Changing myself was probably one of the most difficult things I have done because there was so much trauma stored in my body that my natural reaction was to respond with anger and to remain angry for hours, possibly days, to seemingly small situations. But as I’m writing this today, I can tell you there is a light at the end of that tunnel. Our bodies are built to survive. And that we do. Our brain may automatically tell our body to react to perceived danger and in these moments, our logic shuts off and emotions take over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t control how we react to our natural emotions to situations out of our control. So I wanted to share with what anger was physically doing to me, and some of the ways I helped managed my reactions to those situations.
The first thing I learned was to recognize the “what”. What was making me feel this way. Not “who”. Was I angry because someone didn’t do what I expected them to do? Was I sad because someone said something I perceived as wrong? Was I upset that someone made a comment about my weight? Okay, I know. I just said to recognize the what instead of the who, but stick with me.
See, we get confused because usually when we become dysregulated, there’s another person attached to the situation. Someone said something, or someone did something to me. But then, what about all those times there wasn’t a person involved? Who could I blame then? I had to learn to stop blaming others for being involved in my emotional roller coaster, and instead, choose whether or not I was going to react. See, anger, frustration, guilt, fear, sadness, disgust, these are all just our body perceiving and reacting. It’s our stress response system. When something doesn’t go your way, or when something is said about you, it can instantly put you in a bad spot because maybe it reminds you of something your abuser said or did to you. Realizing what I was reacting to helped with the next step. Realizing whether my feelings were valid.
This was really difficult for me to do, because at first, everything was valid. Of course, that person who cut me off and then flipped me off was an asshole, they deserved my anger. And oh, that lady in the grocery store that took the last box of oreos, or the guy who cut in line with his kids, and the list could go on and on. In my mind, all of these situations were valid reasons to get angry. But, who did that ultimately affect? Me. That guy who cut me off couldn’t hear me yelling at him from my car, and that lady who took the oreos probably can’t read minds and know that I wanted them first, or that guy who cut in line probably just wanted to get his kid on one last ride before they left… do you think they even thought twice about how I, some stranger they’ve never even seen before, was feeling? No. The only person who cared about how angry I was, was me.
It was physically affecting me every day and I didn’t want to admit it. I had depression, insomnia, uncontrollable migraines, unexplained weight fluctuations, and severe stomach problems. I didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that I needed to make a change, it was just everyone else who was making me so angry that these things were the side effect of their actions. But, I stuck with my exercise. I started writing everything down. Every interaction. Every emotion I felt. Then I started writing why. Why did I feel that emotion? Then I asked, what happened afterward? Did anything change? Did those people feel my anger at all? Did they even care past the 5 second interaction I had with them? My next question was, “was it worth it”? Was it worth getting upset over, was it worth the stress on my body, the lack of sleep, the migraines, the multiple health issues, and most of all, my mental well-being? Well, let me ask you… do you think it was worth it? HELL NO. None of it was worth it. I was reacting because that’s what I had to do my entire childhood. I had to protect myself, and protect my sisters. I had reacted that way so much that it was just normal, but it was leading me down a path of early death if I didn’t fix it. So I did.
I journaled everything and after a year or so, I finally felt like I had gotten somewhere. I felt like I had more control over how I reacted, and what I allowed my emotions to do to my body. I looked back through that journal from when I first started, and I started noticing all the “was it worth it”, “yes” responses change to “no”. I also started noticing how I reacted to the situations go from, “I got very angry and almost punched someone”, to “it really didn’t affect me too much, I just walked away”. It was very encouraging to see how much I had grown in just one year. It felt like a lifetime, but one year goes by so quickly that even now, 12 years later, I can remember it like it was yesterday. I continued to practice, even though I felt like I had it down, and little by little, I was starting to feel like I could actually control my reactions every single time. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days when I am just a mess. Something will set me off, someone will say something that reminds me of a childhood memory, or I’ll look in the mirror and some of my mannerisms will remind me how much I look like my mom, and I’ll lose it. I’ll be sad all day and just be in a funk. My kids suffer, my husband suffers, and I suffer. No one wins on those days, except the abuser. It’s unfortunate, but true. We all have bad days and that’s okay. It’s how we are the majority of the time that helps us grow and heal.
If you feel like you might be dealing with some of these similar reactions, just know that there is help out there. Your emotional health is so important and being able to control the way you react to your natural emotions, is one of the first steps toward healing. You can do this!
I’d love it if you share some of your stories of emotional growth. Please feel free to comment or email me directly.