What if we could just make our pain disappear? This may seem only a fantasy, when we are struggling with painful depression or feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. Yet we are all born with the ability to calm ourselves. Some of us develop these emotional regulation skills better than others. The good news is that we can learn skills as we grow into adolescence and adulthood to sooth our painful feelings.
Our affects are biological. These affects include joy, startle, fear, anger, sadness, shame, and disgust. These affects are part of the hard-wiring of our brains. Affects are universal. Our nervous system sends signals all over the body which change our heart rate, muscles, and perspiration. These affects are part of human life for all of us on the planet earth.
Our affect becomes a feeling when we are aware of the affect. When I notice my ear feeling hot, I am experiencing shame as a feeling. As affects are repeatedly experienced through our lives, they get associated with memories, thoughts, and images. Nathanson writes, “affect is biology, emotion is biography.” The story we tell our friends, families and ourselves about the feelings that we experience is our emotion.
The first memory that I have is of being in the garage of my family’s new house on Wagman Drive in San Jose, California, USA. It was 1966, and I was 3 years old. I feel joy when I think of this memory. The affect of joy is linked to my memory in the garage and thoughts of my early life with my parents and older brother and sister. This is an example of an explicit memory.
We also have implicit memories. I may have implicit memories about my adoption, although I was adopted when I was only a day old. These adoption memories are connected to sadness and fear. When something happens that reminds me of my adoption, I may feel sad or afraid. These are the ways that neural networks are formed in the brain and throughout the body. Yet it is possible to change these responses with Affect Management Skills Training (AMST).
We can learn to down-regulate distressing emotions and affect by using the Disposal Skill. The Disposal Resource is done by imagining standing at the kitchen sink and throwing the upsetting emotion down the drain. This implies a reduction in the intensity of the painful emotion, such as anger or shame. “The disposal resource may be represented by a sink disposal unit, a garbage disposal, a black hole, and a bottomless pit,” writes John Omaha.
As children, we begin to learn to calm ourselves. The better our mother, father, or other caregivers, regulate their affect, the better we acquire the ability to self-soothe. If we learn a healthy sense of shame as a child, we are able to see our limits and set healthy limits for ourselves. If our father is alcoholic, we may develop difficulty stopping self-destructive behavior, like drinking or overeating. Unhealthy shame leads us to feel worthless and is the most painful emotion we can experience.
The good news is that our mind can change our brain. We can form new neural pathways in our brains. AMST enables us to form new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving by learning skills to calm our emotions and affect as well as balance our brain. Please watch this video and learn to down-regulate painful emotions:
Note: It is helpful to use the Butterfly Hug when using the Disposal Skill. You can watch the video below on the Butterfly Hug for instructions on how to use it: