All humans have learned ways to regulate how and when they show their emotions. The ability to regulate your emotional expression is an important social skill. For example, you can get angry at a colleague without yelling at him, or you can hide your sadness when your in a less then friendly environment.
However, sometimes our ability to regulate our emotional expression gets a bit overly developed. This can hinder us in expressing important emotions to the right people in the right setting. For example, you may have learned as a child that you need to hide your sadness, and when you as an adult need to show that you are sad so that you can get comfort, your sadness is too well regulated. Or you may find it so uncomfortable to show that you are angry at someone that you rather end up with a nagging feeling of being irritated for days.
In this exercise you can become more aware of how you stop yourself from having or showing important emotions. You can also get help to become aware of what negative consequences it has for you, and what it is you need to do differently.
Find a piece of paper and draw a long line in the middle of the sheet from top to bottom. On the left part you write down what it is you do too stop yourself from feeling, and on the right section you write down how this affects you. Remember that both parts are yourself and that none of the parts will disappear. You are simply trying to become more aware of how these parts talk together and what you need to happen.
In the exercise we’ve put in examples, but it’s important that you use your own words and experiences.
1. How do you stop yourself from feeling or showing the feeling?
- Try to be your self-interruptor for a little while. Write down what you say and do to yourself to stop yourself from feeling. Do not show sadness/anger/fear, because then….
- For example: big boys don’t cry! Or: Your boyfriend will not have you if you show those tears!
- See if you can also get your hands on what you do, such as pinching the muscles in your belly, swallowing down the tears, or keeping that angry feeling at bay by biting your teeth.
- “Don’t show your sadness to your girlfriend. She does not like it and will think that you are wimpy. So just swallow it down and pull away! “
2. How does it feel to be stopped from having this feeling?
- Read the message from the self-interruptor and feel what it’s doing to you. Contact your body while reading it. Become aware of what it feels like to be stopped or interrupted. Write down to your interruptor how it is for you to be stopped.
- “It’s tiring to keep all this on the inside. I become more lonely and I’m tired of it. “
3. What do you need your self-interrupter to do or not do?
- Feel what it’s like to experience being stopped from feeling or showing emotion. Try to put words to what you need and why it is important for you to show these feelings. Write it down.
- “You have to stop holding me back. It feels so trapped and lonely. I need to show my girlfriend that I’m sad. She loves me and wishes me well, so she’s going to give me the support I need. “
4. As your self-interrupter, how do you respond to this?
- As your interruptor, what do you want to say back? What have you actually been trying to achieve by holding back these emotions? Have you tried to help him/her? Is there something very important you are afraid that will happen if the emotions are expressed? Can you meet the need of the other part of you? Try to put words to this and show understanding of the other. If it feels right, apologize and tell that part of you what you will try to do in the future.
- I see that it is lonely to be left alone with your feelings. At the same time, I worry about you getting hurt again. I see that you need to be able to show her your feelings. I will try to help you do it.
5. How do you want to take this with you going forward?
- Read through what you have written down and done. Make a decision on how you will use this in your life: Do you want to change something? Do you want to commit to something? Do you want to seek help from others? Write down what you want to do.