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Flow of emotions

Rose White

MyPTSD Pro
I used to do something called 5Rhythms dance as part of my recovery. It’s like free form dance that has a structure to the flow of movement through the songs that are played. I recently read more about it and the five stages of movement are also associated with emotions: Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy, Compassion.

These ideas were rattling around in my brain and I pondered the order of emotions. I wondered if this order might reflect the way emotions tend to flow in people. I wondered if this cycle repeats throughout individuals’ daily or weekly rhythms.

I saw this video of a woman with dementia and her caregiver daughter, and I saw something like the flow I am referring to. At first she was joyful to see her daughter in the morning. Then the mom was apprehensive about going to the bathroom, then angry afterward because of how her daughter has to wipe her, then sad for her angry outburst. Afterward she was still. In that video the emotions didn’t follow the exact flow, but I did see the progression of fear-anger-sadness.

I’m not saying it happens like that all the time, but thinking about it that way kind of helped me think about not being stuck in any part of that or holding on to any part. And seeing that the emotions are not really separate, but something like a suite, or quintet that work together. It’s also interesting to me that love is not a part of that cycle, and to me love *does* seem separate from the other run-of-the-mill emotions (separate topic but I don’t mind discussing it here.)

When I was emotionally dysregulated I had no words for my feelings and I resisted feeling certain emotions (particularly anger, but also joy). That was uncomfortable.

I’m posting to see if it resonates with anyone. I fully recognize that emotions are complex and can each appear out of nowhere, depending on the situation. I also recognize that this model will not be helpful for everyone.
 
Feeling a whole lot of different emotions about one thing - I definitely get that. An easy example is something I’m both worried and excited about.

It’s a little easier for me if they happen successively and I’m only getting hit by one emotional wave at a time.

What really craps me is that doesn’t happen for me very often. More often I get conflicting emotions at the same time. To be honest, my brain’s go-to for dealing with that is still plain old dissociation (rather than interpretive dance…although, that would make it way more fun!). But I’m slowly getting there.

And the worst version for me to try and deal with (especially in others), is when I’m getting the secondary emotion, instead of the primary emotion (when the primary emotion, all by itself, illicits an emotion). The big one here for me is anger.

What!?! So, my FOO’s go-to, for any uncomfortable emotion that they experience, is anger. If they get worried? They’re angry about feeling worried. If they feel love? Yup, they get angry that the love feeling has taken over their brains and body. Jealousy? Makes them feel angry. And on and on. And instead of dealing with their emotional response to the thing, I end up dealing with an angry person.

With that secondary emotion stuff, I end up not only having to deal with someone who’s now angry, I have to figure out whether they’re actually angry, or if they’re actually happy, and that’s made them angry. Or if they’re frightened, and that’s made them angry. We’ve been hit by a series of deaths in the family these last few years, and true to form - grief? Comes out as anger.

Seriously dysfunctional!

If emotional could just line up and do the ‘one at a time’ thing that would make my life a whole lot easier!!

TLDR: omg yes. Lots of different (often contradictory) emotions about one thing? Totally get that!
 
With that secondary emotion stuff, I end up not only having to deal with someone who’s now angry, I have to figure out whether they’re actually angry,
Sounds confusing and exhausting! I can relate to the FOO dysfunctional attitude toward emotions. Secondary emotion stuff seems like a mess and unnecessary stress. You described it well, hadn’t thought about it that way.
 
Sounds confusing and exhausting!
The secondary emotion issue really common with ptsd. Emotions can be a trigger for all sorts of emotional responses.

For example, when someone with ptsd feels fear, or shame, or anger - those emotional states very often have a crapload of baggage that come with them, and illicit an emotional response, all by themselves.

One that you see over and over again is the anger (primary) and shame (secondary) combo. Folks feeling ashamed of themselves because they got angry about something (especially anger on their own behalf).

The particular difficulty is the secondary emotion can be triggered by the primary emotional state just as quickly as any other trigger: so quickly that we don’t notice what caused it, and you actually have to go hunting around to figure out what the hell the cause was. And when we go looking for triggers, we often forget to think about emotional states as a potential trigger.

The end result can be feeling like you’re living in a perpetual state of shame, when actually, you’re having other emotions as well, but those emotions are causing (and feeding) the secondary emotion of shame.

Shame, fear and anger are the big ones that you tend to see as secondary emotions in ptsd IME. For example, someone feeling happy, and happiness causing fear? Suddenly makes a whole lot of sense for someone with a history of interpersonal trauma, right!?
 
I struggle to find words for emotions, and when I'm emotional words don't seem to describe what's going on in my mind. I tend to use imagery to describe what I'm feeling, and it's special when I find someone that understands my feeling language.
But I have done 5 rhythms dance and ecstatic dance (like 5 rhythms but less structured) and I've found it really amazing for expressing feelings that and also for connecting to myself physically in a positive way.
Saying all that, I think finding the right dance group is also important, I gave 1 group a try but dancing in pairs was a short part of it, and there were men present and that was too uncomfortable for me at that time.
 
@KayW I did the dance group for a couple years but some stuff came to the surface about the group dynamics that was too difficult for me to reconcile. Dancing with men was definitely a problem for me, because of the erotic component, which was difficult for me to understand and process. Being bisexual I also had to work through eroticism with women. Outside of my personal issues I saw a lot of parading people and cliquey groups. I ended up getting into the cliquey groups, to the best of my abilities, because I wanted to feel the connection and power that came with it, but the drama eventually unfolded. I did maintain a few friendships that were outside the in-groups but they haven’t lasted.

I realized that if I ever join a group like that again I would need to maintain much better boundaries. 1) Not assume that everyone there has good intentions and is working on healing themselves. 2) stay away from parading cliques (hard for me to do because I’m so dang curious about power dynamics).

The wife of the guy that ran it didn’t like me because I was connected through the local community to people who saw her as phony (she was a life coach who led ayahuasca trips) and eventually she let me know how she felt about me and at that point I no longer felt like it was a supportive environment.

Anyway, I still like the concept. I do miss just the dancing but I don’t miss the social shit that I got involved in—I forgive myself because I was learning, it was very early in my recovery and I had no friends at the time. So I did learn a lot about superficial friendships and my own need for strong boundaries.

Anyway, didn’t mean to blah blah about dance, but that’s cool that you’ve done it too!
 
@Sideways you described it really well! Matches up with my experiences from when I was enmeshed with my family and ex-husband. Also sounds a lot like codependency, especially the way you described having to figure out their primary emotion and how certain emotions are unsafe or exiled within that environment.
 
Also sounds a lot like codependency, especially the way you described having to figure out their primary emotion and how certain emotions are unsafe or exiled within that environment.
I can definitely see how this would play into codependency (hadn’t thought of that…!).

But if you can add some (self) awareness into the picture, it can give you a much better footing to communicate with people effectively.

For example, when I’m dealing with someone who appears angry, but is actually grieving and having a lot of trouble expressing it, then that changes the way I interact with them. Instead of reacting with defensive strategies, it’s much easier so simply enter the space with compassion.

If you communicate with someone based on their secondary emotion, then you’re never really having a conversation with where they’re actually at, you’re always dealing with the peripheral defence mechanisms that their brains are putting up to avoid what’s actually going on. And it tends to end up being pretty ineffective and counterproductive.

By the same token, having an awareness of the role of secondary emotions in ourselves allows us to extend that compassion inwards, and confront what is actually going on for us. In the same way as we would with any other trigger: you can learn to deal with panic, and function pretty well with that, but if you can identify the trigger underlying the panic, you can actually deal with the root cause, and avoid the fallout from that trigger altogether.

Emotional intelligence is awesome!!!
 
I’m not saying it happens like that all the time, but thinking about it that way kind of helped me think about not being stuck in any part of that or holding on to any part. And seeing that the emotions are not really separate, but something like a suite, or quintet that work together. It’s also interesting to me that love is not a part of that cycle, and to me love *does* seem separate from the other run-of-the-mill emotions (separate topic but I don’t mind discussing it here.)
this resonates with my music/emotion/water flow analogies. i'm a passionate river lover and, as i ponder the complex flow of currents and eddies which make up any given river bed, i easily imagine the river currents as analogies for both emotional and musical flows. the variables of a river bed are as variable as the contents of the air we breathe. the emotions we feel, the tonal weavings of a musical quintet working together, or the patterns of a bird dancing among the currents.

i'll agree to disagree with the author of this model that love is not a part of the human emotional cycle, but i'll keep the disagreement civil. human emotions are a complex phenom with plenty of room for civil disagreement. precision measurements and/or testing not available. i take what i like and leave the rest.
 
this resonates with my music/emotion/water flow analogies. i'm a passionate river lover and, as i ponder the complex flow of currents and eddies which make up any given river bed, i easily imagine the river currents as analogies for both emotional and musical flows. the variables of a river bed are as variable as the contents of the air we breathe. the emotions we feel, the tonal weavings of a musical quintet working together, or the patterns of a bird dancing among the currents.
This is beautiful and fascinating! I have tended to think of the flow of currents in a river as being random and chaotic. I never considered that they might have a cyclical rhythm, in that one condition might tend to follow another! With waves on the beach they seem pretty random but there is a kind of somewhat predictable flux of heavier and lighter waves. The surfers get into a kind of zen about predicting what comes next based on their own experiences of the rhythmic cycles.

Now I’m thinking of breathing, the expansion, contraction, pause. The Buddhists say something like, “Observe the change.” I like to observe but prediction sure is satisfying! If I know that fear might tend to flow into anger and then into sadness and then into joy and then into stillness and then repeat… it might help me not to clench up when I feel something uncomfortable.

@arfie, if we imagined that there was a flow of fear-anger-sadness-joy-stillness, a cyclical flow where we might drop in at any point, I’m curious where you might place love? In my mind it might come after stillness and before fear. But I also think that love stokes many fears so I am biased. I might also place it before stillness. I feel it might be separate because I think that whenever I am stuck in an uncomfortable emotion, calling up love and sending it out can help me move through the discomfort but I feel I can’t just call up joy or stillness.

Just some pondering—not trying to say any of my thoughts are the way it is—rather enjoying exploring this!
 
I have tended to think of the flow of currents in a river as being random and chaotic.
there is much random chaos within those currents, but a quasi-regulated flow, the water, nor the detritus within, would never reach its destination.
I like to observe but prediction sure is satisfying!
the satisfaction of prediction gets me into trouble allot. i get so busy watching the future that i fail to notice the obstacle underfoot. my current attempt to balance that danger is to treat my soothsaying like a game to be enjoyed during idle moments and mindfully set aside when there are other things worth doing. at the end of a life, which bets i won on future events makes no difference, whatsoever.
Just some pondering—not trying to say any of my thoughts are the way it is—rather enjoying exploring this!
i, too, am enjoying the exploration. meditative collaborations are rare and precious in my life. however, this is more than simple pondering for me. my logical strengths want to disregard emotions, altogether. as a result, they often form highly dangerous mixes. emotions defy both logic and the words by which to logicate. metaphor is all i have found to work with. i all to often get lost in metaphor, but that beats the unholies out of ignoring the needs until they explode.
 
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