It was after starting therapy due to my own traumatic experience that I began to understand how experiencing multiple trauma's destroyed the foundation of the fragile emotional house I had built for myself. The house looked sturdy to the naked eye, but its facade hid a crumbling infrastructure and crooked foundation. You walk with a limp long enough you forget you are limping. Newsflash, the world can see your limp and so can the predators. Although I tried to pretty it up and make it presentable, the first time I went to therapy it was because my trauma was showing. In other words, I was emotionally hemorrhaging.
Emotional hemorrhaging is a term I use to describe those moments when our negative emotions seep out and begin to adversely impact our functioning. It can be a small leak, like blowing up at a co-worker, or something more major like using sex, drugs, food, or alcohol to cope with emotional pain.
I view emotional hemorrhages as our body's warning signal. Hemorrhaging can present as small as a paper cut or as severe as a gaping stomach wound. Small leaks while not completely debilitating can still damage personal and professional relationships. Enough small leaks can have the same impact as a major wound.
You might be emotionally hemorrhaging if:
Your emotional response is way out of proportion with the triggering event.
Your decision making is compromised by your emotional state. This may take the form or risky behavior, inappropriate sharing, poor boundaries, or self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, sex, or food.
Your emotions are causing damage to you and/or your personal and professional relationships.
Your ability to manage your emotions is severely weakened or compromised.
You are having increased difficulty getting your emotions in check.
Emotional hemorrhaging can occur suddenly and take many forms. For example like the time I burst into tears while typing a form letter at the office without any provocation. Or the time when I was an admissions counselor and I had a client that looked like the guy who attacked me outside my apartment. I was so triggered I fled my office after screaming at my co-workers about the lack of security in our office. Or the fact that I almost lost a job because I kept falling asleep due to trauma induced insomnia. Therapy helped repair the damage.
If you think of it in medical terms, it makes sense to notice when you are emotional hemorrhaging. If you were injured, you wouldn't risk bleeding out in the street. Your emotional symptoms deserve as much attention as your physical ones. An emotional paper cut may seem like a small thing but it's worth a conversation with a therapist. If number 1 - 5 is happening it may be time to seek professional help.
There are a fair number of people who have flirted with the idea of going to therapy but haven't committed for one reason or another. So, I wanted to take a moment to share a few things I learned about therapy from personal experience.
Little Known Facts About Therapy
Therapy can be very liberating...yes, liberating. Think about it. How often in life do we have an opportunity to sit down with someone to discuss our thoughts and feelings in a safe nurturing environment? That's what therapy is. It's talking with someone who is qualified to help you navigate life's difficulties. It's a safe space to talk about issues and explore feelings with someone who is empathetic, genuine, and regards you as a worthwhile human being. Best of all you never have to worry about monopolizing the conversation, sparing someone's feelings, or mincing your words.
Therapy is self-care. One of my favorite messages comes from airline travel safety briefs. It's the part about what to do if the oxygen masks deploy during flight. In a nutshell, it tells passengers to put their mask on before attempting to aid children or disabled passengers. I agree with the sentiment of the message wholeheartedly.
Let's pretend for a moment you have the flu, but you decided you are too busy to see a doctor. What are some possible impacts of those decisions? (a) you get sicker (b) you infect others, most likely those closest to you (c) your undiagnosed flu could mask something much worse like pneumonia. Bottom line we are less effective when we are not our best selves. Put your mask on first. It may feel selfish, but we owe to ourselves and those we love to put our masks on first. In the words of author Eleanor Brown "You cannot serve from an empty vessel."
Therapy is not magic. Therapy is a lot of things. It is liberating. It is self-care. It is NOT magic. What I mean by that is therapy requires you to be an active participant in your care. Let's look at the flu analogy again, but this time you go to the doctor and he gives you a prescription. What if you suddenly decide not to fill it? Chances are you will begin to feel worse. What if you start taking it but stop when you start to feel a little better? Well, it's possible you might be getting better but if you don't take the full dose the flu might rebound. Worse yet, you may develop a stronger strain.
Therapists, like doctors, propose ways to deal with our emotional issues. Different therapists have different strategies. Some involve dialogue and reflections, while others may involve actual tasks inside and/or outside therapy. Strategies are seldom successful if a client decides not to participate. The same goes for if a client decides to skip appointments or terminates the therapeutic relationship altogether. Therapists understand that life happens and sometimes appointments get missed, but emotional wellness can only be achieved by seeing the therapy process through to the end.
As I stated therapy can be a wonderful thing, but I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the aspects of therapy that might be a little less warm and fuzzy.
Uncomfortable Truths About Therapy
Therapy can feel awkward. Of course, it's awkward. I mean, let's be honest. You are making an appointment to tell your business to a random stranger (just make sure it's a random stranger with a VALID license to practice). Who would feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, let alone deeply private stuff with some random person? While we are at it, let's add our own personal trust issues and whatever trust issues we picked up along the way. Also, being in the military doesn't exactly lend itself to sharing personal info. Let's just own the awkwardness. So, what now. Well, as they say in the military, time to "embrace the suck." Therapy, when done right, is like eating your vegetables. It may not be your favorite, but it goes a long way towards making you stronger.
Talking to a therapist can feel terrifying, especially if you've never had therapy before. My first-time clients typically came to my office with two types of fear (1) Fear of the unknown (2) Fear of being judged. Fear of the unknown has a lot to do with some misconceptions around therapy. Some clients believe going to therapy means revisiting every painful memory in their life starting from the womb. While each therapist has their own therapy style (e.g. past focused vs. present focused), a good therapist will not throw you into the pit of despair without permission and/or preparation. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, a therapist wanders down a particularly painful path. It's okay to let them know you need additional time or support before you are ready to go there. Despite what talk shows promote, the goal of therapy is not to reduce you to a quivering mess. That's not to say some clients don't cry (especially clients with trauma in their background), but I don't personally pride myself on my ability to induce tears. My goal is to help my clients to unpack their pain, so it no longer causes them to behave in ways that inflict more suffering on themselves and those they love.
Trauma recovery is a process.
First, I had to unlearn all the wrong things I had been taught about love and myself. I had to accept my frailties, while challenging myself to do better, to be better. I had to forgive myself for all those times I fell short and remind myself I am a work in progress. I had to stop myself from judging others and recognize that judgment comes from fear and shame. Judging excludes us from the human condition and exempts us from having to feel. In some cases, it insulates us from having to see ourselves reflected in the suffering of others.
I'm having a bad day, week, etc. Do I Need Therapy?
Depends...How is your bad day, week, etc. impacting your life and the life of others around you? Are you emotionally hemorrhaging? Mental health is as important as physical health, maybe even more so because poor mental health can jeopardize your physical health.
I also wanted to share this video:
The Truth About Therapy -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTrcVbkETtM&feature=youtu.be
If Physical Health Problems Were Treated Like Mental Health Problems - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B5nfkaeplc
Here is a resource for anyone who has been the victim or knows someone who is a victim of SEXUAL ASSAULT - https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline
This is a resource for anyone who is considering or knows someone who is considering SUICIDE -
Here is a link to FREE COUNSELING for Military service members and veterans -
Dr. Tanya Crabb is a licensed psychologist who focuses on helping others through strength, hope, humor and encouragement. You can read more of her work on her blog, Dr. Brooklyn Chick