Using Assertiveness To Release Anger & Stress

I’ve noticed a consistent pattern among myself and my clients recovering from CFS: We all have a history of taking on too much stress and not really standing up for ourselves when other people do things we don’t like. Most of us had parents who weren’t willing or able to teach us how to deal with our emotions, to self-soothe our nervous system when we were in distress, or to stand up for ourselves when our emotional or physical boundaries were being violated. Often the person we most needed to stand up to was one or both of our parents themselves, and that rarely goes well when you’re a distressed child trying to stand up to an adult who is being unreasonable because their wounded inner child is running the show.

All of this is a recipe for ever increasing anger, resentment and frustration. We end up overcompensating in a desperate attempt to get our needs met because nobody taught us how to do this effectively. Internalise that toxic cocktail and it’s no wonder we end up sick.

Behaviour patterns learned as a child tend to stick even if they never really worked well, and coping strategies learned as a child rarely works well in the adult world. If nobody shows us a better way, it’s easy to continue behaving in ways that increase our internal store of resentment and frustration long into adulthood with no way of releasing the stress pressure cooker.

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Getting An Empathy Buddy

I recently got myself an empathy buddy and am finding it tremendously helpful to receive some non-judgmental emotional support, especially when I’m feeling like crap. The idea is to have a buddy who listens to where I’m at without judging me and occasionally reflects back how I’m feeling and what my needs are. I talk to my empathy buddy every few days and find it an invaluable emotional support.

I believe that CFS is a stress-related illness, and empathy is the most powerful antidote I know for stress. Having an empathy buddy also lessens my isolation and gives me a feeling that someone else understands and cares what I’m going through; all of which lessens my stress. With an empathy buddy I also get to reciprocate which means my attention isn’t always just on me and my problems.

The idea of an empathy buddy comes from the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) community, also known as Empathic Communication. NVC is a style of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg with the aim that everyone can get their needs met by communicating feelings and needs clearly and directly. Showing empathy is also a core skill for relating to other people so it’s also a great thing to learn and practice in its own right.

Most of the people I know with Chronic Fatigue have a history of emotional repression and/or past emotional trauma leading to chronic stress. Having an empathy buddy gives you a safe environment to start exploring these feelings by allowing you permission to feel how you feel without being told that you’re wrong or should be different.

All the CFS support groups that I’ve been to appeared to skirt around the issue of how everyone was really feeling, which I believe is why the groups aren’t particularly helpful; they turn into a mutual misery discussion without addressing and dealing with feelings and needs directly. The most helpful group I attended was an anxiety support group which dealt almost exclusively with feelings and steered away from discussing the illness entirely.

I recently met a girl through this blog who had been suffering for 15 years with CFS and was overwhelmed with anxiety, yet had never revealed to anyone just how frightened she was for fear of judgement. I offered her empathy and watched her relax right in front of me. This is powerful stuff.

If you’re interested in getting an empathy buddy, read this article on How to Work With An Empathy Buddy and leave a comment below or contact one of the other commenters.