How to Reverse the Effects of 'Emotional Bypassing'
It has been nearly a year since my mental breakdown and I can hand on heart say, it has been a long road to recovery. I say long - if I sit back and look at the list of trauma’s I faced as a child and into my twenties, now at the age of 30, a year in the grand scheme of things is a drop in the ocean! At least thats what I try to tell myself when the feeling of shame creeps up and washes over me. I start to drown myself in questions such as; ‘Why has it taken you so long, you should be better by now?’ ‘You had it together, why have you let yourself get to this point?’ ‘How are you ever going to get back to ‘normal?’. The thing is, I beat myself up a lot! I am my own worst critic. My guess is if you are reading this now, you have probably been guilty of this too, at some point. Sometimes, you need to take a long stride backwards, evaluate where you have been and give yourself the biggest hug and some self love for making it this far.
Growing up in a whirl wind of tragic circumstances strangely gives you a tool box full of weird and wonderful coping mechanisms you don’t even realise you have. After years’ of developing these coping strategies, they become a part of your survival mode. Some are good and some are bad. Some are even both! It was only during a good chat with one of my most inspiring friends where she alerted me to the fact that one of my survival tricks was actually ‘Emotional Bypassing’.
What is Emotional Bypassing?
When something heart breaking happens in our lives be it a relationship break-up, a deeply horrific event such as abuse or assault, a bereavement or any other number of traumatic experiences, that gut wrenching, pit of the stomach sadness it creates is literally mind blowing. Living with that emotional pain changes the way you function, the way you continue with your life, the things you enjoyed doing and how you start to view your future. It can transform who you are as a person. You question feeling like this forever and will life get any better? Thousands of thoughts run through your mind every day that start to trap you into believing this is the way life is now forevermore. So in a desperate attempt to move on and not allow your mind to go to that ominous place, you try to block it out as if it didn’t happen. You don't allow yourself to cry, scream or get angry towards it and choose not to talk about it and instead let your mind and body focus on the things that make you happy. This…. is Emotional Bypassing.
The Problem with Emotional Bypassing
Don’t get me wrong, this is a survival technique that genuinely helped me through a lot of my childhood and adulthood. Without mastering the art of moving on from continuous traumatic events swiftly, I don’t know where I would have ended up. It allowed me to wake up everyday and still believe I had a purpose. It gave me the courage to follow my dreams and work hard towards a career. I would have my highs and my lows but generally speaking, I was always able to pick myself up from a low pretty quickly and put a plaster on it in the form of a self help book and a paper smile and ignorantly run along to that high without really understanding any of the wounds I had masked. What I didn’t realise is, after 23 years I was bandaged from head to toe.
What I recently learnt was that there is only so much emotional bypassing you can do before you start to question why things are spiralling out of control even when you are doing everything in your power to be ‘happy’! You know those days when you have to force a smile on your face to cover up the constantly lingering anxiety you have that eats away at you? The triggers that lie so deep they cause you to over react at the most minor situations? Depression becomes a full time resident and all you can ask yourself is, Why? I was working hard to stay positive and had things I seemingly wanted. Well, the answer is, because I hadn’t ever allowed myself to truly heal. Emotional trauma doesn’t just disappear into the abyss. When you mask it all up, it still remains. It will manifest itself into many things out of your control such as mental illness/health, addiction to numb the pain or triggers and flashbacks. Even though it might feel like you got away with it unscathed the body doesn’t forget trauma. It remembers it like it happened yesterday. This is when I realised in order to be sincerely happy, I needed to face up to the parts of my past that made me desperately sad, understand them, accept them and use that to re-paint my future.
Reversing the Effects of Emotional Bypassing
Therapy, therapy, therapy! Whatever method works best for you. There is no right or wrong type of therapy or one that is better than the other as it is down to you as an individual and your preference. Everyone will find a method that they are more receptive to. For those of you who feel completely overwhelmed by therapy, don’t worry, I hear ‘ya!I I will be writing another blog on the different types of therapy available and what to expect from them. I was resistant to the idea of speaking to someone about my past for a very long time! But, after reaching rock bottom and putting myself out there and trying different types of therapy, I believe now, this is the only way to really clear those demons from the past that are largely contributing towards your anxiety, depression and PTSD.
We have all been guilty of emotional bypassing at some point in our lives. The one thing I can promise anyone who is reading this that has used emotional bypassing as a coping mechanism for a traumatic event, is if you don’t put in the work to understand it, it will likely start to creep out in every day occurrences and affect future choices without you realising it. Whether that is a flash back of a painful memory or someone saying something that takes you right back to that very moment you tucked away in the trinket box of your mind labelled ‘DO NOT OPEN!' You may focus so heavily on the minor issues that crop up on a daily basis just to compensate for the lost lack of respect you had for those big events you never dealt with. Perhaps you suffer from relationship breakdowns and push those closest to you away in fear of being hurt again and having to cope with the large task of admitting you need support because of those daunting events you have brushed under the carpet. When you can hold your hands up and surrender, allow yourself to gradually start talking about them and process those emotions, you will start to see that true happiness isn’t a fairy tale ending after all!
It has now been nearly 9 months since I started therapy myself and peeling back the layers of bandage to reveal those neglected trauma wounds has been a cocktail of emotions. Some are deeper than others and there are wounds I had completely forgotten about or never realised were there. But layer by layer, they are gradually healing. I’ve analysed them, poked and prodded them and got used to looking at them in a different way. The scars will remain but I am not afraid of that anymore. I’m no longer wanting to cover them up and hide them from the world because I now know, finally, that I am going to be ok. In the beginning, I was lost in the thought of never getting back to being the person I once was. That seemingly strong fighter that could handle the most brutal battles and just brush them off like specs of dust and move on. Now, I am relieved for my future self that the old me won’t be returning. I respect and love her for getting me to where I am today and I will be taking the strength she had on my journey. But this time, I will remember the importance of healing in order to create my ultimate happiness!