The Emotional Inhibition Schema

“I feel like a robot”. Kevin had started treatment due to depression and overuse of online pornography. His fiancée, Samantha, had threatened to leave him after discovering the extent of his online use. “I know the emotions are there, I just have trouble letting them out. I guess that makes me distant from Samantha”.

What’s the good of emotions?

For people with strong emotions, the thought of having no emotions is very tempting. Many of my clients will ask me whether there is a pill to make them feel less negative emotion. And for good reason. Anxiety, dread, anger and grief can be crippling. It certainly is less troublesome to become detached and numb.

Parents often wish that their children would have less intense emotions. Children’s emotions are bombastic, chaotic and raw. Parents may feel exhausted and inadequate in the face of their power.

But we are emotional beings, and for good reason.

Emotions play a vital role in helping us to motivate and communicate. We know what we like and dislike due to our experience of pleasant and unpleasant emotions. Emotions help us make decisions and then propel us towards the goals we set based on those decisions. Emotions help us understand and empathise with others. Without emotions we would have difficulty working in teams.

Some parents, like Kevin’s, implement rigid rules to guide their children’s actions. Emotion are viewed as impediments to achieving goals and discharging duties.

Kevin had no memory of being comforted when sad. Quite the opposite.

“I remember once sulking about my brother getting a party bag from a birthday he’d been to. I didn’t get a bag and I was whinging. Without warning Mum gave me a whack to the side of the head, and told me that I should be ashamed of myself”

Fear and shame are often the tools used in these families to bring children’s emotions into line. The child grows with an unmet need to express their spontaneous emotions, their wants and desires, in a healthy way. Rigid and overcorrected, the young person may grow up to be flat or robotic. Sometimes they will be angry or resentful.

The gifts of emotions will often be absent in these people’s lives. They may find difficulty making deeper connections with others. Affection and intimacy may be troublesome. They might have trouble knowing whether they like or dislike certain things.

Kevin grew up hating his emotional side and being ashamed of it. Then, in his tweenage years he stopped being emotional at all.

“My parents were strict and expected that I study hard. But my friends were really into gaming and that’s where I let it all out. Later, I started working long hours, got engaged and lost touch with most of those mates. Maybe I just don’t have that outlet anymore”.

Kevin had an Emotional Inhibition Schema. He had grown up to cope the anger and shame that he felt about his emotions by unconsciously avoiding them as much as possible. He felt an aversion to getting closer to Samantha. He found saying “I love you” awkward and insincere.

Kevin learnt that free expression of his vulnerable emotions with Samantha was safe. In therapy, he revisited some of his childhood memories of being punished and shamed for feeling and started to view these events in a different way, stopped blaming his child-self for being too emotional. He stopped seeing it as a flaw that he felt anything at all. He started to meditate and learnt to better identify and label his emotional experience. He became more spontaneous, less robotic.

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