Emotional freedom. Is this a truly unattainable notion, and if not, what can we do to reach it?
Women have, time and time again, been classified and defined by their emotions. We are called angry, bitter, overly emotional and sensitive, and because we fear ostracism are forced in some instances to suppress feelings that are directly linked to deep hurt. It is no secret that women can be more expressive on the emotional front, as we are more likely to confront the source of dispute and dismantle it before it takes root. When this is met with resistance, seeds of ignorance become planted deep within us and set some of us on a path where we cannot reconcile our emotions.
In a bid to dismantle the myth of the “angry black woman”, one popular television psychologist sought to identify defining traits in a group of ten women that led to the categorisation. What she discovered, was a pattern of historical physical and emotional abuse sparked by one childhood incident or a significant emotional trauma that went unresolved.
Of course, women deal with a multitude of issues, but research has found that women who experience varying levels of trauma have a difficult time securing emotional freedom. Approximately one-half of all individuals will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, which may have a lasting impact on their emotions and how well they can integrate them into everyday life.
The Psychiatric Clinic of North America looked at the destructive impact of trauma, the ubiquitous nature of interpersonal violence and the profoundly damaging eﬀects it has on women. The study theorised that violence puts women at risk for short- and long-term sequelae involving their psychological, physical, economic, emotional and social well-being.
One astonishing finding revealed that childhood trauma can create disturbances in four developmental domains: regulation of aﬀect and emotion, problems with impulse control, biological dysregulation and somatisation, and diﬃculties in the development of the self and interpersonal relationships.
For many women, maintaining a state of emotional equilibrium is difficult, especially when factors such as anxiety and depression quickly become part of the equation. Because women are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, experience a longer duration of post-traumatic symptoms and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of their trauma, it’s a struggle for some to express healthy emotions, especially in romantic relationships. Talking about negative emotions and our inability to manage them have never been part of the conversation, and many of us cower in fear at the thought of having to confront them.
Getting to a place of emotional security requires continuous work. And to get the ball rolling, you must first identify the traumatic event. Trauma generates emotions, so you must be honest in your assessment, as this would help you understand what subconsciously affects your feelings.
Recalling traumatic events enables us to process unexpressed emotions, which then directs us to what our triggers are. Psychologists suggest thinking of a situation that you’ve been upset about recently, something that provoked a mild to strong emotional reaction. Review what happened in as much detail as possible, and imagine yourself back in that time and place. Experience it all again with your senses.
When this is mastered, use the same method, but instead input your traumatic experience. In most cases, a physical reaction becomes apparent; sweaty palms, tightening of the chest, crying or anxiety, and in some cases numbness. Use these responses and match them against the emotion that is most appropriate to your experience. Sadness, hurt, rage or disappointment. Hold onto this definition. Focus on its source and feel the emotions as often as you’ll allow yourself. This will give you a greater understanding of your experience and a richer knowledge of yourself. Part of the mindfulness approach to healing from trauma is fully accept everything that you feel. Sit with your emotions and their sensations. Don’t push them away or ignore them. Allow them to simply be.
Vocalising your experience is crucial to upending trauma. Whether you describe what happened to someone else or record your reflections, talking or writing about your experiences and emotions is an essential step in healing. When all is said and done, you’ve got to let it go and take control of your emotions. And yes, this is much easier said than done, but by staying committed to the process, you’ll be better placed to identify triggers and properly regulate your emotion.
So, is emotional freedom possible? Put simply; it can be. But it’s a task that largely requires you.