Dear Dr Gray,
I’m not sure if this is a mental health problem, or even if therapy can help me, but I am scared of my emotions. I feel completely overwhelmed by anxiety, anger and depression, I even find positive emotions like excited and happiness a little hard to bear sometimes. I do my best to avoid feelings by bingeing on food and sometimes alcohol but usually this only works in the short term and I end up feeling twice as bad afterwards. All I want it to get off this emotional rollercoaster and find some sort of even keel.
Harry – Angel, Islington
Dr Gray Replies……..
We have evolved to have emotions because they serve a very important function, they enable us to navigate through life, without them we would be lost. Different emotions serve different functions, for example anxiety motivates us to prepare and face challenges, anger alert us to problems that need to be resolved, depression directs our focus and attention to issues that we need to process, come to terms with and move on from. However, although we have in a sense been hard wired to feel emotions we are not born knowing how to tolerate and respond to them, this we have to learn. These lessons are ideally learnt from our parents, however, it for some reason they are unable to pass this knowledge on to us (maybe because they do not know themselves) we are left with a range of sometimes terrifying and overwhelming emotional experiences and no techniques to deal with them. Our default position as human beings is to avoid the things that scare us (another trait that evolution is responsible for) and although as you have discovered, this brings some short term relief, longer term it makes the problem worse because avoidance robs us of the opportunity to develop and practice the skills we so desperately need in order to use our emotions in the way nature intended.
The solution is to seek some therapy. There is a new type of talk therapy that has been specifically developed to help people to learn to tolerate and respond adaptively to their emotions, it is called Cognitive Emotional Behavioural Therapy (CEBT). It combines two well known therapy techniques Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and can bring some real relief to individuals struggling with their emotions.
The British CBT & Counselling Service has recently set up a centre for therapy in Islington so I would recommend you getting in touch with them for some help.