There is a map of Emotional Responding Tattooed on my Heart.
When I was doing my step four inventory as part of my 12 step programme of recovery I did it pretty much as suggested in the Big Book.
My sponsor at the time asked me to do an additional part that is not explicitly mentioned in the Big Book.
He said to list all the negative emotions (or defects of character) that I had been in the grip of and exhibiting in relation to my various misdemeanors and the resentments I had held against various people and institutions over the preceding decades.
This turned out to be a brilliant idea for two reasons.
First it showed me that I held a multitude of resentments because I had a problem of emotion regulation.
I did not realise that the engine driving this emotion dysregulation was chronic shame.
I realised when doing my step 4 that that I had not previously been able to leave various supposed slights and abuses from my past in the past because I did not have the emotional maturity to look at these episodes reasonably and objectively.
In other words, I had not processed these episodes emotionally and embedded these events in my long term memory like healthy more emotionally mature people do.
Hence when I came into recovery I had hundreds and hundreds of resentments swirling around my mind, poisoning my thoughts and sending constant emotional daggers into my heart.
My past constantly assailed me emotionally, randomly attacking my mind.
My step 4 and then 5 showed me that I did not have the natural ability to deal with my negative emotions.
Secondly, listing all the negative emotions I had when I held a resentment against someone was very revealing in that when I held a resentment, any resentment, and against a wide variety of people, the negative emotions listed where generally the same! In fact they were all interlinking in a pattern of emotional reacting, one activating the other. It was like a emotion web that ensnared one in increasingly frustrating states of emotional distress and inappropriate responding.
This was quite a revelation!? That I respond in exactly the same way to my sense of self being threatened?
That there was a map of emotional responding tattooed on my heart.
I was drawing up a web of my emotional dysregulation, a route map of all the wrong ways to go, to emotional cul de sacs.
It was a list of the negative emotions which appear always when I felt anger and resentment against someone for hurting me and my feelings.
Just as revealing where the negative emotions listed which clearly showed how I react, and can still react to people who I believe have caused my hurt or rejection.
In fact it seems now that I treat all insult, intentional or otherwise, in a very similar way.
I have spent years trying to work our why?
I got as far as deciding it was an inherent problem with processing negative emotions, which it is.
However, there seems to be a problem specifically with a patterned mesh of negative emotions which are activated when someone upsets me.
In fact I think this pattern of interlinked negative emotions occurs simply because of inability to identify, label and share the simple fact that I have been upset by what someone has said or acted towards me.
“Shame is a fear-based internal state being, accompanied by beliefs of being unworthy and basically unlovable. Shame is a primary emotion that conjures up brief, intense painful feelings and a fundamental sense of inadequacy. Shame experiences bring forth beliefs of “I am a failure” and “I am bad” which are a threat to the integrity of the self. This perceived deficit of being bad is so humiliating and disgraceful that there is a need to protect and hide the flawed self from others. Fears of being vulnerable, found out, exposed and further humiliated are paramount. Feelings of shame shut people down so that they can distance from the internal painful state of hopelessness.”
“… unacknowledged thoughts and feelings become repressed and surface later through substitute emotions and dysfunctional behavior. Other emotions are substituted to hide the shame and maintain self esteem. Anger, exaggerated pride, anxiety and helplessness are substituted to keep from feeling the total blackness of being bad. The buried shame is expressed through defense mechanisms that shield negative unconscious material from surfacing.
Anger responses are modeled and learned in some families. The anger response is more comfortable than feeling the shame for some individuals. Families where coercive and humiliating methods of discipline are used develop children who are shame prone. Behavior become driven by defenses that function to keep from feeling bad. Reality becomes distorted to further protect the self from poor self esteem. The transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator of internal shame.
Children who live with constant hostility and criticism learn to defend against the bad feelings inside and externalize blame on others. External assignment of blame is a defense against shame. People who are super critical have a heavy shame core inside.”
I was working with someone last year and we had a disagreement and this guy said to me “I am upset” and “You have hurt my feelings” I was taken aback. I thought I never say things like that. This guy was an Olympic champion at expressing how he feels compared to me. I never say I am upset because it also seems to be an undifferentiated emotion that I have trouble accessing, mentalising and expressing.
I have not been taught as a child or since to simply say I am upset.
Instead of acting on my upset by saying to someone, you have hurt my feelings I do the opposite, I react and attack them in my head, my thoughts, my words and sometimes in my actions. Sometimes I “get them back” somehow. I make them pay in some way.
Honesty is the heart of recovery and I am being honest. The years of recovery reveal many different things, some of them not so palatable.
I grew up in a family that did not express emotions like the ones I had mentioned. We reacted via anger and put downs hence I have grown up to be dismissive.
My dismissiveness and my arrogance are parts of defence mechanism against rejection, they guard my inherent sense of shame. I am full of shame, more so than fear, although these two overlap. Shame is in fact fear evoking.
I hide my shame away under an anger of emotional hostility, stay away or else! I will get you back somehow. Sometimes I am in shame and offend via my attitudes.
I also have other ways of reacting in an emotionally unhealthy way that my step 4 showed.
If someone hurts me, according to my step 4, my angry resentment of what they have said or done makes me ashamed. This can quickly prick my sense of self pity (uselessness and hopelessness) which is something I have always rage against (rage is an essential part of shame plus I rally against this feeling of powerlessness) and I retaliated via excessive pride (I am better than you, I will put you down and see how you like it!) I put you down in my mind or through the words uttered from my mouth by arrogance, dismissiveness, impatience and intolerance.
I do so because I am being dishonest and fearful.
I do some because I am self centred and selfish.
These are all parts of my emotionally entangled web that is spun when I react to some sense of rejection.
Sometimes the shame persists for some time and I try to relieve it by behavioral addictions, too much shopping, too much eating, too much objectification of the opposite sex.
Not enough action, or effort to change my feelings in a healthy manner.
My step 4 showed me this is the unhealthy fruit of my greed, gluttony, my lust, my sloth.
My spiritual malady.
Add in perfectionism because that is the quick way to do nothing, a fear of failure that paralyses.
These are my main negative emotional reactions to the world that often scare me and make me feel ashamed.
I have felt powerless via your comments so try to to steal some power back by making my self seem more powerful over you.
I respond to feelings of humiliation by humiliating you, I react to my chronic shame by attempting to created shame in you.
Some days I react more adversely than others.
For example, this family have just moved into my neighbourhood, they seem wild and out of control.
I am not only fearful (leading to dishonesty in my thinking, catastrophizing, intolerance of uncertainty about how they will behave etc) I have reacted to their arrival via shame based defence mechanisms and reactions. I am shamed and disgusted that my neighourhood has come to this. I am dismissive of them, intolerant, impatient and arrogant towards them. All shame based reactions.
Last night the police were called to their home and one of them was handcuffed and put in the back of the police van.
My head went “I told you so!”
It was a very shameful scene for the whole family.
When things had died down and calm restored I spent the evening not in my fear or shame but in empathy and compassion.
How embarrassing for them how shameful.
I relate to them as they are out of control, my family was at varying times completely out of control too, traumatic and this is what has created a chronic shame in me, even still now after 10 years of recovery!
My shame responded and related to their shame.
Nobody wants to be out of control, to be teetering on the verge of the next disaster, the next moving of home, the next calling of the police, the next swirling carousel of unmanageabiilty.
I related and all my negative emotions retreated to source like a evening tide on a beach.
I relate to my fellow human beings when I am not in fear or shame.
When I am in fear and shame the same pattern of negative reactions entrap my heart in its’ poisonous grip and I react in a way I would not choose to, if more reasonable.
This is what the heart of my alcholism looks like. Not a pretty sight some days.
The most beautiful thing about me most days is the fruits of my recovery.
Now at least I can see how I react and can take steps to deal with it.
I have a spiritual tool kit that deals with this emotional disease.
Whether I stay in fear or shame is now my choice. A choice I once did not seem to have.
This is what recovery has given to me.
I do not have to cultivate my own misery through blind reaction.
Via an Amazing Grace I can now see what ails me.
Via AA I now have the tools, never taught to me in my family or in my troubled home environment.
I have gone home in AA. I learnt an attachment to those in AA and others.
I share my feelings of shame with those who know what that feels like.
Together we share our pain and we recover.