Why emotional regulation?

There are many routes and frameworks a therapist can take on board after graduating. When I first completed my Master’s degree in Psychotherapy, I felt very unskilled and unsure of the direction I would take. I had a real interest in bereavement counselling as this is something I have undergone myself and found invaluable. I lost my own mother at 17 years old and to this day I carry a grief with me that permeates to my very core. My mother was murdered in South Africa, the country in which I was born and raised.

It was just us two growing up, I have no siblings and my father has never been a feature. I only met him as an adult when studying psychology in South Africa and after a few meetings, we fizzled out and eventually I let my anger come and had a ‘go’ at him. We no longer have any contact and I requested that. I look back and occasionally wish I had been able to work through some things maturely with him but that was not the case in my early 20’s and he hurt me by being absent my whole life. I felt, and always will feel, very protective of my mother.

My grandmother was like a second mother to me. It was the 3 of us against the world in a way. After my biological grandfather passed away of cancer when I was a toddler, my gran remarried a lovely man who also passed away a few years later. She then married a man that was the most prominent male role model in my life for the rest of my childhood and early adulthood. I never had a father figure and pined for a knight in shining armour to come and save the day. This never happened. We struggled financially and things got bad in my teenage years.

Looking back, I realise my mother struggled with Depression. This was never acknowledged or identified. In those days, we all just got on with it. In South Africa, there are no community services with family support and people all have their issues and skeletons in the closet. My mother loved me more than she loved herself and did the very best she could for me. And I loved her. We were a team and I kept our problems away from my grandmother and the outside world for the most part. But they were there and the world was a harsh, unsafe place to me. Good things happened to other people I thought. If only we had money and I had a father, I thought, things would be different, I would be worthy. I embedded myself in the families of my friends. I gained support from external sources. I became resourceful. I have always been strong and mature beyond my years. This is what happens when roles become reversed in the home. When parents fail to parent and lack the skills or energy to create structure, safety and boundaries for children. Childhood emotional neglect occurs.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (C.E.N) is a hidden epidemic.

It was only once I started working with vulnerable families in Melbourne that my own struggles with emotional neglect started to come to the surface. In fact, it started way before this but was masked underneath a range of different presentations. For years I put my mental health struggles onto my grief from my mother’s death. I failed to see the Anxiety that was fast becoming an issue in my life.

Anxiety is a common presentation of C.E.N. It is a condition that centres on fear and worry. Fear comes with associated emotions of insecurity, instability and lack of safety. It presents in the form of stress and overwhelm. We feel a need to regain control and we struggle to trust ourselves and other people. Yet for most of us, we can function. We develop coping mechanisms and we push through with or avoid things as we go along. It is exhausting but we manage somehow.

We manage until the triggers and need for healing becomes too much. This is what happened to me when I started working with families. I started to work with emotional regulation and attachment (the parent/child bond). I managed risk and child abuse or family violence. I helped families who struggled financially, emotionally and physically. Parents who had mental illness and trauma. Children who were developing mental health issues from a young age. Layers and layers of complex issues in families took their toll on me. I burnt out.

For 7 months I questioned whether I could work in this profession at all. I was unable to work and started the most powerful healing journey I have ever gone on. It was a turning point in my life and it birthed TFBB. I started to look at my own emotional regulation and emotional neglect (past and present). I had to confront my mother and how I was parented, without her being physically there to answer any of my questions. I went within and did this alongside the most incredible therapist who had also been my lecturer when studying in Australia. Week after week I fought this reality. I fought the fact that my mother made mistakes and I was hurt as a child. My whole world view was shattered and I felt incredibly lost and ashamed. I struggled through immense pain and self-loathing as I unravelled the layers of coping mechanisms and false beliefs. I experienced an anger like no other and large amounts of fear. I started to strengthen and find myself. I started to change yet the change was really a form of me coming back to who I really am.

Each emotion was worked on. Some, like disgust, took weeks for me to figure out and expand my knowledge on. It was not enough for me to read about this or take my academic learning from Emotion Focussed Therapy etc. I needed to reintegrate this emotional experience into my own experiential understanding. I needed to experience it on every level; feel it, heal it and learn how it has benefitted me. I needed to understand the physical expression, the associated thoughts and how I have made sense of it. This was an enormous process which I both loved and hated simultaneously. But I became the most passionate I have ever been. Each week, I saw my therapist and gained support and insight. I made video’s on Youtube and I wrote blogs and journaled. I have documented my healing after every session of therapy.

My spirituality has also been a huge part of my healing. I do not follow organised religion and although I was raised Christian, this did not fit for me. I believe that our spirit relates to our emotions and whatever you believe, it is vital to have this relationship to yourself. To accept and love all parts of you, the light and the dark, the good and the bad. I needed to be with myself fully and stop repressing the very parts of me that will help me to heal and find peace. I needed to relearn how to feel and allow myself to surrender to whatever emotional state I experience. This is one of the hardest things to do and so many of us don’t have a clue how to get there because our walls are so big and strong. As I continued to bash down my own walls, I realised something. I needed to teach this to parents. We need to ‘Bring Emotions Back’. Emotional Regulation is key here. Why do we all struggle so much with self-esteem, self-worth, anger issues, emotional pain etc.? Why are we all so stressed out and overwhelmed so regularly? Why do so many people turn to escapism and have addictions? We don’t want to feel. We don’t know how to. We think negative emotions are a BAD thing. We are fighting with something that is a part of us and this causes suffering. I want to turn this around and TFBB is my passion and forum for doing so. I am walking this journey alongside you. I am sharing my knowledge, my experiences and my learning with you all. Let’s break these cycles of emotional neglect once and for all

Paula xx