When we are emotionally dysregulated or in an otherwise emotionally reactive state we act impulsively and without consciousness or interest about consequences because we want relief from that momentarily intolerable emotional state. We cannot imagine an alternative in that moment. Until consciousness comes to such behavior we effectively have no choice.
The process of becoming conscious may first involve an awareness that we act in a dysfunctional way that can lead to undesirable consequences and yet we see that we cannot stop in spite of this recognition.
If we hurt ourselves long enough in this way and start wanting to change, we must become curious about what is happening. The only way to learn about this phenomena is to start paying attention and observing our behavior even, perhaps, as we don’t want to be doing it, but find ourselves doing it anyway.
As we become aware through observance, preferable modes of behavior become apparent. We can reflect on what might have been a more skillful response after the fact. “Choice” is always the best behavior with the best outcome for which we have the capacity to both understand and carry out. No one “chooses” to do something less adaptive and possibly destructive unless they cannot consciously conceive in that moment of doing otherwise.
Sitting with reactive feelings without reacting is a skill. Moving towards this capacity allows one to stop reactive behaviors. The option to sit with reactive feelings is often a luxury. Not everyone finds themselves in environments where it’s something that can be easily achieved . . . again, by “choice.” Some of us are privileged enough to live in environments where a safe niche can be carved out so that we can begin this sort of enquiry.
Sitting with highly reactive feelings is often a highly somatic experience that most people have no framework for and therefore no means to understand what is happening. It can be a very frightening thing to sit with reactive feelings. Psychiatry routinely drugs and numbs such feelings calling them diseases. People who get labeled as addicts also use substances to numb such feelings. The somatic intensity of emotion is simply overwhelming for a large number of folks and there is little guidance on learning how to cope with them. What we find when we actually stop and sit with such feelings, however, is that they cannot harm us and in getting to know them we can actually in time be liberated from acute suffering. Instead psychiatry and now popular culture in general has begun to label intense emotional and somatic experiences as disease and something to stop no matter what.
Stopping an impulsive action or reactive response necessitates being with the painful, previously intolerable sensations in the body. It is initially a difficult step to make, sometimes impossible, but as awareness comes it becomes more and more possible.
Compassion for one’s own capacity or lack of capacity to make good “choices” is key to this process that often leads to changing behavior.
As one learns to sit with the pain and the darkness that lies behind bad “choices” alternative behavior options start to present themselves. Is this the birth of choice? Not really, it’s simply the result of awareness. With awareness behavior starts to change. The natural result of awareness is improved behavior and more skillful means of living in general. With awareness behavior changes into a more adaptive flow with our environments…this is not choice per se… it is simply responding to the obvious, really. More adaptive behavior makes sense and because we are now conscious we do it because we can.
Acute emotional sensitivity is one of the many variations of hypersensitivity from the iatrogenic injury people often experience while on psych meds that gets especially significant when withdrawing from those medications. The autonomic nervous system injury is in fact a sort of brain injury and resembles complex post traumatic stress. In fact, psychiatric drugs, as Charles Whitlock, MD documents, are agents of trauma.
I didn’t have severely dysregulated emotions before psych drug use. Since healing from the iatrogenic injury incurred from psychiatric drugs, I’ve learned a whole lot about dysregulated emotions. I’ve been healing all the hypersensitivities with a largely holistic self-directed protocol. See: My healing protocol detailed…
Here are some posts about good programs I found helpful to work with emotions and the somatic experience:
Body oriented practices are very helpful too. Anything that gets us into our bodies and paying attention is good.
There are many more possibilities among them walking, martial arts, tai chi and chi gong. Really any exercise practiced mindfully can be helpful. Gardening is good too.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.