Soul Mining: How do I learn how to feel my emotions?
October 24, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe

How does one dig up and release deep-seated rage, or any other deeply repressed (old baggage-type) emotions?

I've been in therapy for a year with PTSD related to child abuse. Suffice it to say that it was an incredibly bad 20 years that I went through and have held onto for a long time. Until recently, I was unconscious of the fact that I allowed my abusers' opinions of me, life, the universe and everything color my world view. I'm more aware now and am no longer in communication with these relatives, who seem to think and have said outright that I'm a selfish bitch for leaving them be. They're pretty enmeshed in their scary world. On the other hand, my choices as an adult have put me in a place where I'm approaching mid-life and for all intents and purposes may as well have graduated from university yesterday (live with roommates, crap underpaid job below my abilities, no bf/husband, socially passive, etc.). I only realized I needed help when I was in an acting class where an extreme emotion was required for my character in a scene and I panicked. I couldn't separate the character from my self, and I did not want to go to the place the scene required me to go.

One of the things my therapist pointed out to me is that I'm EXTREMELY controlled. Expressing even self-pride or happiness at an accomplishment was a threat to the adults in the household I grew up in, much less letting anger enter the picture. Holding things in and being watchful was a self-protective strategy at the time. But I don't need to be on guard from violence anymore and need some advice on how to tap and release the rage and pain. I'm scared of hurting myself or someone else. I'm also scared of what there is afterwards, in terms of getting on with life. I don't cry very much. I don't express anger very much. And neither do I express much joy. I'm not sure what that would be, anyway. There's a part of me that fears others' wrath or disdain if I express my self, as if I don't count, but they do. What can I do KNOW that I count and am within my rights to feel things?

The therapist has been more focused on getting me to acknowledge these needs and the reality of my abusers as flawed human beings who purposely hurt a defenseless kid and less on how to get stuff done. We're on hiatus at the moment, because therapy is exhausting, however, I think it's time for another type of therapy that's less talking and more something else, but I'm not sure what to do.
posted by droplet to Human Relations (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Scream therapy.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:35 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

is the therapist youre seeing a specialist in ptsd? as it very important that they pull these emotions out of you slowly not all at once. i have no idea where you are located, but in vancouver there is a special clinic for ptsd patients. i was on the waiting list for over a year to get in, but it was well worth it. maybe theres something like that where you live?
posted by butterball at 9:37 AM on October 24, 2007

I saw a programme on which someone use a tightly-wrapped bag of rice as a drum, and they beat it rhythmically with long sticks as they shouted "No!" (which might sound goofy but it was a great ritual that channeled their anger).

From what you wrote, it might be good to go where that scene required you to go - to lose control, basically, but in a controlled environment. Maybe something like screaming and thrashing underwater (in a pool)?

Good luck. Let us know what you find works for you.
posted by lhall at 9:41 AM on October 24, 2007

How does one dig up and release deep-seated rage, or any other deeply repressed (old baggage-type) emotions?

I think you are asking for some sort of formal self-help technique, novel therapy approach, etc. and maybe that's what other posters can offer, but here's what worked for me (and it wasn't roleplaying, John Bradshaw exercises, etc.):

Cut every single tie with people in your life RIGHT NOW who treat you abusively, even if it's covert abuse (i.e. manipulative or "using" behavior, blatant lack of respect of boundaries, verbal abuse or bullying masked as "just joking around" or "just calling you on your s***", etc.). Only surround yourself with the kinds of people who love and respect you as much as you love and respect them....and then after a few months of this, realize that these new people in your life would look at you as if you had two heads if you described to them the amount of abusive or exploitative behavior you thought you once "deserved" or thought was normal.

Then the anger will finally surface, and dissipate.

YMMV....this only works if you've continued to be a doormat in your current adult life in the name of "keeping the peace", "understanding difficult people," or only knowing how to feel comfortable with dysfunction. Note: you may not be aware yet that you've replicated childhood dynamics in your current adult relationships until you start to truly create trusting, intimate connections with healthy available people.
posted by sock it to me monkey at 9:42 AM on October 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

I have to say that you should try cognitive behavioral therapy with some other stuff mixed in. Obviously, you have enormous amounts of residual emotions from trauma that are somewhere in the middle of being processed.

I think that these emotions and the belief system that comes from being put into that situation by people like that are making life difficult for you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy works on the beliefs side of the ledger. But I think you'll find that working on those beliefs leads to dealing with the emotions that form the rest of the structure that has been your mechanism for coping with the trauma.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:45 AM on October 24, 2007

I had great success dealing with childhood abuse with EMDR therapy. Mine was actually done with little alternating pulses from two little nodules rather than eye movement, but it worked a charm.

You might have to hunt around a bit to find a doctor trained in EMDR, and if you ask why it works likely you'll be told "we're not sure." All I know is, it worked for me.

Here's how it went: the doctor held the transmitter (which was connected to the two nodules) and I held them one in each hand. He instructed me to concentrate (at first) on the thing I wanted to solve, and just let my brain go from there. For about a minute at a time, the nodules would pulse alternating from one hand to the other: buzz buzz buzz buzz. Then, he'd turn it off and we'd talk about the thoughts that popped into my head. He'd pick one, tell me to think of it, and we'd start again. After TWO sessions (probably an hour each), I made SERIOUS progress with my PTSD and phobias. YMMV.

Good luck!
posted by tigerjade at 10:05 AM on October 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seconding tigerjade with the EMDR - the mechanics were slightly different (hand taps rather than eye movement or pulses) but it was remarkably effective. Email is in profile if you need more details.
posted by Sk4n at 10:38 AM on October 24, 2007

i am not a therapist, and you'll get better suggestions for types of therapy from others.

but, how about trying deep-tissue massage? i know it sounds really odd, but often we try to physically protect ourselves as well as mentally, and if you are very controlled, then you may have some very deeply ingrained, unconscious muscle tension (even if you don't have physical pain). sometimes releasing that tension can help you release the emotions they're holding back. have you ever cried during a massage (or even during sex)? that's what's happening.

also, it is amazing how soothing and healing human touch can be. if you are single, it may be a good way to get some of that without the romantic entanglement.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:53 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with pluckysparrow's idea of Primal Scream. Get out in a somewhat remote area and let it all out. Try not to hurt yourself though. On occasion this has helped me release some severe angst.
posted by JJ86 at 11:02 AM on October 24, 2007

I have recently been processing some things from my past (things different in nature, and definitely different in degree, than your experiences, however) that made some of the reactions you speak of sound very familiar to me, and because of that, I wonder if some of the conclusions I've come to with myself might be of use to you.

I have recently been experiencing some renewed severe anger over things from my long-ago past, and one of the things that has helped me is that I have acknowledged that this anger is just; it has a right to exist, and it is a normal and acceptable reaction to Set of Circumstances X. Moreover, I acknowledged to myself that this anger was even a good sign. It was a sign that I held myself in better self-worth than I had, previously. I realized that this anger meant that my mind was saying to me that I was enough of a good person that I did not deserve Sets of Circumstances W, X, Y, and Z to have happened to me; I instead deserved their opposite. Acknowledging the anger's right to exist helped considerably for me.

You criticize yourself for your job, your social and romantic lives, and for not living alone. Dealing with those issues from a logistical perspective might help. ("I desire Goal X. What small steps can I take to go from my current state of affairs to the desired state of affairs?") If you need help with organizing that kind of process, many people swear by Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Also, there's been a heck of a lot of career, housing, romantic, and friend-level-social advice given out here on Ask Mefi over the years (no small part of it to me!), and I imagine the answers to those questions might be of use to you with those specific issues you mentioned.

I am not sure what to suggest to you with regards to the non-talk therapy that you asked for. My own experiences with talk therapy have been very useful. On more than one occasion, I've noticed myself avoiding a topic and instead forced myself to talk about it — thinking that the more I didn't want to talk about something, the more it was likely to have some importance. I wonder if your desire to engage in a non-talk form of therapy is attributable to this same kind of reaction that I experienced. (I'm not saying it is; I'm saying it may be a possibility you want to contemplate.)

There are things that my mind would suggest might be useful, but the thing is, I'm not trained in psychology or therapy; most of the respondents won't be. For example, an initial answer to your question which popped into my mind was visualization combined with working with a punching bag — the act of physically expressing your anger through lashing out — might be useful. But as butterball pointed out, it may be important that your emotions on this come out in a controlled manner, in order to preserve your health and well-being — and none of us (unless a therapist responds) are qualified to ensure that our suggestions, if implemented, help you make this release in a manner that's safe for you.

So that's why I wonder if this is something that should be bumped back to a professional ... on some Ask Mefi medical questions, people have shaken their head when asked for advice and instead said, "No, have a doctor look at it." Since this involves PTSD, I wonder if this is a psychological equivalent of those kind of questions?
posted by WCityMike at 11:54 AM on October 24, 2007

I recently read Trauma nd Recovery by Herman. It is not a self-help book but it talks about the effects extended trauma (prisoner of war, Holocaust, and extended child abuse you experienced). One of her main points is that you have to have safety before you can go too deep. For me, at least, having a therapist in the room while exploring powerful emotions would make me feel safer to go to the scary places since the therapist will help me put myself back together.

If you feel like you were making progress with your therapist and that you trust him/her, I would suggest talking about how you feel the therapy is going. Just the experience of speaking for yourself and your view of things with someone who is an authority figure could be very powerful especially since your therapist (if competant) will respond in an understanding way that is very different from the response you would have gotten as a child.

If you want to try someting on your own, my thought is to practice feeling your emotions in the way that is most likely to be safe. Start by getting familiar with your positive emotions first. Check in with yourself when you are doing things that might logically make you happy or proud or carefree or some other positive emotion. See if you can identify what that feeling is like for you, inside your body. Then pick a friend you can trust and start talking to them about your feelings - just things as simple as "I enjoyed that movie, it made me laugh" or "the taste of hot french fries is really satisfying." It may seem trivial but it gives you practice in feeling your feelings, feeling entitled to share them and feeling validated when the other person listens to you and acknoweldges your viewpoint.
posted by metahawk at 1:47 PM on October 24, 2007

ps. You must be a very strong person to have survived your childhood as well as you did and, now, to be willing and open to change.
posted by metahawk at 1:48 PM on October 24, 2007

I can really relate to a lot of the posters who have and are struggling with rage and their past. I think I'm going through this process myself at the moment.

I have a therapist who uses a method called psychosynthesis. I've done CBT before but found it just couldn't touch the sides of the kind of rage and confusion I feel on certain deep levels.

We talk a lot about the Primal Wound and the rage that stems from it. She encourages me to let go of the fear I have of going 'into' that wound. The way I have tried to think of it is as akin to Dante's journey through the Inferno: he has to go all the way to the very bottom and see the Devil before he can climb back out.

She's told me before a good scream into a pillow can help (if you're worried about the neighbours) but that equally, any loud noises made by you in open spaces are a great way to throw 'it' up and out of you.

I'd firstly just ask your therapist "What do I do about the calcified on rage I have?"-- because it sounds like it really has fused to a lot of your life or your perceptions? I think this is the case for me. Chipping away at it while also sweeping away day to day debris seems to be the best way to do it.

Perhaps the person you are working with has someone who could work with you additionally for a while to target these specific feelings? It won't hurt to ask about the big picture.

Finally, WCityMike seems to have it: you and me and other people like us need to allow ourselves to feel the rage or anger or hurt. Go into to get out of... as long as you can ease into this (remember Dante's journey thru Hell wasn't no flying visit) I think you will slowly begin to break down and assimilate some of these feelings.

Good luck!
posted by gerls at 5:57 PM on October 24, 2007

Maybe Ruth King's Healing Rage would be useful?
posted by midwesttransplant at 10:22 PM on October 24, 2007

I think Thinkingwoman's idea about deep tissue massage is really interesting and creative. If bodywork's something that interests you, you might want to experiment with the Duggan French Approach.
posted by sculpin at 12:46 AM on October 25, 2007

I have a friend who was sexually abused by her father when she was younger (now 40+) -- she just went through The Hoffman Process. The change in her has been remarkable.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:40 AM on October 25, 2007

Thinkingwoman's point about physical release is a good one. I had a pretty disturbing adolescence and was extremely emotionally guarded about, well everything. One of the things I did that really helped was running a marathon. About an hour after the race I had a cazypants bodyshaking cry. I felt a lot better after that.
posted by French Fry at 8:07 AM on October 25, 2007

The article about Neuro-emotional therapy calls it a "new power therapy" and I definitley agree.

Quackwatch, of course, waves it off with sneer.
posted by Moistener at 9:02 AM on October 25, 2007

Sheez. "...with _a_ sneer. "
posted by Moistener at 9:06 AM on October 25, 2007

Check out focusing.
posted by BigSky at 12:42 PM on October 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everybody. Sometimes I forget that I'm not the weirdo; that I'm not the only person this has happened to. I'm glad to be reminded that other people struggle with the memories and hurt and work through it. And I'm glad there's so many options for me to help myself.

I look forward to the day when I feel like me, with everything that means, and not experience myself as an amalgamation of other people's sickness.

Thanks again.
posted by droplet at 9:25 PM on October 27, 2007

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