Posted by: Marie | October 28, 2012

(737) Managing emotions – Part 5 of 5

Post #737
[Private journal entry written on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 about a conversation between my therapist and me – continued from previous post]


Me: Hey . . . can you explain a clinical term to me?

Edward: I’ll sure do my best!

Me: I keep hearing that abuse destroys the ability of a person to regulate his emotion. I know what it is like to not be able to regulate emotion – where it gets too intense and you can’t tolerate it so you do numbing behaviors to be able to tolerate it.

On the other hand, I’m curious what it means to regulate it – as opposed to tolerate it. I mean . . . what would that experience be like . . . how would a (I almost said “a normal person”) . . . how would a healthy person do that?

Photo by Martin Chen

(I suddenly got hit with a rush of emotion . . . I fought it, but the emotion won and the tears spilled over onto my cheeks.)

Edward: (With a concerned look) What are the tears about?

Me: (After catching my breath) The tears are because I almost said “what a normal person would do” – I identify myself as a “not normal” person – I see myself as a broken person – someone who is incapable of ever being “normal”. I believe so strongly that I permanently broken and damaged.

Edward: Ouch!

Me: (After a few more breaths) Okay . . . I’m okay . . .

(My emotions settled down, I wiped away my tears and snot.)

Edward: (After watching me for a few moments) Okay . . . I can take a swing at answering your question . . .

(Once again, tears filled my eyes and a few sobs escaped from my throat . . . Edward stopped mid-sentence and just sat silently)

Me: (After getting my emotions under control again) Well, I seem to be in quite an emotional state, I guess . . . it’s just been an emotional session . . . I’m okay . . .

Edward: Okay . . . but, we don’t need to be in a hurry to move on . . . there is space for whatever is coming up for you . . .

Me: It’s okay . . . it’s just residual emotion . . .

(This cycle continued for a couple more rounds . . . he would take a breath and start to answer my question, I’d get hit with another wave of emotion and more tears, I’d rein in my emotions and assure him I was fine . . . and it became obvious this was not simply residual emotion.)

Me: I don’t know what this is . . . why I’m so emotional again, all of the sudden.

Edward: I don’t know, either . . .

Me: (After several moments of deep, reflective thought) I think it is because you consistently give me permission to be who I am . . . and every time you start to talk, I anticipate the encouragement and “permission” you provide. I’m anticipating that, whatever you are going to say, is going to be supportive and healing. I’m anticipating that support – and that is causing me to be emotional.

Edward: And what kind of emotion does that bring for you?

Me: (Finally able to speak without crying) Well, it brings relief. I feel like I can breath without fear . . . I can just say what I need to say without filtering . . . there are no expectations around what I should say.

Edward: Oh, good! That is what I was hoping you were experiencing!

Okay . . . so, I’ll take a swing at answering your question about “regulating emotion” and then we can call it “quits” for the day . . .

Me: That sounds like a plan . . . (small laugh) I think I’m done with the tears . . . at least for the moment . . .

Edward: Either way is fine!

(After a careful pause) Maybe a good way to look at it is that it is more about managing the emotion . . . you self-soothe and self-validate instead of injuring yourself physically or psychologically.

Me: Which is what I tend to do – the latter, I mean.

Edward: You are learning to do the former . . . you’re slowly letting go of the latter . . .

Me: True . . .

Edward: It’s about being comfortable – more or less – with the existence of your emotions . . . you co-exist with them rather than getting torn up by them or responding to them by dissolving the core of who you are.

In a healthy family dynamic, when children experience emotions, parents are attuned to what their child is experiencing. They acknowledge and validate their child’s emotions. When the child is angry, the parent takes the child’s anger seriously. If the child is sad or has hurt healings, the parent soothes him, talks to him about the hurt, and gives him space to cry. Through that, the child’s emotions and feelings are validated and cared for.

The opposite of “seeing” children in this way is to “miss” them – to invalidate their feelings and experiences.

In the healthy dynamic, children internalize the process of regulating emotion in a healthy way. At first, the parent assists the child in the process; then the child learns to do it on his own.

Me: (After pondering this information) So . . . what I learned from my dad – the process that he taught me and that I subsequently internalized – is the process of tearing myself down. I could anticipate when he was getting ready to knock me down, so instead of waiting for him to do it, I learned to do it myself. Maybe part of the reason I don’t have clear memories of him tearing me down is because I did it for him.

And, I tear myself down now, still, as an adult . . . even though he is long dead.

Edward: Yes . . . absolutely . . . that’s great insight . . .

Me: Thanks . . .

So . . . I didn’t receive emotional validation from my parents . . . but I’m receiving it from you.

Edward: And you are developing your own skills. And, there are other people in your life who are validating you – people you have attracted into your life. I’m not the only one validating you – you are not dependent upon me for that.

And, you do the same for others. For example, when Jeff told you about the mean music teacher, you responded with concern and compassion. You validated his experience . . . he may have never had that experience validated before. Either way, that was a powerful, healing gift you gave to him.

Me: Wow . . . good point . . . I hadn’t thought about it that way.


That was a great stopping point . . . I packed up my stuff, we said good-bye . . . and went our separate ways . . .


  1. I hope you have continued getting better at these things.

  2. I’m sure working on it! Than you for the uplifting words!

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