Tag Archives: emotional processing

Emotional processing in challenging times

I’ve spent chunks of this last year numb, and unable to engage. I’ve had weeks where crying has dominated everything. Alongside this, I’ve had more trouble sleeping than usual – and usually I have trouble sleeping. My suspicion at this point is that there’s more going on than I am able to process. It probably isn’t just me.

My personal life over the last year has been like some kind of fairground ride with the infrastructure falling apart. Emotional highs and lows that have been unusual even by my standards. That, on its own, would have taken a lot of getting to grips with. But there was also the politics, the pandemic, the isolation, the loss of key things that support my mental health, and more body pain than I am used to. Again, much of this will be true for many other people as well.

It has impacted on my concentration – everything takes longer. Ideas are harder to find, decisions are harder to make. Not being able to process what’s going on makes everything new that happens that bit harder to deal with. It is difficult to find respite through distractions because often I can’t concentrate, and I’ve spent a lot of time stuck in my own head, with my overwhelmed feelings, largely unable to do much with them.

Sleep can be a good way of processing difficult things. Insomnia doesn’t help with that. Physical movement can be a good processing tool, but pain, weariness and lack of suitable space have been issues there.  We’ve been encouraged to stay indoors, sports facilities are closed, dancing is something you can now only do privately if you have the space.

Without any tools to use, the processing takes time. Some days, all I can do is sit there, with my mind scattered and let the distress roll through me. Where I can, I try and turn it into energy for creativity, but that’s actually hard, and often beyond me, and not required. It’s ok to use art for processing if that helps. It can be good to turn distress into action – but it isn’t a requirement, and there’s no failure in being unable to do that.

The thing that has served me most in this last year, is doing nothing. Allowing myself the time to sit, to curl up with my eyes shut, to be under a kitten, under a blanket, unproductive and present. Sometimes all I can do is sit with what’s happening and acknowledge my complete inability to get to grips with it. I have no idea how long this will take, but I am determined not to rack up extra difficulties by being too stoical, pushing too hard or expecting too much.

Emotional Processing

I’ve noticed in recent months that there are some emotions I don’t process quickly. This has been true for some time – years certainly. Before that, I think I just didn’t get round to feeling them at all. I don’t tend to become cross or upset in the situation causing it. I can have a rapid response with a panic trigger, but often in the short term with those I just freeze.

It can take me a few days to work out that I feel cross, hurt, upset, unfairly treated, let down and things of that ilk. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with the realisation – I suspect the unconscious parts of my mind are better at processing this. During the figuring out process, I have tended to spend time asking if my response is fair and reasonable. Am I over-reacting? Should I be more understanding of the situation? Is it ok, and is it safe, to express distress?

I’m now questioning that fundamental issue of whether my responses are justifiable. I recognise it comes from times when I would have to justify my emotional responses – usually to someone who was not going to be persuaded of the validity of my feelings.

It’s a significant thing for me to have got to the point of saying I do not have to justify how I feel. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone and I do not need anyone’s permission for my emotional responses. I may need space and distance to feel safe with my own emotions, I’ll give that whatever room it needs. I don’t have to make sense to anyone else. I don’t have to be reasonable. If I feel something as a consequence of my history, it is valid, even if it makes little sense in the context.

With hindsight I can see that not being allowed my own emotional responses cost me a great deal in terms of sense of self. It cost me self-esteem, confidence and feelings of personhood. These experiences taught me to mistrust myself, and to surrender authority to others. To be the kind of person whose emotional responses are preposterous, unfounded, and who needs putting straight about it is to be treated as immature and childish. It is to be invalidated. I would not, I realise, even treat the emotions of a very small child having a tantrum with the same disregard and belittling that’s been shown me in the past.

To feel on your own terms is to be properly a person. To be able to express something of those feelings is a measure of being safe. To have those feelings taken seriously is a measure of being loved, respected and valued.