“The neighbours will call the police if you don’t stop screaming!”
My boyfriend was gripping my wrists. He pinned me into a corner of his bedroom. I could see the concern in his eyes. And the disbelief.
I tried to clear my head. It felt as if I was waking up from a nightmare. A tsunami of self-loathing and shame washed over me. What was going on? What was wrong with me?
Tears streamed down my face. My throat was sore because I had been screaming for minutes. My hands were bruised and aching where I had punched my fists against the walls.
I didn’t even know what had triggered the outburst. A small, innocent remark? A tiny criticism?
My boyfriend was the most caring, gentle and patient person I knew. He didn’t deserve this appalling behaviour, the emotional abuse and heartache.
And it wasn’t the first time either. For the last weeks I had lashed out at him whenever we met. One moment I was fine. The next I was overpowered by all-consuming anger and aggression. Without apparent reason.
Was I losing my mind?
Afterwards, the guilt and remorse were killing me. I beat myself up for my stupid meltdowns. I detested the awful person I had become. I begged my boyfriend to forgive me. Not to leave me. To give me another chance. I promised him that the explosions would stop.
But they never did. I couldn’t control the rage that erupted from my core. It felt as if a savage beast awoke inside me, trying to force its way out of my rib cage. The overwhelming anger threatened to choke me. I needed to vent it somehow before it would rip me apart.
I was trapped in an endless downward spiral of repentance, self-punishment and self-hatred. I felt like I was mutating into a lunatic. And I lived in constant fear. What would trigger the next outburst? How could I live with myself if it happened again? When would my boyfriend abandon me?
My life was in ruins. I was a mere shadow of the person I used to be. I couldn’t go on like this.
Looking into my boyfriend’s eyes that night in September 2006, I saw the disappointment and confusion. I knew I had lost control again and I realised it was time to get help. I couldn’t cope any longer on my own.
So I went to a counsellor for the first time in my life.
The reveal of the reasons for my emotional outbursts
I sat in an armchair in a sunlit office. I was nervous, fidgeting, butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t know what to expect.
The counsellor scribbled down some notes before she looked up and smiled. Her name was Elisabeth. I had told her about my uncontrollable emotional outbursts on the phone.
“Now then, what’s going on in your life?” Her expression was warm and friendly, without judgement.
I told her about my stressful PhD research, the heart-breaking separation from my family who I left behind to study abroad, my troubles adapting to the cultural differences and my 4-hour commute every weekend to see my boyfriend.
I mentioned that the outbursts of anger only occurred when I was with my boyfriend and hypothesised that they were caused by relationship problems. Yet, I couldn’t zoom in on the real issue. I was lost.
Elisabeth looked at me sympathetically. She listened and nodded occasionally.
And as I finished she said the words that started my healing journey: “I know the reason for your problems. I can help you.”
That day and in the coming weeks Elisabeth taught me what I am about to tell you now. With her help I turned my life around, eradicated my anger outbursts and restored my emotional balance. And saved the relationship with my boyfriend (now husband).
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The pressure cooker of suppressed emotions
“Your life sounds stressful. Too much going on, isn’t there?”
I stared at Elisabeth, puzzled. It hadn’t occurred to me. I did what I had to do. For my work, my studies, my acclimatisation, my relationship. And most of the time I was coping.
But she was right. I was constantly on the go. No time for myself. No time to rest. No time to grief.
I had been horrifically homesick when I first moved from Austria to the UK. I had lost my family and friends, my home and my roots. Change doesn’t come easy to me and I wept for weeks.
And then, suddenly, it stopped. I had overcome the homesickness. I moved on. Or so I thought.
But reality was that I merely suppressed my sadness. I ignored the grief and convinced myself that “I was fine”.
It’s a human way to deal with grief. It doesn’t matter whether we lost a loved one, a relationship, a job or your old, familiar life. At some point we have to take charge of our life again. We have to function again as a useful part of society. We can’t wallow in grief forever. We have to pick ourselves up and soldier on.
The thing is though that the grief, the powerful feelings of loss and loneliness, the mourning and the streams of tears don’t vanish. They exist, persist, accumulate while we deny their existence.
But deep down we know the grief is still within. So we keep busy. We don’t allow ourselves time to breathe, rest or think. To stop the grief from resurfacing.
And the more we deny it, the busier we are, the more the pressure mounts inside. You see, emotions are energy in motion. They arise, touch us briefly and flow through us. Suppressed emotions are trapped. They clog your heart, block love, happiness and joy, cause anxiety and depression. And they fiercely erupt as anger when the pressure becomes unbearable.
My suppressed grief about the loss of my home had turned me into a human pressure cooker!
But why did I always explode at my boyfriend if the outbursts had nothing to do with him?
The curse of trust and vulnerability
I was fine all week, pleasant with my co-workers and friends. But as soon as I met my boyfriend at the weekend, everything went wrong.
Some days, I was a crying mess, others a screaming ball of rage. He triggered something in me. And I started to believe that the relationship, that he, caused my problems.
Maybe we weren’t compatible. He brought out the worst in me, stirred up my dark side and turned me into an insane psychopath. So clearly he wasn’t good for me. And I had been contemplating to break up the relationship for some weeks. I loved him, but how could this ever work?
When I asked Elisabeth, she smiled and said: “He isn’t causing your problems. He allows you to vent them. You feel comfortable enough to entrust him with your true feelings. The ones you don’t dare to express with anybody else.”
As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. I felt safe with him. I could trust him with my pain, release it and be vulnerable knowing he would still love me afterwards.
But I felt awful every time. Guilt-ridden, full of shame for my embarrassing outbursts. It didn’t seem fair. Why did the person who deserved it least got it most?
And why did I hide my true feelings from everybody else?
Low self-worth and the trap of perceived expectations
Working with Elisabeth, I soon discovered that I suppressed my emotions due to low self-worth.
Yes, I grieved. I was heart-broken, hurting and unhappy following my move. But I didn’t want to disappoint and worry my family and friends that I left behind. So I prioritised their feelings over mine and kept quiet.
And I didn’t want to inconvenience my new friends. I only knew them for a few weeks and I was terrified that they might not understand. That they might disapprove of my weakness or think badly of me because I couldn’t cope on my own.
What if they rejected me? I didn’t feel good enough to deserve their friendship. Especially if I was an inconvenience or burdened them with my personal issues. Back then, I believed that I was only borderline acceptable at the best of times. So why would they want to put up with me at my worst?
So, I swallowed my tears. Pushed my sadness, grief and homesickness down as far as I could. With a brave face I marched on. Fulfilling society’s expectations as I perceived them through the black veil of low self-worth. Pretending to be a happy, upbeat and useful part of the system. No bother, no inconvenience, no burden to anyone.
But deep inside the pressure of those suppressed emotions mounted. Until I could no longer control them. Until I burst.
All because I felt unlovable, worthless. Unworthy of understanding, help and support. All because I lacked self-worth.
A peaceful way to restore emotional balance
“You need to find a way to release your suppressed emotions before they overwhelm you.”
It was my last session with Elisabeth. The insights, revelations and realisation during our time together helped me to understand my situation and started my journey back to peace.
But I still didn’t know how to alleviate my suffering. How to recover from the vicious cycle of guilt, self-loathing and downward spiralling self-worth. How to resuscitate the happy, balanced person I used to be.
It took me several years to find effective tools that truly helped me cope with my overwhelming emotions. That released old unprocessed feelings and prevented me from suppressing new ones.
I want to share my favourite two techniques with you today in the hope that they will help you heal as well.
1. Reduce the pressure of suppressed emotions
This is the most powerful visualisation tool I found to let go of suppressed emotions and past trauma:
"Fill the bubble" technique
Sit or lie down comfortably. Your position doesn’t matter. Just don’t cross your arms or legs as it impedes the energy flow.
Feel inside your body. Where is the tension? Can you sense any anger, sadness or other strong emotion? Is it in your heart, your stomach, your head?
Locate it as best as you can. But don't get too hung up on it. Emotions are suppressed in all parts of your body, so the exercise will work regardless of the body part you choose to focus on.
Now, imagine a bubble, about 25 cm in diameter, hovering in front of your face. It looks like a huge soap bubble. Like the ones children love to blow. Gently guide this bubble inside the area of your body you identified earlier. If you couldn't identify a specific area, direct the bubble into your heart.
Once in position, actively allow all the suppressed emotions to move into the bubble. Let go, relax and observe your pain drain into the bubble. Once the bubble is full, imagine moving it outside of your body.
Once it hovers in front of you again, ask for transformation of the negative energy within it to love, joy and peace. Watch the bubble vanish. With all your suppressed emotions. They are gone. They won't bother you ever again.
Repeat whenever required but at least once daily at the beginning. Choose different areas of your body to release different emotions. Work on one area as long as it feels right. Don't worry if you have to cry. This is a side-effect of the release. Allow yourself some emotional time. You are doing great.
2. Prevent new emotions from mounting up
Releasing old suppressed emotions is only one side of the coin. It is equally important to stop suppressing new ones. And boosting self-worth is crucial here.
You see, society teaches us that we are only worthy if we work hard, earn well and have our life and feelings under control. So we learn to hide our emotions because we don’t want others to disapprove of us.
We stop speaking our truth, so others can’t disagree or criticise. We never ask for help for fear others think we can't cope. So they don’t judge us as weak, helpless, desperate. Worthless.
The truth is though that our individual worth is a birth right. Our true worth is infinite and unconditional. We ARE worth no matter what. Realising this one truth will change your life.
It’s ok if you struggle. It’s ok if life gets too much sometimes. It’s ok if your emotions go haywire. You ARE still worth!
You have the right to express your emotions. They are not shameful or embarrassing. They don’t make you weak and pathetic. They are a valid part of you, and every other being. Suppressing them will hurt you. And you deserve better!
So affirm 10 times each day: “I AM worth”.
Realise that you are a valuable, lovable human being. That it is safe to express your opinions and emotions. And that asking for help is a sign of self-love, not of weakness.
How to live a happy, balanced life
I still sometimes suppress my emotions. And I still don’t realise that I am doing it until the anger bubbles up. I don’t know why but I accepted it as a part of me.
The big difference is that I am no longer a slave to my emotions. They are there but they don’t control me.
Emotional balance is not about freeing yourself from all emotional ups and downs. It is about finding a way to calm the waves before they destroy the beach.
So I fill my bubbles and boost my self-worth. Relentlessly, tirelessly, enthusiastically. I know it keeps me sane, balanced, healthy. It keeps my marriage harmonious and happy.
I have the knowledge and tools to release suppressed emotions if they threaten to overrun me. And I will be forever grateful for the help I received.
I now can live without fear, self-condemnation and guilt. I am free, liberated, at peace. I am in balance.
And I know that I AM worth. Now and forever. No matter what.
Just like you.