Handling Emotional Reactions By Lesley Chorn Counselling Psychologist

Trauma

When something happens to us that hurts our feelings, we experience pain in our heart, and usually also anger and fear of it happening again.  But what do we do with these feelings?  Many times we do not know how to cope with them. They disturb us; with thoughts going around and around in our minds that interfere with living our life in peace, and interfere with our sleep. And so, for many people, the way to solve the problem is to push it away; to pretend that it did not happen.  We “forget” it ever happened; storing it in a part of our brains that is locked away. Unfortunately it usually does continue to affect us, but often without us knowing it.

However, the right brain has a strong connection with the feeling part of ourselves and so, when we do “right brain” activities, we often tap straight back into those painful feelings. Writing about the experiences brings it out of the hidden places; it brings it up to our awareness. To heal, we need to be aware of what we were feeling, and to release the anger and pain…. to let it go.

Releasing trauma

Firstly, just writing about it, is one way of getting it out. It does not matter if the story written is a good one or a bad one, or if it is grammatically correct. What matters is that it is put down on paper by writing or drawing; it moves from the inside of a person to the outside. However, in the process of doing that, the painful feelings come up to the surface again. Handling these feelings carefully and correctly is important, or the pain just goes back inside again.

Dealing with traumatised feelings

People have different ways of handling their feelings. Each person needs to be respected. Some possibilities are as follows:

  • Sometimes the pain does not come out; but just the anger at being hurt.  The person may complain on and on about someone else. They are blaming that person; they are angry; but not aware of the pain (because sometimes they can’t face feeling the pain). But unless the pain comes out, they are not healed. So if someone is blaming another person or situation, we can help them by empathising… by imagining how it must have been for the person to experience what they did, and sharing how it might have felt. eg.  “When your father left home, it must have been difficult for you. It seems like you are very angry with  him for leaving you all in that mess, yes, but maybe you are also sad that your father was not there for you?” Sometimes a person just cannot let it go. They may carry on and on venting and  blaming. They need to have someone to talk to, but should not be allowed to dominate the time of the group meeting. Rather, you can say “I see you are very angry, let’s talk about it afterwards.”  Then after the session you can listen or try and find the person some help.
  • Other people are more private about their feelings. They may try to hide them from others.  In this situation, the person may become unnaturally quiet. They may refuse to write or draw. Or they may ask to leave the room. (Of course not everyone who asks to leave the room is having a reaction!) In such a situation, it is still important to be respectful of the person. They don’t like other people knowing their feelings: that is their choice and it should be respected.  For this type of person, it is best to try and find a time when everyone else is busy, and to quietly go up to them and ask them “are you okay?”  If they say, “I am fine”, then it is important to not interfere any further. However, once the session is over, ask the person to stay behind and again gently ask  if there is anything that is troubling them that they would like to talk about.

But many others will cry, which is a good form of releasing the pain. When someone is crying or close to tears, what do you, the mentor, do? Bear in mind the skills of counselling:

  • Encourage the person to stay in touch with their feelings. Do not be tempted to get them to stop crying just because it makes you feel uncomfortable to see their pain. Some people are comfortable with you witnessing their pain and want comfort,  others are not, and want to be left alone. Try to get an idea of what they want and then act accordingly.  If  you get the idea they want comfort, then  let the person know that you care about their feelings. Just getting closer to the person may help, or just maintaining eye contact is sometimes sufficient.  If they talk, you may wish to empathise with what they have said by saying “you feel……” (whatever you imagine they might be feeling).  If the situation allows for it, encourage them to talk further. Or suggest they speak to you afterwards.
    • Do not try and make it seem as though it was not such a bad thing that happened. To the person, it was traumatic. Different things affect people in different ways.
    • It is important not to be judgmental or critical of the person or the situation. Again, people are all different.  No-one likes to be judged as a bad or weak person. Often when a person is badly behaved it is because they have been abused or neglected. Don’t judge what you do not know.
    • Respect the person. That means do not try to force the person to do or think something just because you think they should. All people have a right to be themselves and think and do what they want to, as long as they are not abusing or interfering with another person. All people are entitled to choice.
  • Touch of the person’s body is a sensitive thing. Many times when people have been neglected, or physically or sexually abused in their long forgotten past, they become sensitive to other people touching their body.  So it is best   to get permission first  by  asking, for example, “Do you need a hug?” It is extremely important to respect them in their vulnerable state.

Confidentiality and Follow up

  • What a person tells you should be kept in confidence. Under no circumstances should it be told to anybody else, especially sensitive information.  However, if there is on-going abuse or neglect, or if the child is experiencing current emotional trauma from past abuse,  then it is very  important that you follow this up with the correct  relevant procedure.  Tell the child, that you need to report this to the guidance teacher or social worker so that they can help him/her.  Then speak to the school counsellor or social worker. If there is no counsellor / social worker,  then speak to the district counsellor / social worker, or the headmaster. Follow up later with the child to see that the problem has indeed been dealt with. 

To develop counselling skills,  a  good reference book is  “The Skills of Helping”  by Robert Carkhuff and William Anthony:  Human  Resource Development Press, 1985.

Conclusion

Let us rise from the bottom of  the class to the top, using right brain creative writing methods! This is a life skill and your life, in many aspects, will greatly improve. Let us show others how creative writing is really done! Ex Africa, semper aliquid novi.  From Africa, always something new!

 

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