Whether you saw it it coming or didn’t, the feeling is the same: You’re shattered. You feel like your heart is broken into multiple pieces. You gasp at your vulnerability and wonder, “ Why did this happen? ”
Life dishes up so many hardships: heartbreak, illness, injury, death, abandonment. Though we may share similar experiences, every hurt is personal. Many of us have events from our pasts that left us wounded — childhood neglect and rejection, death of parent or close family member, trauma such as sexual or emotional abuse. And when these events and traumas take place in our lives, our lens to the world surrounding us shifts — it is no longer safe and predictive; bad things can happen unexpectedly, at any given time. We adjust our coping style, unconsciously or semi-consciously decide how we now need to be to avoid having these trauma events from happening or affecting us again.
And finally, we are left with the emotional wound itself. Like a physical wound, it’s always in our awareness, we are protective and sensitive to anything that may reinjure it. But this same sensitivity often makes us even more vulnerable.
What are the 7 signs of an emotional wound? Let’s all learn together, shall we?
- You cry easily over small things
You read a fictional book, one weekend morning. You become so deeply engrossed in the storyline , that you picture yourself becoming the main protagonist of the story. When the protagonist encountered a difficult situation in his life, you can feel yourself in his shoes, causing you to shed emotional tears.
According to an article written by Susan York Morris and medically reviewed by Dr. Timothy J. Legg (2019), some people cry while reading a sad book or watching videos of baby animals. Others cry only at funerals. And for certain people, the mere hint of anything that arouses emotions can cause tears to flow. If you’ve ever had tears well up in a meeting or wept out loud in a movie theatre, you may have wondered if it’s normal.
Is there such a thing as crying too often or too much?
Collier (2014) states that there are no guidelines for how much crying is too much. It is found that women cry an average of 5.3 times per month and men cry an average of 1.3 times per month. According to a study conducted by Bylsma et al. (2011), the average duration for a crying session was eight minutes.
According to Legg & Morris (2019), there are multiple reasons that these could happen, tearfulness is commonly associated with depression and anxiety. Other causes include :
- Pseudobulbar affect (PBA): an involuntary neurological state related to an injury or disturbance in parts of your brain that control your emotions. Sometimes called emotional incontinence, the uncontrolled emotions (sudden uncontrollable crying, laughing, or feeling anger) associated with PBA often don’t match how you feel or what you’re experiencing.
- Gender and personality: As stated by Fischer et al. (2004), on average, women cry more often than men. One possible reason for this is that testosterone may inhibit crying. Cultural norms may also account for some of the differences in crying among men and women. Moreover, people who are empathetic and concerned about the well-being of others may cry more than people who are less empathetic.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with crying but if you want to try to manage your tears, below are some tips that you can try :
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This may help you relax, which could also stop the flow of tears.
- Relax your facial muscles so your expression is neutral.
- Think about something repetitious, like a poem, a song, or nursery rhyme you’ve memorized.
- Take a walk or find another way to temporarily remove yourself from a stressful or upsetting situation.
2. You lose interest towards the things you used to enjoy
You come home for a semester holiday to visit your mother. Your father passed away a couple of months ago, and your mother is left all alone in the house. At home, you notice your mother no longer wants to have the regular walk on the park near the home (like she usually does before the death of your father) and she no longer bakes you your favourite chocolate brownies (a common thing that she would do everytime you come back home for a holiday).
Most people will, at some point in their life, lose interest in things that used to excite them. Anhedonia, however, takes this loss to its limits; it becomes impossible to draw enjoyment from things that once elicited excitement. It is the inability to experience pleasure from activities that are usually found enjoyable. It can be a symptom of major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, anorexia nervosa and substance abuse disorders. (Collier & Newman, 2018).
What does anhedonia feel like?
“Essentially, I gain nothing from my daily life; my world is cold and, as such, it makes life seem the same way. Everything I look at, everything I do, looks and feels the same.”
There is evidence that many individuals with anhedonia can experience pleasure in a similar way to the rest of the population — it’s just that there is something amiss as far as motivation, anticipation, and reward are concerned (Etain et al., 2007).
According to Collier & Newman (2018), for people with anhedonia, the reward process has come unhinged. Finding which part of this process has become unshackled is a strenuous process.
In order to understand the interplay between the different aspects of pleasure, let’s take a look at an example, shall we?
If we experience something and enjoy it — eating a new type of candy, for instance — we might want to do it again.
However, if the candy costs $1,000 per piece, we might not bat an eyelid towards it. Or, similarly, if it is known to cause cancer, we will probably steer clear of it.
If the candy is free and safe, however, we will tuck in. If we are required to walk to the next room to get a piece, we will probably make the effort. But, if it is stationed half a mile away, we might pause for thought. And, if it’s in the next town, we will forgo the pleasure.
But even if the candy is healthful, placed on the table next to us, and free of charge, we might take a piece even if we have just eaten a three-course meal.
Although this particular example is facile, it shows how our brains make computations about risks, rewards, and payoffs using multiple brain regions, often without our conscious input.
At present, there are no treatments aimed at anhedonia. It is commonly treated alongside the condition that it is part of — for instance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are often prescribed for individuals with depression (Collier & Newman, 2018).
3. You get annoyed easily by people’s behaviours
You step into the subway train and then suddenly a man, who seems to be rushing to catch the train before the door closes, bumps into your shoulder. You feel so annoyed, that you bark at him angrily, and call him ridiculous names.
Dr Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist, states that irritability is something we all experience, but what sets it apart from other emotional states is the extent to which it pollutes the emotional atmosphere around us. Indeed, irritability is the carbon monoxide of emotional pollutants. One person’s irritable mood can release negativity and stress-inducing vibes that negatively impact the entire office, household, or classroom.
According to psychologist Nienke de Bles and colleagues (2019), of Leiden University in the Netherlands, the source of both chronic anger and episodes of rage may lie in the psychological disorders of anxiety and depression. For example, the authors note that there is a surprisingly high 50% rate of irritability among people with major depressive disorder, with 26 to 49% experiencing attacks of anger. People with dysthymia, a chronic but less extreme form of depressive disorder, have a similarly high rate of anger attacks, estimated at 28 to 53%.
According to Dr. Emma Seppälä (2017), a psychologist and Lecturer at the Yale School of Management and Faculty Director of the Yale School of Management’s Women’s Leadership Program; most of us don’t like confrontation, but it’s a fact of life that we can’t run from forever. Anger has its own role. Both direct and indirect anger (or passive) — is meant to communicate something important. However, what you really want is to connect and be heard, but when anger is involved, the result is often just the opposite. Aggression in any form is the biggest hindrance to emotionally intelligent communication. People often think passive-aggressive communication is somehow better or “nicer.” It’s not. In fact, it may actually be worse. The French have a wonderful expression for passive-aggression: sous-entendu . It means “what is understood underneath.” In other words, you’re saying one thing that sounds innocent, but really meaning another that can actually be quite vicious. If you are looking for a true and meaningful connection and understanding with another person, you need a better strategy.
Dr Guy Winch (2015) suggests several key things you can do to bring yourself down when you’re feeling irritable or on edge:
- Figure out the source
- Simply acknowledging that something is making you irritable; even if it is the little things
- Be compassionate with yourself
- Gain perspective and remind yourself of the larger picture
- Get rid yourself of nervous energy ie take a leisurely walk outside
- Get quiet or alone time
4. You feel worthless and hopeless
You have just lost your job due to pandemic. Your wife is a housewife. You have 2 kids who are growing and need support for their education. You feel hopeless and worthless, unable to support your family.
According to an article written by Kendra Cherry and reviewed by Dr. David Susman, a licensed clinical psychologist (2020), feeling worthless often involves a sense of hopelessness and insignificance. Such feelings are often a common symptom of depression, but can also arise due to things such as low self-esteem, neglect, abuse, trauma, or difficult situations that pose a threat to a person’s sense of self.
How can you increase your sense of “worth”? You cannot earn it through what you do. Happiness is not obtained solely by your achievements. Self-worth based on accomplishments is “pseudo-esteem”; it’s simply not the real thing (Cohen, 2016).
As quoted by Norm Cohen (2016), the cognitive therapy, as taught by Dr. Beck, refuses to buy into an individual’s sense of worthlessness. Instead, his techniques help people to understand and address those factors that contribute to low self-esteem:
- Train yourself to recognize and write down the self-critical thoughts as they race through your mind
- Learn why these thoughts are distorted
- Practice talking back to them so as to develop a more realistic self-evaluation system
5. You keep replaying the bad memories in your head
Do you ever find yourself replaying the unpleasant memories in your head? You keep ruminating…ruminating…and ruminating on it…like there is no tomorrow.
Has your head ever been filled with one single thought, or a string of thoughts, that just keep repeating… and repeating… and repeating themselves?
The process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called rumination (Cirino & Legg, 2019).
There are multiple reasons that can contribute to ruminating. According to the American Psychological Association (2005), some common reasons for rumination include:
- belief that by ruminating, you’ll gain insight into your life or a problem
- having a history of emotional or physical trauma
- facing ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled
- common in people who possess certain personality characteristics, which include perfectionism, neuroticism, and an excessive focus on one’s relationships with others.
As when a ball is rolling downhill, it’s easier to stop the ruminating thoughts when they first start rolling and have less speed than when they’ve gathered speed over time (Cirino & Legg, 2019). So, what can you do to stop these obsessive thoughts from running through your mind?
- Distance : Identify your trigger and build a distance from it.
- Distract : Find a distraction to break your thought cycle, ie calling a friend or family member, doing chores around the house, reading a book, walking around your neighbourhood.
- Dispute : Challenge the thoughts that arrive. Think how your troubling thoughts might not be accurate.
- Express : Share in a healthy way (with your loved ones) or by writing it down in a reflective manner.
6. You feel too much until you’re numb
Dr. Leon F. Seltzer (2016), a psychologist with a double doctorate degree (English and Psychology), describes apathy as something like falling in love. Paradoxically, what makes the feeling of apathy unique is that it’s essentially the feeling of not feeling. It’s something that at some point in your existence you’ve encountered. Whenever you feel that something vital is missing from your life, yet lack the drive to pursue it, you’re afflicted with this curiously “emotionless” emotion.
True, apathy is a feeling. But it’s also an attitude. And sadly, that attitude is one of indifference . . . unconcern . . . unresponsiveness . . . detachment . . . and dispassion. Such an attitude saps you of so much energy that you feel lethargic, listless, and enervated—almost too “paralyzed” to act—and certainly without the will to do so. Which is why apathetic individuals are easily identified by their very passivity. Their interest in confronting life’s challenges is seriously compromised. They just don’t care enough. And frankly, they don’t care that they don’t care (Seltzer, 2016).
It’s been stated that apathy can occur in such disorders as “schizophrenia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, Huntington’s disease, and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia” (Ishizaki & Mimura, 2011).
What is the solution for apathy?
Regardless of what initially caused you to feel so unmotivated, it’s your present-day outlook on it that now keeps you stuck. Your immediate task, then, is to alter this outlook. In short, you’re much better off focusing on how to fix what’s inside your head than what lies outside it. And no question but that you’ll need to force yourself—yes, force yourself!—to uproot what’s already taken residence deep inside you. So ask yourself:
“Am I willing to make a commitment to myself to give this apathy the fight of its life, even though doing so feels like it will take a lot more energy and effort than I’m now capable of?” (Seltzer, 2016).
7. You feel clueless and stuck
Bob will admit that he’s having a midlife crisis. He feels trapped and restless. He’s got 20 good years left and he is sure he doesn’t want to keep doing for the next 20 what he’s been doing for the last.
According to Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W. (2019), we all have times when we are bored or trapped or restless, where the life we are living isn’t the life we want, where we’re going on autopilot, going through the motions but feeling unsatisfied. Our instincts are to shake it up – change the job, go on that vacation, buy a boat, or have a child. However this is only a temporary, not a permanent solution.
According to a practicing psychologist, Dr. Melanie Greenberg (2018), recently, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley have found that certain ways of thinking about events can actually be helpful and lead to new perspectives or diminished distress and anxiety.
- The “Fly on the Wall” Perspective:
When you picture a negative event in your mind, you may imagine the event as if it is happening to you right now, with you at the center of things. However, it is also possible to picture the event from an “observer” perspective as if you were a fly on the wall, watching the event happening to a distant self. It turns out that adopting the “fly on the wall” approach can actually create psychological distance, which gives you a bit of space from being caught up in your negative thoughts and feelings about the event.
- The “Not Me” Perspective:
For most of us, it is easier to stay objective and give wiser advice when we are considering a friend’s problem rather than our own troubles. One reason for this may be that focusing on negative qualities of the self can create intense negative feelings. Thinking about ourselves as cowardly or unlovable or incompetent, for example, can create negative emotionality that interferes with problem-solving. One way to find distance from the self, aside from imagery, is to talk about ourselves in the third person, either using our name or the pronouns “he” or “she” or “you,” rather than “I” or “me.”
- The “Time Travel” Perspective:
A third way to create some space from your immediate feelings about a situation is to picture how you might feel about this same situation in the future. Generally, most people believe that the future will be better than the past, and that time heals negative feelings. We also believe that we will likely get wiser and more objective with age. Thinking of a future self is another way of creating psychological distance from difficult feelings.
We experience emotional distress in all sorts of ways—as sadness, anxiety, addictions, unproductive obsessions, unwanted compulsions, repetitive self-sabotaging behaviours, physical ailments, boredom, and various angry, bleak, and agitated moods. Who knows if we are in the throes of a “new depression epidemic” or a “new anxiety epidemic” or whether keen emotional distress has been a significant feature of human existence from the beginning. What is different now is that the paradigm of self-help is completely available to anyone who would like to reduce his or her emotional distress. You can understand yourself; you can form intentions and carry them out; you can learn from experience; you can grow and heal. Naturally, none of this is true if you are unwilling to do the work required. But if you are, you have an excellent chance of reducing your emotional distress and experiencing genuine emotional health (Maisel, 2013).
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