When you are overwhelmed...
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Amy Star Registered MBACP
20th December, 20150 Comments
‘Do you think I’m going mad?’ she asked.
It’s a common question. We explore what ‘going mad’ might mean. Whatever it is, it feels scary. Other questions hover. Is what I’m feeling normal? Do other people feel like this? What is going on inside me? When will this stop? I don’t feel like myself, I cannot bear it.
What makes you feel like you’re going mad? Sometimes feelings are so intense that it’s unbearable. It’s like you’re in physical pain. At times, these feelings can suddenly and abruptly wash over us like a large wave. We felt OK and now we don’t. It is unfathomable. ‘What happened?’ we ask ourselves, ‘I was fine a minute ago’ This mystery can feel scary. The element of surprise knocks our feeling of safety. ‘Why do I feel this way now?’ and ‘How do I get it together to carry on with the day?’.
What if these feelings are saying ‘pay attention to me.’ ‘Let me in’, ‘give me some space’.
Many of us have learned that the best way to cope with uncomfortable feelings is to ignore them, deny them, or avoid them at all costs. This can be a useful strategy in the short term, but self-defeating in the long run.
Picture the woman whose relationship is breaking down, bringing with it painful emotional fall out. For her to fulfill all her obligations, she has to put the intensity of those feelings on hold. But perhaps the days turn into weeks, the weeks to months and the months to years. Now, those feelings are not so much on hold, as stored or buried under everything else. Then other stuff happens. Maybe she loses her job or a parent dies, friends move overseas, her kids get into trouble – the stuff that happens. Each time, the feelings get put on hold while she deals with the everyday. One day, this coping mechanism reaches it’s limit. Like a river whose banks burst, we become awash with emotion that we have tried to hold back. Sometimes it flattens us with it’s power. Sometimes it leaks out in the most inopportune ways.
This is when it’s scary and intuitively you want to do what’s worked before which is to deny, ignore or avoid it. You use immense energy, beginning to feel that two parts of yourself are in conflict for survival.
What do you fear of feelings? That they are never ending? Or that they are unbearable? Perhaps, you believe that by ignoring them, they will disappear? In my experience, they don’t disappear. Instead we carry them around and we are so busy holding onto them we cannot touch the good experiences
The truth is, our feelings don’t last forever. There is always movement and change. Of course, when we’re in the depths of darkness, we rarely see this. It can be painful to connect with your feelings, so you resist.
Counselling can make it feel safe enough to connect with that pain. Being with someone who does not shy away from your feelings and has faith that you will survive them, allows them to surface. When they surface and you embrace your feelings, they change in some way. Then comes the possibility for acceptance and change. You are no longer shackled by them.
About the author
Amy is a BACP registered counsellor. She practices in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
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