BEGINNING TO FEEL
For Survivors, feelings can seem like problems. Even pleasurable feelings like love and sex can be connected to painful thoughts. In a crisis, you may be experiencing distress such as flashbacks, sudden memories, and suicidal thoughts. It's understandable if all you want to do is stop feeling all together. Survivors often get into this habit of not feeling much. They may describe themselves as, 'spaced out', 'numb', 'unreal', 'not connected', 'not all there.' This 'spacing out' can take a number of forms:
- Being 'in your head.' This means that you split your emotions off. It's like they don't exist. You're able to talk about things but the emotions that go with the thoughts don't seem to register.
- Not being aware of your body. This can almost feel like you don't have a body. You may ignore your physical needs and hot register pain or when it's time to eat, drink, sleep....
- Seeming in a different world. Your mind may drift off into a world of daydreams, or you may get the sensation that you're actually watching yourself from outside your body.
Does any of this ring a bell for you?
Not feeling is a habit formed in childhood. It's easy to see why, as a boy, you may have worked out that your best way of surviving was not to have feelings
- When you were abused it was too scary to cope with. Your mind had to do something to help you through it, so it 'spaced out.'
- If your abuse involved a great deal of physical pain, or if you were physically abused as well, your brain may have gone 'numb' to protect you from the pain.
- After the abuse you had to find a way to carry on. It's very hard to face up to the fact that those who should have loved and protected you, actually abused you or failed to prevent it. And you may have had to go on living with them afterwards. This is an impossible position to be in. Your mind went 'numb', 'spaced out', to protect you from feeling how bad it was.
When you look at it this way, going numb is revealed as a very useful way of surviving. You did well to use it and survive. But there comes a point when it's no longer as useful. As a man, not feeling can be a handicap - one faced by many men, even those who haven't been sexually abused as boys. This is because, in our society, men are not really brought up to have many emotions. It's usually OK for them to get angry, but emotions like fear, sadness, and vulnerability are not thought manly. 'Boys don't cry', as the saying goes. Many men 'space out' from emotions because they've been taught as boys that it's wrong to show them. On top of this you've had to contend with the pain of your abuse. There are a number of problems with not being in touch with your feelings as a man:
- Feelings provide a lot of information. Recovery from abuse involves taking in new information and experiencing lots of feelings. Your feelings will tell you, how you're doing what issues are around for you, what progress you're making.
- Feeling 'numb', and 'spacing out',, doesn't help you when you have to make choices, decisions, and plans. You can't do this when you're numb because your head is 'somewhere else.' Recovery is all about choices, decisions and plans. Being 'numb' can stop you concentrating on sorting out your crisis and recovering. This pack encourages you to make lots of them:
- Who should be in my support team?
- How do I get myself safe?
- Which relaxation methods work for me?
- If you're around people who aren't safe, or your surroundings aren't safe, your feelings will help you to asses the danger. Then you can do something about it. If you feel numb you're more likely put yourself in danger, or to stay in abusive relationships when you should get out.
- If you're cut off from your emotions it's hard to get close to people and to let them in. Dealing with crisis and recovery involves reaching out to supportive people. To do this you need to be able to establish close relationships. If you can't establish supportive relationships you may get isolated. This may feel the same as when you were a boy. Recovery is very hard in isolation. If you 'space out' to deal with painful feelings that doesn't mean the feelings disappear. They may emerge later, sometimes explosively: feelings of rage may reappear leading to violence feelings of shame may reappear leading to self-harm
It's not OK to hurt yourself and it's not OK to hurt anyone else.
The important thing is to get some control and start to feel your feelings. Getting control helps you to take charge of the crisis. Beginning to feel takes you through the crisis and into recovery. You're steering your life raft over the rapids and into the calmer water beyond.