Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can create profound and lasting changes, or humiliate and destroy us. But they only have that power if we can feel.
A person with frozen emotions is not moved by language. She hears the words, but they float around somewhere “out there”. Syllables strung together, hardly meaningful. Syllables like stones bouncing off a lake.
The closed self is like a lake covered in hardened steel. Below the cold metal, nothing is alive, because nothing can breathe. The deep soul within becomes static. Locked in a cavern of darkness, unmoved, unmovable.
I have been this frozen lake.
What Frozen Emotions and Crippling Distress Felt Like
For years, I wondered what the words around me were supposed to mean. I didn’t know why everyone else was laughing or crying. I had a sense that I was missing out on vital parts of human experience. I never understood why.
I tried to use words to explain it, but lacking meaning, they failed me.
My soul refused to die. It fought back against the layer of steel. Heat rose up, and the lava of my feelings burst forth in brilliant volcanoes.
“Aha!” said the doctors. “Mania! Psychosis!” They painted another layer of steel on top of my lake, and called it Mood Stabilization. I went to them and said I couldn’t feel, couldn’t think. “Ah ha!” went the medical minds again. “Depression!”
I could never explain what was happening to me, and what words I managed never seemed to get at my true experience. Confusion was my constant companion.
Other people could make theories about me. They could describe the way I behaved, call it “Bipolar,” call it what they thought fit me. That served as a place marker for quite a while. I couldn’t explain what I was saying or doing. Even my own words didn’t make sense to me.
Everything that came out of my mouth felt arbitrary. It was as if I could just pick any random words, and they would mean as much (or as little) as anything else.
Frozen Emotions Made Life Feel Impossible
For years, life seemed impossible. At moments, I even thought I would have to die, because there were no options. I felt unbearably, permanently destroyed, marked for a terrible life, either miserable and zombied out on medications, or careening wildly out of control.
I felt deeply ashamed and inferior. the lowest of the low, sick for life, bever able to work again. Doomed to a half-existence.
And then the change started happening. In a moment of the deepest suffering, after numerous hospitalizations, and years on Disability, something inside of me firmly announced that it had had enough. I could no longer bear it.
Change Started When I Could Stand No More Sickness
I could bear no more forced trips in police cars to the hospital. No more being locked in a room in the ER overnight, crawling and jumping on the furniture, and giving the security camera the finger. No more nights without clothes, locked in the Quiet Room, with its bare mattress, bars on the window, camera in the corner, and the paper that staff put over the window to the ward. No more orderlies and nurses overpowering me, or threats of injections right around the corner.
I thought I would die if I were ever hospitalized again, the fear and trauma from that experience were so great.
By this point (after about a dozen hospitalizations, most forcible), my volcanic moments had progressed from merely beautiful quests for love and insight, wandering and talking with strangers, feeling connected to the world, to the terrifying realm of paranoia. I saw everyone as potentially a sociopath, imagining literal wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.
The cumulative trauma. frozen emotions, and crippling distress had become so great that, in my moments of splendor, I was a hero, an expert in discovering the truly evil – perhaps working for the Royak Canadian Mounties or Israeli Intelligence.
Or I was freaking out, screaming that someone wanted to murder me – or that the world just wanted me to kill myself – even though I’d never been suicidal or actually wanted to die. Or else frozen emotions made me unable to speak, unable to move, convinced I was having a stroke. I would go to the ER, only to be sent home again.
Change Came as a Series of Insights
Mysterious as alchemy, yet intimately, tangibly knowable, the change came as a series of insights that deeply shifted the way I related to myself and the world. Some of these insights came directly from my own suffering and self-observation, while I found kernels of others in books and on the Internet.
The common threads were that I actively discovered them as a result of my own inquiries, that I deeply internalized them, incorporating them into my way of being, and that I chose to accept them. They weren’t imposed on me from outside. They were discovered of necessity, not out of obligation to anyone but myself. They weren’t part of therapy or any formal education.
Slowly, I brought my own gaze to bear on my own experience. I befriended myself.
I realized that I’d been confused about who to trust, and so I decided to trust only myself, for the time being. I realized that I could keep myself safe, that I could keep my thoughts and feelings inside.
I allowed myself to stop speaking when I didn’t feel like it. I no longer spoke idly in response to a vague feeling of shame or fear of abandonment. I let myself consciously feel the fear of rejection. When panic overwhelmed me, I would sit on my couch beside my loving boyfriend, quietly. Eventually the tears would come, and the panic would ebb away.
When I felt myself freeze, I accepted that it was emotional, and gradually, in time, the stroke-like states stopped. This was how I moved beyond frozen emotions.
And I discovered my own inherent dignity. I stopped acting out. I started “existing in”: holding myself to standards, .maintaining my boundaries. Gradually, warmth spread from my soul, up through the water, to melt my steel surface.
I’ve felt the water move, and yes, in the movement are painful feelings: guilt when I’ve disappointed myself or others, fear when my life is uncertain, anger when I feel mistreated, sadness over a loss. And of course, the feelings that come from knowing that my life, and the lives of those dear to me, will end one day.
There are thoughts too, that come from the frustrations and fears of everyday life, concerns about friendships, work, health, weight, self-image, and more.
The thoughts are not just there, hanging around. I have an ongoing dialogue with myself, about these concerns, bearing with them day by day, remaining patient and attentive. They are constant companions, familiar faces.
Different parts of myself are in regular discussion and debate: the uncertain, frightened self.ove and reassurance, wisdom alongside the small, hurting creature who is still crying. All wrapped up in my own new-found self-attention, self-care, self-love, that nurtures itself instead of endlessly seeking external validation and love.
How My Frozen Emotions and Distress Started
As a little girl, I was open and feeling, sensitive and easily hurt, bullied and ostracized, given adult role models who repressed their emotions. I felt alien in this world. I remember the conscious decision to shut down my emotions. I wanted the frozen steel to cover me. I thought frozen emotions would bring me relief and strength. Only years later did I suffer the terrible consequences of frozen emotions.
After the doctors got to me, I thought the frozen emotions were something called depression. I would take a new medication and wait weeks and weeks, wondering when suddenly I would feel something – laugh at a joke, cry at a movie. Being mentally well, I thought, meant I would respond the same way as those around me, feelings popping out of nowhere to match the crowd. Everything would suddenly come alive, once that mysterious brain defect was magically fixed.
Well, that never happened. A person with frozen emotions is lost and drifting, homeless in every house. She must re-inhabit herself before she can truly live again.