By Davey Chafe, MA, RP(Q)
Too often emotions are dismissed as weakness or as something that clouds our judgment from more “rational” thinking. However, emotions are very important for effective communication and give us vital information about our environments and the people within them. For example, if someone wrongs us or mistreats us and we become angry, it signals that we may need firmer boundaries with this person. In the same way, if we suffer a loss and feel sadness and grief, it may signal for closeness and support from people around us.
Over time, we learn how to listen to, and trust these emotional cues to help us navigate our worlds. However, if we experience traumatic events that we have difficulty coping with, it is not uncommon for people to develop negative changes in mood which can include distorted views of the self (e.g., self-blame and criticism), persistent negative emotional states (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame), feeling detached from others, and inability to experience positive emotions, such as happiness, satisfaction, or even loving feelings (American Psychiatric Association, 2022). These emotional disturbances can be present even without a diagnosis of PTSD or other trauma-related disorders. When this happens, people will often develop a negative relationship with their emotions, often leading to ignoring, avoiding, or no longer trusting their feelings.
Not feeling our emotions can lead to unhelpful coping strategies over time that allow us to “escape” the severe, negative emotions that can come with experiences of trauma. Unfortunately, avoiding these feelings can often result in new or worsening symptoms as our underlying emotions will look for new outlets. The energy from these emotions may manifest as symptoms such as anxiety, outbursts of anger, feeling low or depressed, dissociation, or substance use to avoid these negative feeling states. This is where therapy can help.
The hard part of this work is facing the feelings we have been avoiding, sometimes for years. If these feelings are not acknowledged and worked through, the emotional signals continue to go unheard, and we will continue to experience symptoms. Therapy can help by creating a safe place to begin unpacking and exploring these feelings through building safety and stability in our bodies and then learning to develop a relationship with our feelings again. As we process traumatic events and memories in a safe and productive way, it allows us to get back in touch with our bodies, our emotions, and the meaningful roles and relationships in our lives.
Davey Chafe, M.A., R.P. (Qualifying), is a Clinical Psychology Resident at CFIR in the final year of his PhD at York University and works with both individuals and couples in therapy. Throughout Davey’s clinical training, he has gained experience in a broad range of settings. He has worked with Emotion Focused Therapy for individuals and couples and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy for couples through York University, CBT for Mood and Anxiety at Brampton Civic Hospital, and with individuals and groups treating PTSD, mood disorders, and anxiety through community trauma initiatives. In addition to clinical work, Davey has been involved in psychotherapy research for over 10 years and has published in peer-reviewed journals and attended international conferences to present his clinical work. He is currently being supervised by Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych, Dr. Lila Hakim, C.Psych, and Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych.