by Carleen Newsome, LPC, CPCS, ACS
Emotions are designed to inform us about what is happening in the world around us. However, in the midst of our grief, emotions can be so overwhelming that we try to run from them. Instead of recognizing our emotions, we adopt ways to cope which can prolong our suffering.
Hurt doesn’t go away simply because we don’t acknowledge it. In fact, if left unchecked, our emotions can fester, grow, and lead to behaviors that are not in line with who we want to be. These behaviors are ineffective and usually end up sabotaging many areas of our life, ruining relationships, and harming careers.
Resorting to ineffective strategies of dealing with emotions is called “offloading.” Below are six common strategies for offloading hurt:
Chandeliering: This strategy is when we try to stuff the hurt so far down that we believe we have escaped the pain. What actually ends up happening is that we have tender trigger points. When these trigger points are touched we react in an out of proportion way. A small thing like spilling our coffee may cause us to lose control and cry for hours.
Bouncing Hurt: Bouncing hurt is when emotions become unbearable and we place that hurt on someone or something else. For example, we may be having a hard day fighting off grief and instead of acknowledging it, we end up yelling at our spouse for not taking out the trash or grounding our kids for not finishing their dinner.
Numbing: Numbing is when we take the edge off pain with whatever we can find that will bring the quickest relief. It may be food, alcohol, drugs, TV, money, or caretaking. The problem is that we cannot selectively numb emotions. If we numb one, we numb them all. We may numb the grief, but we also numb the joy and happiness.
Stockpiling: Stockpiling begins like chandeliering where we pack the hurt away. We become so good at packing down the pain that we begin to amass more and more hurt. Without another outlet for our emotions, our body takes the brunt and may begin to develop many different health problems.
High-Centered: This strategy makes us feel stuck, powerless, and indecisive. We are afraid to allow emotion because we feel we may experience a floodgate of emotion and lose control. We are afraid that we may cry at work, in the grocery store, at a graduation, or around friends or family. We want to feel but we are afraid to allow emotions.
The Umbridge: We attempt to deal with hurt and grief by pretending. We become overly accommodating and people-pleasing. It feels and looks like a mask but is inconsistent with what we feel inside. It harms us and drives a wedge between us and others because it hides our true self within relationships.
Most employ these strategies at various times to survive and cope through difficult periods. But if you still find yourself using these strategies six months to a year after your loss or traumatic experience, it may be time to talk to a counselor so you can learn the steps to release you from added suffering.