7. Speaking Fear Vs Expressing Emotions

There's a difference and it matters.


Yesterday we looked at breaking the habit of talking about your anxiety all the time. Learning to remain silent when you want to speak your fear repetitively is part of the recovery process.

This causes confusion in some cases. People hear me say this, and they respond in disbelief. Sometimes people hear me saying that they must never express themselves. This is not what I am saying.

At no point is anxiety recovery about hiding or suppressing your emotions, ideas, or opinions. I would never teach that or encourage that. We are not trying to be robots, just better, healthier humans. You are allowed to express yourself, and encouraged to do so.

What I AM saying is that you must be careful about how you define “expressing yourself”. Being afraid of your heartbeat for the 17th day in a row and speaking that fear to your partner again is not part of that definition. Insisting to your online support group that it feels like you are going to pass out - when you never do - is not a healthy form of expression. That is maladaptive expression that fuels and cements the disorder. Speaking irrational fear over and over does not help us, and it does not fall into the realm of productive expression of who we are.

When someone says something hurtful to you, speak up. When you lose a loved one and need to express your grief, speak up. When you are frustrated at work because of politics and bureaucracy, speak up. When you can’t watch the New York Jets lose another game and you want to scream, speak up!

But when you want to tell me for the 47th time in 22 days that it feels like you are about to go insane, take a break for a minute. Think about what that statement is going to accomplish. Do your best to acknowledge that it’s not helping you to do that. Try to remain silent. Show yourself that you can navigate through that fear without asking the world to carry it or soothe it for you.

See the difference?

You may be resistant to this idea. This is quite common. If you are having a hard time hearing what I am saying, just think about it. Take some time today to think about how you may be defending a maladaptive repeated speaking of fear as being some form of required “self expression”. Consider the common but unhelpful habit of insisting that we must “vent” our fear all the time to get better. Be honest with yourself in assessing how this is all working out for you. Is it helping you, or just reminding you that you are unwell and reinforcing the belief that this is all just too scary or too hard.

Sometimes recovery is about taking a brutal look at our habits so we can begin to change them for the better.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the idea of being anxiously busy rather than actually living.

I’ve been reading “Feeling Good”, by Dr. David Burns. Feeling Good has been in print since 1980 and it’s often referred to as the self-help bible for depression. I’ve struggled with depression on several occasions and I know it’s a big topic in the community. Some of the book is a bit dated in terms of being more old school CBT, but there’s still a lot of good stuff in there that I’ll share from time to time.

Every Tuesday I’ll let you know what I’m currently reading. I read quite a bit on psychology and philosophy, but really you never know what I’ll have in my Kindle or Audible libraries! If you’re on Goodreads and into books, you can follow/friend me over there. Here’s a link to my “currently reading” shelf. I’d love to see what you’re reading and what you recommend.