Destructive and Constructive Expressions of Self

When you feel emotionally overwhelmed, one of the first responses you will likely have is to ask yourself how to get rid of the feeling, how to overcome that state, or how to find a solution.

It is a response that is very deeply ingrained because everything we experience in the world around us is build on that problem-solution paradigm; however, when addressing your inner world—your emotions—that problem-solution approach doesn’t seem to work very well.

Perspective of Core Emotions

Your fight, flight, and please responses—which relate directly to your core emotions of anger, fear, and sadness—aren’t necessarily destructive.

When contained and calibrated, they can work for you as opposed to working against you.

That change in perspective—that emotions can be constructive—can help cancel out the self-defeating effort of trying to overcome your mental-emotional condition as there is nothing inherently wrong about emotions.

Let’s go into it and lay it out:

The Fight-Anger Response

When you feel continuously overwhelmed by a fight-anger response, over time, you will either direct that energy onto yourself or onto the world and others.

Fight-anger will then act in on yourself as self-reproach and self-hatred, or act out onto others as fault finding, self-righteousness, excessive pride, and blame.

These uncontained fight-anger responses are the destructive responses.

When fight-anger energy is contained and channeled into acting out or expressing your “yes” and your “no”, that energy serves as a healthy boundary.

Healthy boundaries give you a sense of self, build confidence and self-esteem, engage drive, will power and motivation, and provide clarity and direction.

The Flight-Fear Response

A destructive flight-fear response will express itself through guilt, shame, embarrassment, and distrust as in excessive thoughts of “I can’t do this”, “I am not good enough”, “If only I had done this or that differently”, or “Others can’t be trusted”.

On the other hand, contained and constructive flight-fear energy can give a sense of healthy alertness; it can help you to take a step back and observe yourself before you act out, and it can help in organizing and planning.

A flight-fear response needs to be followed up, though, by fight-anger energy in order for it to be acted out constructively.

The Please-Fear Response

A destructive pleasing-fear response eats away at your sense of self. That very response is a giving up on a sense of self, and has either been put in place to avoid further abuse, or to get some sense of validation or belonging.

It is the most complex response out of the active survival responses of fight, flight, or please.

The energy of a healthy and constructive pleasing-fear response is being compassionate and emphatic. It is having the ability to place yourself in someone else’s feelings and/or position.

Sadness, Grief, and Healthy Expression of Self

Sadness, when uncontained, further dissociates into excessive thoughts of self-pity, comparison, and regret, and goes along with thoughts of “Why me?”, “It is not fair.”, “If only…”.

A contained sadness response is grieving in a healthy way, which helps you process, transform, or release your emotional residue.

Working towards a healthy expression of self, through the contained emotions of fight-anger, flight-fear, pleasing-fear, and sadness, makes for dynamic and healthy boundaries and vulnerability.

The Freeze Response

A prolonged state of fight-anger, flight-fear, please-fear, or sadness will eventually result in a freeze response.

When all else fails, shut down is your last resort. Shut down and the freeze response is marked by depression, numbness, amnesia, dissociation, chronic pains, and fatigue and exhaustion.

Any movement away from stagnancy—which is the freeze response—into a fight-flight-please and/or anger-fear-sadness is an improvement.

The work then starts to contain those emotional responses and bring them towards healthy boundaries and vulnerability.