The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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I do not handle disagreements with my boyfriend well.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Megan, you’re dealing with some emotional repression in a romantic relationship?


Megan:             Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      Tell me what’s going on?


Megan:            Basically, over the last couple of years, before my relationship started, I was aware that I was kind of emotionally repressed and that I had been for several years and so I was making a conscious effort to overcome this. For the past seven months I’ve been in a relationship and I found at times that even when we have very minor disagreements, I tend to very much blow it out of proportion and I tend to read more into it than is there. I obsess to the point of where we have a minor disagreement and then I can’t function until I have it resolved in my mind. I’m a full-time student, I also have two jobs, and it really puts a stopgap on me now. I want this to impact my partner as little as possible and obviously it’s going to impact him, but I don’t want him to have to bear the consequences of my repression any more than I have to.


Dr. Kenner:      What I’m hearing is that you’ve had a coping strategy for a very long time. I don’t know whether it was from childhood or not. But of just holding things in and when you hold things in and you don’t give yourself permission to ask questions – which maybe in your family of origin you couldn’t. I know that many people in their family of origin, father knows best or mother knows best and you shut up. You keep your trap shut. If you question anything, it’s over. Many people repress because of that and they develop what is called – and here is what is so important, it’s a term from cognitive therapy – a coping strategy. Which makes sense in the context of the original problem, dealing with parents or dealing with a sibling or maybe, I know once in fifth grade I had one of my good friends in the neighborhood, she lived on the same block as me, turn the whole schoolyard against me. And I had no idea what was happening. You don’t think that I walked into the schoolyard feeling traumatized when people had to make a choice, they either talked to me or her and they spoke with her. She was much more charismatic. I developed repression. I couldn’t make sense of the world. So my coping strategy was just to back off.


Megan:            Right.


Dr. Kenner:      But I now have a radio show and I can talk openly. What does that tell you? Is change possible?


Megan:            Absolutely.


Dr. Kenner:      It is delicious. Not only is it possible, but as you give yourself the skills, don’t make it a heavy burden on yourself of, “Oh my God, I’ve got this depression. How do I get out of it?” Instead, learn one small skill at a time. They are going to be communication skills and you need to be able to challenge the idea in your mind that it’s an unsafe territory to speak up. If you’ve got a loving partner, you can work with him. You can say, “I’m fearful right now. I’m having some thoughts that you might be thinking negatively of me and I want to run these by you because I think they’re all hogwash but I want you to put the hogwash stamp on them.” Or if you don’t want to share what you’re thinking, you can ask him, “What’s going through your mind right now? It would really help me settle some demons from my past if you share with me what’s going through your mind now.” And he may say, “I’m thinking you’re sexy,” and you’re like, “Oh my God! You think I’m sexy? I thought you were interested in some other woman and I was history.” And you don’t have to share that part with him necessarily, because you don’t want to keep fanning the flames.


Tell me, how can I best be of help to you – what specifically can I help you with?


Megan:            Specifically, I’m looking for strategies. New coping strategies. Because I am very much aware of how this arose and why. And it’s really just more effective techniques. At this point, you’re an expert and I’m just kind of wallowing my way in the dark. Particularly it’s the obsession factor. We have excellent communication and I did not grow up in a household nor do I feel with my partner as if I’m not allowed to ask questions. I definitely feel comfortable bringing stuff up, but it’s when I get into this stressed mode, it’s actually difficult for me to think rationally. I almost think it’s because I’ve been repressing for so long that when I do experience one of these negative emotions, my recent strategy has been to let yourself feel it, whereas before I wouldn’t. But I think because of that, it’s almost like an overblown reaction and I don’t know how to deal with it. So really, it’s about how to curb that obsession. Not to not feel the emotion, but strategies to kind of help me get focused and reason with it.


Dr. Kenner:      Let me run with that. First, you’re exactly right. Repression means you’re repressing your ability to feel. You’re giving yourself a command, “Don’t feel. It hurts too much.” Whether you’re feeling loss or anger – you’re talking about negative emotions – loss or anger or guilt or shame or frustration, you tell yourself, “Don’t go there.” So you flatten out. Not only do you flatten out the negative emotions, but guess what else you flatten out?


Megan:            Yes, the positive.


Dr. Kenner:      The positive emotions. And you become like a flat line and if you had a flat line with your heart rate, that’s death. You don’t want that. You want your heart to be pumping up and down and up and down. It’s not that you want your emotions to go up and down, but you do want them to flow. And when you let yourself express your emotion, you need to do it privately first. On paper is best if you have that ability or if you’re driving in the car you can process your emotions. You can even have a little voice recorder if you want. But you don’t leave it there. You don’t assume that what your subconscious spits out as your emotion – I’m so angry, why did he do this to me? Or here I go again, I’m a failure because I can’t have an emotion – you might have an emotion about repressing itself, which you can just get into loops on. And you want to break that one. So you say, “Okay, so I’ve had a history of repressing.” Be your own best friend. Treat yourself the way you would your best friend. Yes, of course you’ve had a little bit of repression going on or a while, and it’s fun to just play with a moment of not repressing. Just have some fun with it. And you say, “What am I feeling? I’m feeling angry. If my anger could speak, what would it say?” And then if you have the luxury of being at home and have the book Mind Over Mood by Christine Padesky and Dennis Greenberger, it’s on my website, one of the most effective skills – you’re looking for skills – is a thought record. Where you spill out your emotion but in a very logical way. There are seven columns to it, and you let the emotion rip. You let it say all the thoughts that are underlying that emotion called the automatic thoughts. You let that happen. And then after that, you’re able to shine the light of reason on it and you stabilize your emotion. You recalibrate your emotion and that is very helpful, so that is where I would begin, Megan. I think that would pay off royally for you.


Megan:            Okay, I’ll definitely look into that. Thank you.


Dr. Kenner:      Thank you so much for your call.


Megan:            Thank you for your time.


Dr. Kenner:      I wish you some joyous emotional moments. Many.