The topic at a glance
What are Toxic feelings?
A toxic emotion in Psychiatry is a negative unprocessed/unresolved emotion – e.g. stress and anger, with an adverse effect on a person’s mental and physical health. Toxic emotions are feelings that cause you pain and impede happiness. Rage, hatred, guilt, shame, self-loathing, regret, bitterness, and resentment build up affecting the body’s organs and natural processes and breeding even more negative emotions. Also these same Toxic feelings are linked to high blood pressure, stress, anxiety, headaches, poor circulation, heart attacks and stroke.
Suppressing difficult emotions like anger cause toxicosis in the brain and leads to anxiety, depression and trigger the need to self-medicate. Neurochemicals (noradrenalin) are stored up and if not cleared by healthy process can lead to serious mental and physical health issues.
In CBT psychologists identify two kinds of negative emotions
Healthy negative emotions; Sadness, concern, healthy anger, regret, disappointment, and concerns about relationships.
Unhealthy negative emotions: Depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, shame, hurt, jealousy, envy.
Emotions become toxic when we try to resist or deny them. Avoiding an emotion means we are in a battle with reality, and this is always going to end badly. A good example of this would be resentment. If we attempt to ignore/deny a feeling of anger once it has been triggered (e.g. by trying to rationalize it away by thinking something like ‘it is silly to be angry over this’), it is like increasing steam inside of a pressure cooker – it is only a matter of time before the pressure from all of the ‘bottled up’ anger will cause an explosion.
Fight or flight response on the central nervous system
The 5 F’s – Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fidget, Faint – FEAR/UNSAFE response
The hypothalamus tells the sympathetic nervous system to react. The body speeds up, tenses up and becomes generally hyper-alert, ready to defend itself – defensive mode. Toxic emotions initiate an extended fight or flight response.
We react when we feel threatened or hurt priming the reptilian “fight or flight” the adrenal medulla produces a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamines, especially norepinephrine and epinephrine. The hormones estrogen, testosterone and cortisol, and the neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to…
When I think of toxic feelings, I think of shame, guilt and remorse. They may feel like a true burden to those that are plagued by such feelings. They seem toxic as it’s as if there is no escape from them, and a feeling such as shame truly is toxic as it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. At least with feelings of guilt and remorse they remind or prompt a person to later make amends and shows that a person has a conscience and is a good way of signaling when some harm has been caused. Though with shame it seems to go deeper and it’s not necessarily about what a person has done, like with guilt, but more about how the person views themselves. It’s almost like no matter what they do, however much they thrive outwardly, they are still left with this ever pervading toxic feeling of shame, that they are no good. If I could I would get rid of the feeling of shame altogether, and I suppose that is what I try and do in some of the work I do with clients, help them to have a more balanced view of themselves.
Acting out on an addiction, be it drugs, sex, food, gambling, etc. only compounds such toxic feelings of guilt, shame and remorse and leaves a person feeling worse about themselves every time they act out on their addiction. Short term gain from the initial high of using/drinking/doing leading to long term pain of the consequences the feelings one is left with. The worse a person feels, the more a person will use, repeat cycle ad infinitum.
One other toxic feeling that just niggles away and builds and grows, and is related to this cycle, is resentment. Resentment just seems to fester away over time. A person may start to resent themselves when caught in the seemingly never ending cycle of active addiction and again this just leads to more feelings of guilt, shame, remorse and even hate. These feelings truly feel toxic to the one experiencing them, and it can seem like there is no remedy for such toxicity inside oneself. That’s why they say recovery is an inside job, as it doesn’t matter what you have externally, it’s how you feel about yourself that matters. Recovery is paramount.
The main feelings that I feel can be toxic are rage, hatred, resentment and they all stem from dealing with and expressing anger (which is a healthy emotion) in an unhealthy way. This is learned and conditioned behaviour e.g. how we see anger expressed in the home by our parents, physical or emotional abuse (which they also learned from their upbringing etc). So we either put a lid on our anger because it is “bad” and “dangerous” but things then fester leading to resentment and depression (anger turned inwards) or we lash out physically or verbally at anyone because we don’t know how to contain it and this is “normal” for us. (This also can happen when a lid is put on anger for too long, explosion)
Another toxic feeling I believe is lust, obsession, desire (e.g. sex addiction and other addictions). Getting to the point where we are practically drooling with desire. We need this “something” so bad it hurts not to have it. Needing instant gratification.
All we have is a constantly unfulfilled void (The Hungry Ghost). Never satiated, satisfied. Always feeling empty and hollow as if there is always something missing.
I feel a lot of this stems from sexual abuse, normalising of pornography, unhealthy home environment, not feeling that we are enough as we are, the we “need” something” and that the grass is always greener etc. This results also in geographicals e.g. I’ll feel better somewhere else, with someone else, with this drug or that” Always looking exteriorly for peace and happiness because what we feel inside is anything but that.
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