In my IOP group a few months ago, we had a good discussion about emotion regulation. I often have trouble relating to groups that talk about emotions because the focus is usually on how acting on emotions leads to impulsive behavior. However, these sessions focused on how thoughts about emotion lead to mood and patterns of behavior and thinking, which I definitely find relevant. We also talked about how judgement of emotion, often from environmental cues about how one should/shouldn’t feel, leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of shame.
In particular, the group leader started talking about a seminar she went to where they talked about how guilt and shame are often mistaken for disgust. What the seminar emphasized was that a lot of people will talk about feeling guilt and shame, but what they are really feeling is such severe selfloathing that it goes beyond guilt/shame to self-disgust. So, in the same way that the ED behaviors will not go away unless you address the underlying issues, if someone has self-disgust, you can try to tell them “don’t feel guilty about that,” but the guilt won’t go away until the underlying self-loathing is worked on. Considering I feel a lot of guilt, I started thinking about this. I don’t think that I am disgusted by myself, but I do think I have such low self-worth that I rely on external accomplishments to give myself worth. In other words, because I don’t think that I am inherently a good person, I need things like doing well in school to give me worth. Thus, since I am not “accomplishing” anything right now, I feel guilty all the time.
We also talked about external vs. internal emotional experiences. Ideally, the two match up – if you are anxious you appear anxious outwardly, if you are depressed or sad you have a sad face and other social cues of sadness. However, for a lot of people these two don’t match up, usually because of invalidating environments (which could range from simply picking up cues that it’s not “good” to be sad to being hit if you cry). In this model we went over, the idea is you can’t control the internal, but you can control the external. That was interesting to me because I always had this idea that I can control both, but maybe rather than trying to control my anxiety or depression, I need to focus more on just not acting on those feelings. But, more importantly, I just watched an episode of Bones were Brennan asked Dr. Sweets to teach her how to read emotions and Booth was also trying to teach her how to show certain emotions. I should get them to show these clips in group!