By David Joel Miller
Do your emotions sometimes just sweep you away?
Everyone has ups and downs in life. There are times you are up and times you are down. Those ups and downs can come slowly or they can come quickly. For some people, those changes in their emotional landscape suddenly and unexpectedly sweep them away. There may be things you are doing that are triggering these emotional avalanches.
In your journey of life, there may be times when the trip is mostly uphill; things go as planned and in a positive direction. People who seem to be able to keep their emotional journeys on an even keel have that ability to regulate their emotions and keep them in bounds. Not everyone has that option.
If you travel in emotionally rough territory you may have a lot more ups and downs. The key in those times is to keep your eye on the distant goal, pace yourself and not let those trips downhill define your whole journey. The more the ups and downs in life, the steeper the emotional terrain, the faster those emotions may come at you. To surmount tough emotional terrain you need to have your climbing skills well perfected. Sometimes those emotional regulations skills just are not enough.
If your emotional life is mostly flat terrain, few ups and downs, a professional might think of you as having or experiencing good emotional regulation. Some people seem to be able to find the flattest path through life even in hilly terrain.
If you emotional journey has more than the expected ups and downs we professionals might think of this as you having high emotional liability. You emotions shift in repose to things that happen and the faster things happen in your life the faster your mood shifts.
Please do not jump to the conclusion that people who are emotionally very labile have Bipolar Disorder. While people with Bipolar disorder do experience times of mood shifts, I think of their mood shifts as less related to the life events, the emotionally hilly terrain, and more related to an internal journey.
Lots of people have emotional ups and downs; some of them out of control, and these people do not all have Bipolar disorder.
Some people are just walking along and out of nowhere, so it appears, the emotional ground falls out from under them.
One cause of these emotional avalanches is a human habit called rumination. All humans think about the things that they have done and the things that have happened in the past. The way in which you think about these things is what determines the result of this rethinking. In other posts, I have and will talk more about the ways in which rumination can destroy your emotional health, create or increase depression or anxiety.
In an emotional avalanche, the person begins to think about something and that though begins to grow the more they think about it. There may have been a trigger that brought the thought into their mind or a random memory may have been the trigger.
We suspect that those who do non-suicidal self-injury, cutting for short, are particularly prone to these emotional landslides. Once the thought occurs, any negative self-evaluative thought will do here, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop that emotional mountain from falling on you.
These emotional landslides are the cause of lots of sudden impulsive behaviors. Can’t get that thought out of your head? You might choose to drink over it. Someone else might cut on an arm or leg to distract themselves from that thought. This inability to stop the thought avalanche once it starts explains a lot of impulsive behavior better than either long-term anxiety or depression.
Being sad and then beginning to brood (ruminate) over that sadness is a strong predictor of emotional avalanches. Productive thought about past events is about how can I change that, what will I do next. Unproductive rumination is about why me and how could this happen to me.
Believing that a past stress or trauma means there is something wrong with you leads to global beliefs about yourself. That you will never be better and things can’t change. Asking how you will get past this results and create a desire to learn the skills you will need to be successful in life.
If you find that sometimes out of nowhere your emotions carry you away in a bad way, take another look at your thinking process and see if you have developed the habit of ruminating, thinking about something bad in your life over and over. Make sure you do not spend time with friends in group rumination. Having a support system can be helpful, hanging out with a group of co-ruminators can really bring you down.
You might want to check out the other posts on counselorssoapbox about rumination. There are more posts on this topic to come.
If you experience emotional avalanches that are causing you problems consider seeing a professional counselor or therapist for help. It is not “just you” and you can learn ways to have a happy productive life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books