Emotional Self-Imprisonment

Nancy B. Alston

Just imagine being given a jail sentence merely because we could not handle our emotions. Think of the public outcry! But conjure with the idea of being given a thirty, forty, even a fifty or sixty year sentence! The level of public indignation about our human rights would surely dwarf any riots we have seen. Add a final insult and tag us 24 hours a day to remind us of our emotional disorders, and the fury would erupt. Yet this is exactly what many of us do to ourselves. We impose life sentences of emotional self-imprisonment and tag ourselves!

And the metaphor gets even more real and even more horrifying, the more one dwells on it.

Because of trauma, shock, hurt or abuse, we can and we do sentence ourselves more harshly still. We commit ourselves to solitary confinement, guarding our inner most emotional secrets with a level of zeal and shame with is extraordinary. This personal imposition can also originate from guilt, abandonment, rejection, or from humiliation, bullying or molestation.

Yet in our hearts we know that were there ever to be any appropriate system of emotional courts with judge and jury, none would convict us as severely as we have done to ourselves. None would find our case proved as warranting such a fierce punishment.

But just focus on this metaphor one more time- when we have the highest criminal prison population on record. And now ponder on the fact that a vast number of us – walking the streets apparently free, have nevertheless imprisoned ourselves in unresolved emotions!

And our level of commitment to the sentence can be astonishing. It can involve a vow of silence and secrecy to ourselves – something we determine to take our grave. This we can deem preferable to a mistaken belief that if we unburden ourselves we will be emotionally pilloried until our death by relatives and friends, and that should be avoided at all cost!

More weird, emotionally speaking, even when the underlying cause can have been in no way of our making or our fault, we still seek to deny that to ourselves and then compound the denial by buying deeper into the shame, humiliation and rejection as if somehow we deserved it!

That can set in train yet more entangled and constraining behavioural thinking. We can use this misconceived buy-in as a stick to beat ourselves harder than anyone else with the same knowledge ever would – or should. And why ever do we do this? Because we have let ourselves think it is our just desserts! The ‘tagging’ is provided by our self-talk which we encourage sub-consciously to reinforce our worst thoughts about ourselves

And paradoxically we can find we draw strength from our apparent courage and fortitude to shoulder it on our own, when few around us would see any sense or justification in that.

I think it is fair to say that Time once was when maybe this emotional flagellation was deemed to be part of being human and living a human life. Not enough was known then about psychology and the impact of our behavioural thinking.

But no more! No longer is that true. Irrefutable psychological and behavioural truths pile up one on top of another – from one research project after another – each revealing to us ever more about our human nature. More welcome still they reveal to us how we can neutralise and re-frame our reactions to horrific indignities we have endured.

The benefits of encouraging ourselves to end our self-imprisonment, to give ourselves emotional parole and to re-configure the emotional memories and patterns are now well documented.

Why? If for no other reason, because we know now it is no longer necessary for we humans to endure it. And nor is it justified any longer to inflict our emotional shortcomings on others, young or old, for them to replicate what we have done and to resort to emotional self-imprisonment for themselves.

So we should at least talk about these things, share them and unashamedly seek help to understand them. We should cherish the reality that none of us are perfect, that we are unique and most particularly we are blessed with the ability to cure ourselves emotionally.

And if that is not enough, then quite simply accept that we do not deserve this toxic form of imprisonment when help is now at hand. There are number of good proprietary self-discovery books and programmes available to find a new level of happiness.

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