Experiencing emotion is a normal part of healthy development. But those who were traumatized as children may have learned to “numb out” so as to protect themselves from painful emotions.
Feelings, or the lack thereof, can allow you to either grow, or to stay where you are—no matter how unhealthy that place may be. Although working through past abuse issues in therapy can be scary and cause unpleasant emotions to resurface, it’s worth the effort. Doing so allows you to continue emotional growth that was stunted by trauma, which allows you to grow in all areas of your life.
Building Skills and Taking Risks
Experiencing your emotions is a process that allows you to explore more of what life has to offer. Once you work through past fears, your self-confidence and self-esteem tend to grow, allowing you to try new things and master new skills. By resolving past issues of frustration, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, confusion, and guilt, you learn that even if you are unsuccessful on the first attempt, you can try again until you find the success you are looking for.
You will learn to take risks in life toward your self-growth. Perhaps you will go for a college degree or a fulfilling career you had only dreamed of in the past. Resolution of anger, guilt, fear, and a whole host of painful emotions will allow you to think more clearly and to be more creative in ways to succeed. If one path doesn’t work out, you can find other paths to try until you reach your goals in life.
Learning to trust your instincts and emotions will allow you to create trustworthy friendships, while avoiding those who might harm you physically or emotionally. Building these healthy relationships will allow you to have others in your life who you can go to in times of need for support and encouragement. These individuals can be great to have as a part of your life: to provide companionship and to use as a resource, to go to for advice or to bounce ideas off.
These friendships can allow you to grow by providing healthy feedback to your questions and ideas. Growing to be more emotionally healthy allows us to develop sensitivity. We can be empathetic and compassionate towards others, which allows those friendships to continue. We learn to truly connect with others in a healthy manner.
Negotiating Healthy Relationships
Unfortunately, those who have experienced trauma may unconsciously “choose” those who are also emotionally unhealthy. People with high self-esteem tend to be more successful in life. (“Successful’” is not meant to imply financial success, though that tends to go hand-in-hand with emotional success.) Meeting successful people can be frightening to someone who is less self-confident and has a lower sense of self-esteem. These individuals tend to fear rejection from someone “better” than them, so they tend to “settle.”
When settling, the person you settle for usually also has a tendency towards unhappiness and difficulty with interpersonal relationships as well. The two of you will inevitably clash as you get to know each other better. By resolving emotions from past abuse issues, you can begin to realize that not only do you deserve to be successful, but you also deserve to find a successful partner. You will then increase your chances of having a healthier relationship. When you hit a “rough spot” in your relationship, you and your partner will have the emotional resources to overcome these obstacles.
Parenting and Nurturing
If you have children with an emotionally unhealthy partner, things will become even more complicated. Since children learn by your example, they too will struggle to master their own emotions unless you have learned healthier ways to manage your own. If you have already resolved past abuse issues and their resulting emotions, you can raise your children to have self-confidence and a good sense of self-esteem. You will then know how to nurture these emotional instincts within them.
Using Emotions to Create a New Future
People in therapy will often state that they do not wish to feel “bad” emotions. There are no bad emotions: they just are. It’s how individuals handle these emotions that can cause problems. In order to feel happiness and joy, you must learn to feel other emotions as well. Otherwise, you end up dissociated from all emotions and you tend to go through life in grey tones, instead of in full-color.
You owe it to yourself to enjoy all that life has to offer, even if this means feeling the pain from past abuse in order to do so. Do not allow the past to dictate your future. Instead, find a therapist skilled in working with abuse survivors and focus on overcoming your traumatic past. This will allow you to find the love and friendships you desire, and to find fulfilling opportunities to enjoy throughout the rest of your life.
© Copyright 2010 by Joyce Thompson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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