We handle things better when we can process them around the time when they happen. Some emotions lend themselves to that, because they invite expression – a surfeit of joy is seldom a problem. It also helps when we’re in situations where other people can easily see what’s going on for us and support us in what we need to do.
Processing emotions for things other people can’t see can be especially hard. Anything that involves the death of dreams can be difficult to explain to anyone watching. It’s harder to process your feelings when what you’re expressing doesn’t make sense to the people encountering you.
It is of course also impossible to process things when you have to focus all your energy on dealing with problems. People who appear to be coping in the short term can end up falling apart when things are ok again, simply because they have the space to do it. This is more likely for people who step up in a crisis and who shoulder responsibility and take care of others. It can be deeply disconcerting for the person experiencing it, and for anyone watching.
If you are the sort of person who spends all their time putting out fires – literal and metaphorical – then you might think of yourself as unbreakable. You might experience yourself as being incredibly tough and resilient. However, it’s when the quiet finally settles that all the unprocessed feelings come home to roost.
One of the takeaways from this is to offer support to people regardless of whether they seem to be in trouble. The person leading and fixing things might well need some back-up. Knowing that it’s a possibility makes it easier to navigate – being ambushed by emotions only adds to the confusion. Delayed emotions don’t always show up in a way that makes any kind of sense. There’s quite a lot of information out there about delayed grief, but not so much about other unprocessed emotions surfacing. Although my guess is that anything unprocessed is probably going to come back with a significant side-order of grief anyway.
If you find yourself with a whole array of emotions that make no sense, it can feel like you’re going mad. You aren’t, these will just be things you didn’t get to deal with at the time, and the odds are they are surfacing because you do have time to deal with them. Make space for them, and see if you can channel them into something – move with them, let them emerge as sounds, or songs, or other actions. Write them as journals or as poetry – whatever works to help get them out of your body and make some kind of sense of them.
Be kind to yourself if this sort of thing happens to you. Be patient. Give yourself room to feel, and breathe and it will all eventually resolve into some kind of coherence.