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Page 12 RALEIGH DURHAM MEDICAL NEWS, DECEMBER 1991

Relationships and Emotional Distress

by R. W. (Bill) Buck, Jr., MEd.

Stress is a problem that is getting a lot of attention. One aspect of stress is emotional stress. Emotional stress taken beyond that which one can adequately cope is emotional distress. Emotional distress is the result of relationships that drain instead of feed the soul (emotions, intellect, and will) of a person. (Some forms of emotional stress are biologically induced. This article is not attempting to provide help for the biologically induced emotional stress except to say that the content may help relieve some of the effects of biologically induced emotional stress.) Why is emotional distress important? The body and soul are inextricably entwined. What effects the soul will effect the body. For instance; Have you ever been disappointed by someone not showing up with something you needed? Were you physically high from that experience? Probably not. Have you ever stubbed your toe? Were your emotions elated? Probably not. The soul-body link works for all of us. Emotional distress is just one of several types of strain put on our psychological selves.

Some of the causes of emotional stress are new relationships, lost relationships, disappointments with others, relations with others, sickness of a friend or family member, misunderstandings with friends of family members, being rejected by someone, being selected by someone, or simply not being appreciated when you did a difficult job. All of these examples involve the interaction of at least two people and are recognized as an emotional feeling. When two or more people interact, there is a relationship.

Relationships can have depth or complexity ranging form one to ten.( Relationship Details )The scale of one to ten is arbitrary. On this scale, two is ten times more complex than one and three is one hundred times more complex than one. A type one relationship would be like the relationship you might have with a grocery store clerk. You know the person’s name because they have a nametag on and you see no trust or intimacy from the communication. A level four relationship may be like one which you have with your child’s teacher. You know that she is certified to teach, treats your child with respect, is married and has two children of her own, and likes apples. She knows you love your child, send peanut butter sandwiches three times a week, like blue shirts and have an apple orchard. There is little or no knowledge that can’t be gotten from the public domain. At level five, intimacy begins to become a part of the relationship. At level seven, the relationship involves physical intimacy (kisses, hugs, etc.) and emotional intimacy (feelings of joy, sadness, depression, etc.) At level ten, the relationship requires total intimacy in all areas of the physical being and soul. This is the total commitment to share everything to become a new indivisible entity made of two people. The lower the level of relationship, the more relationships of that type a person can handle. The higher the level of relationship, the fewer of that type a person can handle. At level nine or ten, there can be only one successful relationship for a person to share with one another.

When relationships do not do well, there is a significant spread between the comfortable and acceptable level of intimacy shared. When relationships are productive and growth producing, the levels of sharing are fairly close. As an example, if the boyfriend wants to talk sports all the time and the girlfriend wants to talk about the number of children they might have, there is a significant difference of intimacy shared and the result is that there is little meeting of needs for either. The boyfriend wants to share non-intimate things and the girlfriend wants to share deeply intimate things. The boyfriend is being asked to go higher up the intimacy scale than he wants and this produces uneasiness for him. The girlfriend needs the intimacy of her boyfriend in family planning and she becomes frustrated. Too many relationships and especially marriages lack balance in the level of shared intimacy. The result of unmet needs and the frustration of unmet needs is emotional stress. If the needs go unmet and there is greater effort to have them met, the result is emotional distress.

One type of relationship that carries long-term effects is the relationship of a child with its parents. The child needs, at the least, love, trust, security, acceptance, and play to develop. If a child experiences trust building through parents who spend little or no time at home with the child and there is no contact, trust does not develop. Love may be viewed as being a lost feeling. Acceptance may be seen as something to be earned through much effort and perfection. With these mixed messages, the child grows and interacts with other people, but does not understand that leaving a loved one does not display love and criticism does not display acceptance. The emotional responses to trust are not in tune with the actual feeling of loneliness. The emotional need for acceptance cannot be met by increasing levels of performance and perfection. The unmet needs are producing emotional distress even though the feeling may be due to a past relationship.

During times of emotional stress, the body makes and secretes stress hormones such as adrenalin. The stress hormones are intended to allow the body to be stronger by producing more energy. Muscle tissue reacts to the stress hormones and energy boost with greater strength- sort of like an instant steroid boost. Once the excitement has passed, the hormone secretion changes and the body begins to calm to "normal". The emotional situations that call for stress hormones are one’s like fear, anxiety, guilt, love, embarrassment, joy, excitement, and anger. When the emotional stress had continued for long periods of time without returning to "normal", the "normal" point changes and anything below that point feels depressing. Most people do not like the feeling of depression and feel that something is wrong. Depression is the normal relief from excitement. Deep depression is not normal and requires treatment for relief. Depression levels vary from person to person. What may feel mild to one person may feel harsh to another. The experience of coping with depression also changes the net response to the depression. The intended response to the increased energy level is to physically do something. Our modern response to the adrenalin arousal is to get all fired up mentally. In the physical response the energy is used, calming hormones that are produced and the body returns to normal. When no physical response is made, the body builds higher levels of cholesterol and some otherwise beneficial blood components. If the adrenalin arousal continues to remain high, cholesterol levels can reach high levels and plaque can form in the arteries. Plaque formation can lead to angina or heart attacks.

How can the physical effects of emotional distress be avoided? First, keep balance in relationships. Keep something to encourage growth in the relationship so that both members of the relationship benefit from the relationship and grow. Second, study the other member of the relationship so that you know when their needs are not being met and also so you can know how to meet the needs. Third, communicate needs to each other and specifics as to how those needs can be met. Fourth, do not allow differences of opinion to become deficiencies from your opinion. Allow each other to have different views with a compromise as the way to meet both needs. Compromise is best made on the information gained in the second part.

What do you do if distress is already a part of your life? Seek the help of a listening friend or family member. Often just talking about a problem while trying to explain it brings insight and relief. Talk to a pastor or counselor who can help you see the root of the distress and can help untangle the emotions or, at least, make sense out of them. Do not do nothing. Buried emotional distress only leads to a feeling of greater distress and it often causes inappropriate emotional responses and damaged relationships. In the greatest extreme, emotional distress can lead to death. Do not do nothing.

See preceding article: More on Stress Management