Emotional stressors arise when negative emotions like anger, guilt, sorrow and hurt occur frequently or intensely. Typically, these toxic emotional reactions are a result of your unresolved needs. They can compromise your immunity and affect your health. If you can discover your emotional stressors and what triggers them, you can take specific and targeted actions to recover from them.
Identify the source of negative emotions
In the ‘What You Really Must Know About Stress’ series, we spoke about thoughts and emotions having the ability to change the internal environment of your body. In this article we will explore where negative emotions come from and how they can be managed.
Can you identify one of your top negative emotions? When was the first time you actually felt it? How old were you then?
In all likelihood that you were not more than seven or eight years old, or at best, a teenager. In either situation, it would have been when your mind wasn’t fully developed and you were not strong enough to handle a painful or difficult situation. This emotion would have been simply your fight or flight response to cope with that particular situation the best you could.
Negative emotions are actually the visible expressions of some underlying feelings which we have not been able to resolve. The feeling is itself born out of a perceived unmet need which on closer examination we find, is part of the coping mechanisms we learnt as a child.
One person, many selves
Are there times when you are mature and balanced, and other times when you act out, almost childishly? Most of us can recognise and empathise with living this contradiction on a regular basis. Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis (TA), identifies three different selves that make up our ego or personality:
- An inner Parent (who behaves exactly like our parents did),
- An inner Adult (our most objective self who can see the world from a mature perspective), and
- An inner Child (that part of us which still remains at the psychological age of under seven years).
To be a well-rounded and a functioning person, we need a good balance of all three selves operating within us.
- The Parent in us keeps us morally and ethically under control,
- The Child in us keeps us creative, curious and with a capacity for joy, and
- The Adult in us knows how operate in the world with awareness and particularly, knows when to call upon the Parent nature or the Child nature, as appropriate.
The wounded “inner child”
In an ideal world, all three selves within will be developed equally and in a balanced way. But reality is different. Our inner child is often wounded in the early years and develops some coping mechanisms (tantrums, withdrawal, self-aggrandisement, etc.) to deal with the situation, to feel safe and to get love, acceptance and security.
Life carries on and we develop into our Adult selves. But left un-healed, our inner Child remains wounded and this wound surfaces inevitably when we are caught in a similar situation (of being under threat) and it triggers a memory of the coping response we used then to defend ourselves.
While coping emotions such as anger or self-pity or pride may have served us well to deal with a difficult situation in childhood, they are not healthy in the long term. As adults, we need to uncover our wounds, heal and replace them with more effective and healthy response mechanisms. It would be a huge relief to ourselves and also to our loved ones and colleagues, who otherwise bear the brunt of our inappropriate behaviour patterns.
Here are some questions to help you discover the emotional patterns that are creating stress in your life.
- What are some of your recurring emotional patterns? When did you first learn them?
- What purpose did they serve then? How are they serving you now?
- Can you identify the ‘feeling’ under the emotion and the unmet ‘need’ under the ‘feeling’?
- What might be a legitimate way to meet that need, as against your typical emotional response?
The Holistic Health Questionnaire (HHQ) will help you understand your stressors. To take the free test, please mail Anamika at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject as HHQ.
More from this series
|Title||About the article|
|Uncovering Physical Stressors||The key factors in maintaining optimum physical health are diet, exercise, rest & relaxation, personal habits (smoking/ alcohol) and sociability & laughter.|
|Uncovering Mental Stressors||Our mind is in constant chatter, with a series of voices saying this, that or the other. Limiting beliefs and negative self talk are a major source of mental stress, which eats away at our immunity.|
|Uncovering Emotional Stressors||In this article we will explore where negative emotions come from and how they can be managed.|
|Uncovering Spiritual Stressors||Sometimes our physical, mental, emotional and relational levels may not reveal what is really going on, at least, not enough to explain the manifestation of a life-threatening disease like cancer. In many such cases, the stressor may lie in the spiritual aspect of our selves, which we have to delve into.|
|Uncovering Relational Stressors||We are all part of a system: family, workplaces, societies, etc. The quality of our relationships determine the health of the systems we live in, and the health of the system plays a big role in our own health.|