No Wonder I Was Such a Head Case

A recent piece in The New York Times headlined It’s Not Always Depression gave me the chance to play amateur psychologist.

Join me on the couch as we explore emotions and how they affect the way we view ourselves or feel on any given day. To make this even more real, take yourself back to when your world was rocked to its core.

I’m now back in the days of the year 2003.

Our quest starts with this nugget from Hilary Jacobs Hendel, the author of The New York Times piece:

“…it helps to know that there are basically two categories of emotions. There are core emotions, like anger, joy and sadness, which when experienced viscerally lead to a sense of relief and clarity (even if they are initially unpleasant). And there are inhibitory emotions, like shame, guilt and anxiety, which serve to block you from experiencing core emotions.”

Go on … how does that make you feel?

Well apparently, that’s the point — experiencing shame as a result of infertility and failed treatments led to not feeling.

So let’s do a little more digging here.

Okay. At its core shame is “believing we are unworthy of love and belonging or not good enough.” Worse still, the consequences of shame are low self-esteem, diminished self image, poor self concept, and deficient body-image. According to the experts, shame itself produces self-doubt and disrupts both security and confidence. It can become an impediment to the experience of belonging.

Add in a few more inhibitory emotions — a little guilt and anxiety

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Whoa. It’s no wonder that many women come away from infertility as emotional head cases — oh, sorry, that’s my unscientific term to describe how I felt for an extended period of time.

From the psychoanalyst and psychology community, I learned that shame arises when one’s ‘defects’ are exposed to others, and results from the negative evaluation (whether real or imagined) of others; guilt, on the other hand, comes from one’s own negative evaluation of oneself, for instance, when one acts contrary to one’s values or idea of one’s self.

And what happens to those experiencing chronic shame and other inhibitory emotions?

According to Hendel, her patient…

“blames himself for what he is feeling and concludes that there must be something wrong with him. This all happens unconsciously.”

Okay now we’re on to something…a breakthrough, perhaps.

This therapist is a proponent of something called accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy — recognizing what is happening and how to manage the experience. The answer, she says: “somehow they need to recover themselves.”

Yes. And let’s not forget what author Tracey Cleantis and Dr. Marni Rosner have both raised in their work.

Per Tracey, “simply naming and voicing how we feel, we can change how we feel for the better.  ‘Hello, anger, I am really feeling you.’ ”

Marni described in an interview with Social Work Today, “We can help women work through the trauma and shame of infertility so it doesn’t get ‘stuck’ in their bodies and minds by assisting them in developing a narrative around their infertility. This involves identifying all the losses—social, identity, ancillary—and helping clients articulate what the losses mean to them. This is fundamental in helping to integrate the loss into one’s life story.”

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Excellent. And now over to you dear readers, what do these concepts and approaches elicit for you?

p.s. I would also like to add a shout out to my friend Cathy Broadwell who writes about her infertility experience in this piece, Listening is An Act of Love.

p.p.s. I am really taken by this inhibitory emotion concept, so I’m curious …

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Updated 3/23/2015: In the anonymous “other” category the answers coming in include: sad (several mentions), alone (several mentions), angry (several mentions), hopeless (several mentions) along with lost, unempowered, rageful, desperate,  jealous, misunderstood, withdrawn, bitter, bereaved …