Each time I step into my doctor’s office, something inside my brain turns off.
The brain cells that turn off are the ones that are terrified by the “what if,” “might happen,” and “possible” scenarios.
“What if” the nurse misses my vein five times? You never know what “might happen” after receiving this unit of blood. It’s “possible” that no one will ever marry me because they can’t see past this hospital stuff.
I learned how to turn off most of my negative brain chatter at a very young age.
Way back when, I realized I could either worry myself into a frenzy or I could simply turn that part of my brain off and get on with my days.
The problem with turning myself off to all those scary thoughts was that I also turned myself off to healthy emotions.
For years, I couldn’t cry when I knew I should be sad; I couldn’t feel empathy for someone who was hurting; and I couldn’t connect with people on a deeper emotional level. My outward expressions of these emotions were totally warped.
In psychology, there is an actual term for this type of emotional incongruence. It’s called “inappropriate affect.”
Inappropriate affect is defined as an “emotional tone or outward emotional reaction that’s out of harmony with the idea, object, or thought accompanying it.”
The show Star Trek introduced me to the character Spock, a Vulcan, who attempts to live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion.
Here’s a sound bite from the latest Star Trek movie “Into Darkness” where Spock tells Captain Kirk not to lecture him on “the merits of emotion.”
I totally resonated with this character. Please leave a comment if you hear me!
Unfortunately, reality on Earth tells us that people who are devoid of emotions or display inappropriate affect are more often than not, sociopaths, psychopaths, extreme narcissists or other such defined malevolent people.
What isn’t often discussed by medical professionals is that people born with congenital illnesses that require painful medical procedures over an extended length of time develop post traumatic stress disorder. Which is why my sense of self and reality became extremely distorted.
So, what did I do about it? I reprogramed my brain by forcing myself to feel.
In order to feel, I became hyper aware of the emotions being displayed by people in my surroundings. I observed the timing of when people laughed, looked sad, appeared angry, or cried.
As I watched other people, I couldn’t feel what they were experiencing, but I internalized the emotions and tried to recapture the part of myself that had become cut off and numb.
For a long time, emotional expressions made me extremely uncomfortable. Regardless, I reminded myself that emotions were healthy to have and necessary for maintaining positive relationships with people.
When I couldn’t get myself to feel sad, I would turn on music that made me feel sad. Believe it or not, this helped me cry when I knew I needed to.
Music can be extremely healing.
Alasdair Wilkins, who writes about the neuroscience of music on i09.com, states “songs carry a tremendous ability to provoke emotional responses – indeed, it can even seem that that’s our brain’s primary concern when it comes to music.”
He further informs us that “the brain hangs onto the ability to understand the emotional impact of music, even if the finer points of comprehension are lost.”
Music triggers emotional responses in the brain. So, if you’re having difficulty connecting with emotions in an appropriate way, listen to songs that help you feel the way you know you should feel.
Do you have any favorite songs that stir your emotions? What are they? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
If you know someone who doesn’t display healthy emotions, share this article with him or her.
Fascinating, isn’t it,
JOSEPHINE BILA, M.S.W. has been receiving transfusions to treat a rare genetic blood disorder for over 35 years. Her life experience, advocacy, and schooling helped her become an Expert Patient Representative to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Special Health Issues. She is an inspirational speaker who has presented to audiences around the world. Her written work has appeared on Yahoo!, CNBC, The Huffington Post, and many other outlets.