The Hidden Gifts of Destructive Emotions

Posted by Suzanne Holmes | Posted in Articles | Posted on 13-04-2014

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By Suzanne Holmes, M. A., LMFT

Feelings are messages, but what are they telling us? How can we step back and explore the meanings hidden within the challenging emotions of anger, sadness and fear? If we are able to be curious when our bodies are experiencing the physical sensations that accompany difficult emotions, we can find the gifts in the midst of chaos and avoid personal or relational destruction.

All emotions have a range from mild to extreme. It is best to process or talk about what one is feeling as the emotions are felt with a trusted friend, family member or professional and not internalize or self-sabotage. Suffering with these destructive emotions can result in mental distress, a longing for something to be different, or even physical pain. Stress, tension, and physical ailments are products of continued suffering. If we are able to externalize or let out these destructive emotions, we feel more harmonious, congruent and happy with our self and in our relationships.

Let’s start with Anger. This emotion can equal resentment, irritation and frustration. Anger is present when a need is not being met. If we look at anger as the tip of the iceberg, what is hidden under the surface? Is it unresolved grief, loss or resentment? Anger is like a big stop sign. Your body is trying to give you clues that something is not working. If we are able to look at the positive side of anger, we can find the gifts of assertiveness, strength and energy.

Sadness is the emotional pain of loss that makes us feel lonely, full of self-pity, despairing and isolated. The feeling of sadness is normal and usually temporary. We are all in constant flux. If we can embrace the sad feelings, we can move through the adjustment and into a new beginning. The transition from one feeling into another can take time. Be patient and kind to yourself in where you are at in each moment. Ask for help, you might be surprised at the sadness that others have experienced, and be able to assist each other in the healing process. The gifts of sadness are growth, personal awareness and interdependence.

Lastly, let’s discuss the challenges of fear. Fear can paralyze us in our tracks, so we become frozen and numb. Fear is equal to feeling overwhelmed, apprehensive or threatened. In Become What You Are, philosopher and writer Alan Watts (1995) addressed this experience, “Life compels us at last to give in, to surrender to the full play of what is ordinarily called terror of the unknown, the suppressed feeling suddenly shoots upward as a fountain of the purest joy” (p. 8). Acceptance in the process of each challenging emotion lowers our defenses and helps us move into action or acceptance. In doing so, we can also acknowledge that all people face the future with a not knowing. In facing the unknown with approval and grace towards yourself, maybe each individual can grow internally and externally integrating the life lessons.  The gifts of fear are protection and safety of self, preservation and wisdom.

If we are unable to meet the challenges of exploring destructive emotions in their beginnings, we experience the negative effects in a greater degree.  In Counseling and Therapy Skills, educator and counselor David Martin (2000) stated,  “One of our goals is an openness to all experiences—an openness that is necessary to live a full, complete life” (p. 57). In this openness, all things are possible: Hearts can mend and suffering can lessen.

Martin, D. (2000). Counseling and therapy skills. Prospect Heights, Il: Waveland Press.

Watts, A. (1995). Become what you are. Boston: Shambhala.

The Face of Addiction

Posted by Suzanne Holmes | Posted in Articles | Posted on 07-04-2014

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By Suzanne Holmes, M. A., LMFT

Addiction is a brain disease expressed as compulsive behaviors. It is a chronic, medical treatable disorder. Alcohol and drug addiction is continued substance use despite having recurrent, extreme and persistent social, emotional, financial and interpersonal problems in relation to or as an effect of substance use. Substance abuse and dependence affects the brain, which in turn affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Why do individuals take drugs in the first place? People take drugs to feel good (seeking sensations) and to feel better (self-­‐medication). Substance use starts out as a voluntary decision but can lead to compulsive addictive behaviors. Addiction affects everyone and every type of person can be part of this disease. Look around, the face of addiction can be anywhere in any situation. Initially a person takes a drug to change their temporary emotional state but they don’t realize they are changing the biology of the brain. After prolonged drug use the substance abusers have rewired their brains in long-­‐lasting fundamental ways.

All individuals are unique, not everyone who has a problem with substance use has a chronic problem. Some people are able to stop with a single addiction treatment visit or even stop on their own. There are another group of substance users who have persistent and severe addiction use. The characteristics of severe addictive disorders are as follows: Family history of substance use, early onset of use, trauma during childhood, more frequent intense substance use, personal or environmental obstacles to recovery and limited internal and external resources to initiate and sustain recovery.

With severe addictive disorders maintaining sobriety can be extremely difficult. Relapse is very common, normally the expectation and not the exception. It is important to think of addiction as a medical concern like diabetes, asthma and hypertension. Addiction has a profound impact on public health and safety. There are many components of recovery treatment and there is no “one size fits all” approach. Collaborative treatment services should be tailored to the individual’s needs.

In addiction recovery, we need to treat the whole person! It is important to look at cognition, behavior feelings, social context and unresolved emotional or physical traumas. Remember, addiction does not discriminate and can lure anyone into its web of destruction. Successful and lead to relapse. Counseling is a critical component for effective addiction recovery to learn new effective skills in dealing with overwhelming situations or feelings. An adequate period of time in counseling is critical for effectiveness and long-­‐term sobriety. Initially, there can be an ambivalence to change due to doing what is comfortable or known. In counseling, clients can identify and gain awareness in working with emotional or environmental triggers and choose different healthy choices instead of self-­‐medicating through the use of substances. If we are able to view and treat addiction as chronic, relapsing illness, we can take new approach and start an alternative journey of recovery where healthy coping strategies can best be utilized. With this mindset, the sky is the limit!


For more information or to speak to Suzanne, please contact her at (818) 625-­3626

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