Flat-lining Emotions

Frequently when people have come from traumatic backgrounds, they have quite sensibly trained their brains to be hyper-alert to threat.

The problem is that when these people become adults, the threats that they faced in childhood are no longer present, and yet their over-sensitised brains are still ‘reading’ threat everywhere. 

This results in lots of unnecessary stress, hyped-up emotion and exhaustion.

I’ve noticed in my over 25 years of clinical work at the Smart Therapy Centre that people in this situation simply think it is ‘normal’ to be so labile in their emotional responses.  And it is true that this heightened emotion often produces very charismatic, motivated and genuinely passionate individuals.

But it can also be a burden that constantly ‘alarms’ and activates problematic emotions like fear, anger, self-doubt or hostility.  These emotions can get in the way and stop people progressing well in their lives. 

What I have often found to be very useful for these people is to get them to simply STOP expressing and paying attention at all to any extreme emotions for a few months.  In other words, try to flat-line their emotions.

To do this, people first notice when they are starting to get intense and then do a long exhalation with their breath and simply relax their bodies physically, meanwhile refusing to focus mentally on the emotional drama. 

Instead, they re-focus their attention onto an unemotional task or activity at hand.  They certainly do not ‘act out’ the emotion, say by screaming or telling someone about it.  

This works very well, actually adding to these peoples’ already charismatic character as it introduces another interesting layer of complexity to their personality – where they always know how to be intense at the right time, but also how to be disciplined enough to control their responses when excessive emotion will just get in the way.