My challenge moving forward is to be kinder to myself around mistakes. Getting something wrong does not make me a failure as a human being. It doesn’t prove that I’m useless and worthless. It doesn’t entitle anyone to attack or hurt me. I don’t have to keep doing on the inside what others have done from the outside. And when someone saunters into my life and demands, and derides, and doesn’t want to hear my side of things, I can use some choice, short Anglo Saxon words to tell them where to go. It’s a theory, at any rate.


Not Getting On With People

We’re all peace and love and light, yes? The idea that we are, and that we should be, causes no end of trouble and I think sometimes adds to conflict. The reality is that there are many people in this world who do not get on with each other. It need not mean that either party is a terrible person (some people do terrible things though, this is a real issue). Sometimes, some of us rub each other up the wrong way. Sometimes we’re too similar to find each other bearable. Sometimes we bring out the worst in each other.

If we don’t feel obliged to be all peace, love and light, it’s possible to just acknowledge the problem and step away from each other. Distance is a great cure for friction. It doesn’t even take much distance – a little facebook unfriending, a little staying away from each other’s blogs, a little physical distance in other situations.

I spent years struggling with the mad belief that I should be so lovely, so infinitely flexible, accommodating, helpful, patient etc etc that everyone would like me. Everyone.  Never mind how inherently nauseating that would be if I managed to pull it off – the human equivalent of a beige carpet with the inevitable stains covered up by equally beige rugs. The day I realised it was fine if people didn’t like me, my life got a good deal easer. I don’t have to please and appease everyone. I may be a people-pleaser by nature, but I can choose how and where to do that.

Giving myself permission not to like everyone has been liberating. I do not give myself permission to hassle, troll or otherwise give people a hard time though – with the exception of politicians and other people in places of real power who may need calling to account now and then. Other flawed, messy people doing their own things might not be to my liking. I allow myself to move away from them. The endlessly dull people, the mean spirited, the controlling, the self-important, the uncooperative and so on and so forth.

I have learned to walk away and try to make as little fuss as possible. When the focus of my irritation responds to me in the same way, its fine. We might even be able to grudgingly respect each other from a safe distance. If they stay out of my face, they can expect I will do the same, because conflict is exhausting and I don’t enjoy it in the slightest. I would rather have a quieter life.

Of course it’s not always that simple. Some people enjoy a fight, and the frisson of conflict. Some people get a kick out of drama, and the scope for being centre stage. Some people need others in their lives to act out specific roles for them so that their stories continue to function. Being cast as someone else’s villain, someone’s oppressor and abuser is awkward if you really don’t want to play. Refusing to put any energy into a conflict is often the most productive way, because the person who feeds on drama and needs a fight doesn’t get much out of the person who isn’t really doing that.

Would that I were an ocean of smooth calm, unsusceptible to waves, but of course I’m not. I have buttons to push, I can be wound up, harassed to the point of losing my temper. If I feel I’ve been treated unfairly, I don’t always manage to go with the conflict-reduction methods. I know from bitter experience that simply removing energy from a situation can mean setting up someone else to be the next victim of the same process, and I don’t always feel at ease with that. Sometimes I get cross, because anger is a necessary part of holding boundaries.

Getting angry with a situation allows us all to hold a sense of self intact and place the problem squarely outside of us. It can be a vital survival skill. Holding the edges is a good thing, but it’s so easy to let defending the boundary turn into attacking the (perhaps imagined) aggressor, and from there it isn’t such a huge leap to doing unto others before they can do unto you, and becoming the problem.

It is ok not to like each other. Another person’s dislike does not invalidate any of us as people. It’s what we do with the dislike that counts.


The mechanics of exhaustion and emotion

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the effects of exhaustion on my own mind and reactions, and to learn from other people with similar experiences. This is what I’ve learned.

Exhaustion distorts reactions. It doesn’t even matter if the exhaustion came from doing a good thing that you felt really positive about, it still has the same effects. It becomes harder to control the emotions, and outbursts are likely – tears become impossible to control, most notably. Everything seems bigger and more threatening than it would otherwise be.

My first thought was that exhaustion makes us over-react. On reflection, I don’t think this is it at all. How we respond to a crisis, or even what looks like a crisis in the first place, depends a lot on whether we have the resources to deal with it. If you can deal with something easily, it’s hardly a disaster. If you have no means to tackle it, you’re facing a serious problem.

It’s not the scale of the event that shapes our responses, but whether we can deal with it. Exhaustion means having little or nothing in reserve, and no resources to tackle even small things. What can seem petty from the outside, can be unbearable from the inside because there is no way to bear it on top of everything else.

When we’re watching someone else’s reactions, the temptation can be to judge the appropriateness of their response by what we’d do when faced with the same challenge. This misses out that way we all face challenges differently, with entirely different resources and vulnerabilities. Thus we can end up thinking someone else is over-reacting or making a fuss, rather than recognising that their situation is undermined by problems we don’t have.

Yes, of course there are people who over-react and make a fuss, but this comes from factors of personality and circumstance, and is part of where they start from when dealing with a problem. If you’ve never seen a mountain, you might be more intimidated by the proverbial mole hill. The worst thing you’ve ever dealt with, is the worst thing you have had to face, regardless of how it compares to other people’s experiences. This is really noticeable watching children get to grips with setbacks.

It can be hard, when your problem looks like a mountain and the next person is wailing about what, to you, looks like a mole hill, but we all have our own hills to climb. Spending time getting cross with other people over how they deal with problems is a waste of time and energy. We will all have to make choices about what we can help with, and what we have to ignore, but in recognising how different experiences may be, we can make life a bit easier all round by not getting frustrated about it.


Working with an uncooperative body

I’ve been in pain for years, and had come to think of it as normal. I know that lack of sleep, insufficient  oil, stress, using regular air beds, and being cold all make it a lot worse, and I’ve managed it as best I can based on this. At the same time, I’ve had dire burnouts every six to eight weeks for something like a decade. Deep pits of depression, related to exhaustion. Every time I’ve dealt with it by getting back up and at it.

This July wasn’t especially dramatic as a crash – pain, emotional dysfunction, loss of energy and willpower, despair – all the usual. What changed was that I just couldn’t face the process of getting up and doing it all again and trying to hold out for as long as I could before the next crash. My best efforts of recent years have only widened the gap between crashes, not solved them.

I made a radical decision to start putting my body first. To start paying close attention to what hurts, and when I’m tired, and acting on that rather than pushing through it. This has meant things like going to bed when I’m tired, no matter what time it is, asking my family to cover for me, saying ‘no’ to things. I’ve put down some voluntary work that had become stressful. Alongside acting to reduce pain, I’m looking at ways to build strength, flexibility and resilience, ways to get more emotional outlets that help me stay resilient, and reducing stress. I need more things in my life that enable me to feel good, and fewer things that leave me feeling shitty and I’m reorganising accordingly.

I have no idea what the consequences of doing this will be. Fewer reasons for anxiety will certainly help, and more rest, reducing exhaustion should help counter the depression. At a deeper level, the decision to put care for my body much higher on my list is about changing my relationship with myself, and not practicing self-harm or self-hatred as part of normal life. There have been plenty of times when I’ve pushed my exhausted body to keep doing things by inwardly hurling abuse and criticism at myself. On the really bad days, it’s self hatred that has kept me moving, reminders of how useless and worthless I am and how I need to get my sorry arse in gear and justify my existence. This too, I am putting down.

The decision to be kinder to myself is a decision to treat myself as an acceptable human being with the same needs and rights as any other human being. I’m not expecting this to magically solve all my problems, but it might give me the means to better deal with the days when I really hurt, or really have no spoons, and I have come to the conclusion that I’d give anyone else the chance to heal if they can and manage things better, and I ought to extend that to me. This year I have started saying ‘I matter’ – which feels radical, and dangerous, but I’m saying it anyway. My body is something I’ve called uncooperative, but I think it is my mind that needs to change, accommodating my limitations and not adding to what’s already difficult.


Retraining your emotions

Emotions turn up quickly, with a force and direction of their own that makes them feel like unassaible features of who we are. In many ways this is so – invalidating a person’s feelings is a sure-fire way of trashing their sense of self and causing them great discomfort. How we feel is a big part of who we are, but what happens if how we feel isn’t how we want to feel?

Emotions can be changed, responses can be altered over time. I know, because I’ve done it. While it’s possible to change how you think in a relatively short time frame – weeks are generally enough, the emotions can take months, or years to retrain. Panic triggers are a good example here. (Nothing triggery is coming up). Panic triggers happen when we experience something that brings a memory of trauma too close to the surface. If we aren’t in danger, we can still panic because the body responds with fear. That fear can be unlearned.

My main method (and there may be others, I don’t know) is to get myself somewhere I feel safe, and to think about the emotion I want to change. This can involve visualising the situation I react to, and working on telling myself how I want to feel about it. For example, go back a few years and a kiss from a friend would panic me. It took me months of deliberate work to change this, and while I’m never going to want random people kissing me without permission, I can now comfortably kiss and be kissed by close friends.

Where the thinking mind leads, the feeling part of a person will eventually follow. What works best for me is to think my way into imaginary situations that would provoke a response I don’t want, and to use a mix of thinking and feeling my way through, over and over again so that I can change how I feel. This can also be done by working in actual ways with other people – having very safe and supportive spaces has allowed me to feel easier about other people telling me what to do with my body (thank you Vishwam!). Working alone in my head can be quicker than waiting for people who can help, but there comes a point when you have to dive back in to actual situations and see what happens. Having supportive people to help that happen safely is invaluable.

Changing emotional responses brings up questions about sense of self. There are a number of emotional responses I can generate that cause other people problems – I get upset easily, I feel things keenly. There have been times when I’ve felt under a lot of pressure to tidy up my emotions so as to be more convenient for other people. I don’t recommend it. The time to try and change emotional responses, is when you don’t feel that how your body reacts is in line with your authentic self. This is a call only an individual can make, no one can or should try to make it for you. If your grief, or your anger, your distress or your fear are not manifesting in ways that sit well with who you think you are, then work to change it. These are probably maladaptive survival strategies that worked in some context, but mostly don’t work and are not, in fact, you.

It’s important to remember that our emotional reactions are not a manifestation of pristine nature. They are not a wilderness we have to protect. Our emotions seem very natural, but we have all been conditioned to react in certain ways – what we’re punished for, or rewarded for, what’s ignored, what’s taken seriously – the families and communities we grew up in have taught us patterns of acceptable feeling, and those feelings may not sit well with who we really are. Consider the many men who have been taught not to cry, but who have been allowed to shout. Consider the religious communities that bring up their LGBT people to hate who they are and feel guilty and worse… we do not learn to feel in isolation, and sometimes what we have learned needs to be unlearned.

I decided a long time ago that I would believe that my most authentic self is the person I choose to be, the person I work towards being. It may not be the answer for everyone, but when approaching dysfunctional emotions, I’ve found it a useful place to start.