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In the last section, we talked about overcoming resistance to feelings, as well as the Finding the Trouble Spot technique.
In this section, we will be discussing the fear of self-awareness and five common myths about feelings that addicts believe about expressing feelings.
As you know, addicts commonly give many reasons for not allowing themselves to feel their feelings. I feel that each one of these reasons, regardless of its rationality or sensibility, represents a fear of self-awareness. I have worked with some clients in a session to facilitate their becoming aware that their fears about "feeling their feelings" are often groundless.
I noticed with Jessica, age 34, that it is important for addicts to know that once they are aware of their feelings then they can handle them. Those feelings that scared them so much will often not only not hurt them, but help them heal old wounds or problems.
Jessica had an addiction to heroin and had just lost her job. She experienced common fears that many addicts have about expressing feelings. She worried about her depression, and said, "I won’t let myself cry over all of the people I’ve hurt. If I start to cry, I won’t be able to stop. Also my anger is too scary, and it’s not just anger. I am afraid that if I get too happy, something bad will happen. So I guess I’m afraid to cry, I’m afraid to get angry, and I’m afraid to feel happy."
There are five common myths about feelings that addicts tend to believe. I helped Jessica understand that these five myths were just that, myths. As you listen to these myths, see if you have a Jessica that might benefit by reviewing them.
Five Common Myths About Feelings
♦ Myth #1 - Being Unable to Stop Crying
The first myth was that she would be unable to stop crying. I reassured Jessica that she would be able to stop. I stated, "The worst that may happen is that you may cry yourself to sleep for days in a row. But by allowing this to be okay and by crying you may eliminate some of your depression." I explained to her that crying can reduce stress and boost the immune system.
♦ Myth #2 - Grief is Damaging
The second myth I discussed with Jessica was her belief that her grief over stealing for drug money would be damaging to her. Jessica believed that acknowledging her grief would only hurt her more. I stated, "Grieving over something lost or allowing yourself to feel disappointment over a failure shows that you have acknowledged the loss and are ready to move on. Without expressing your grief and disappointment you may be stuck in a feeling, unable to let go."
♦ Myth #3 - Impulsive or Violent in Expressing Anger
The third myth we talked about was that she may become impulsive or violent in expressing anger. Jessica had stated that her anger was too scary; she was afraid it would be more destructive to express it than to bottle it up. I encouraged her to express her anger and stated, "If you learn to manage your anger in effective ways, you may realize positive benefits. Expressing anger and learning to manage it has helped many people change from being unemployable to having a successful job, as well as from feeling isolation to having warm friendships."
♦ Myth #4- Expressing Feelings Increases Pain
The fourth myth Jessica believed was that expressing any feelings would increase her pain. I told her that expressing feelings will, in fact, reduce her pain. Repressed feelings are painful, as you know, and I told Jessica that if she didn’t express them, she was in danger of being pushed back into her old addictive behavior.
I told her, "If you learn to release these feelings, you may not have so much internal pressure causing you to resort to your addictive behaviors." In Jessica’s case, releasing feelings helped her to stop turning to her heroin addiction to medicate and numb her uncomfortable feeling.
♦ Myth #5 - Something Bad Would Happen Upon Happiness
Finally, we addressed Jessica’s last statement, the fifth myth, that something bad would happen if she felt happiness. I told her, "Feeling positive feelings will not get you hurt." I pointed out specific emotions for which she had misinterpreted the outcomes. Love would not get her into trouble, but dependency would. A certain level of excitement would not necessarily be dangerous, but may more likely be motivating. I added that feeling positive as well as negative feelings makes life worth living.
I explained to Jessica that in many cases the root of these myths for addicts is the belief that they are not good enough.
♦ 'Having a Good Cry' Exercise
To help Jessica acknowledge and feel her feelings, I felt that the "Having a Good Cry" exercise might be beneficial to Jessica.
--Step 1: First I asked Jessica to recall someone she had hurt through her drug use.
--Step 2: Second, I asked her where she felt that feeling in her body. She stated that it started in the pit of her stomach and went up to her throat.
Third, I asked her if that feeling in her throat wanted to express itself through tears.
She then burst into tears. I suggested for a homework assignment that she repeat this process by first thinking of something that she was "fighting not to cry about."
--Step 4: Next she locates that sensation in her body and lastly allowed herself to cry.
Would the "Having a Good Cry" technique work for one of your addicted clients that is avoiding experiencing feelings?
In this section, we have discussed the fear of self-awareness and five common myths that addicts believe about expressing feelings. These myths are that they will be unable to stop crying, that acknowledging grief and disappointment will damage them, that they will become impulsive or violent if they express anger, that expressing feelings will increase their pain, and that positive feelings will get them hurt.
In the next section, we will discuss the six steps in making an effective choice. The six steps are 1. paying attention to internal and external clues, 2. using both intuitive and practical reasoning, 3. evaluating options and their short- and long-term results, 4. making a choice, 5. committing to the choice, and 6. adapting to the unexpected.
- Mellin, L. (2003). The Pathway: Follow the Road to Health and Happiness. New York: Harper Collins.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Baschnagel, J. S., Coffey, S. F., Hawk, L. W., Jr., Schumacher, J. A., & Holloman, G. (2013). Psychophysiological assessment of emotional processing in patients with borderline personality disorder with and without comorbid substance use. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 4(3), 203–213.
Kang, D., Fairbairn, C. E., & Ariss, T. A. (2019). A meta-analysis of the effect of substance use interventions on emotion outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 87(12), 1106–1123.
Shaver, J. A., Veilleux, J. C., & Ham, L. S. (2013). Meta-emotions as predictors of drinking to cope: A comparison of competing models. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(4), 1019–1026.
What are the five common myths that addicts believe about expressing feelings?
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