Three Ways to Keep Negative Emotions in Check
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Incontinence can feel like an emotional roller coaster. You start experiencing bladder leaks and can’t believe it’s happening to you. You go to the doctor and hope that what’s bothering your bladder might be something that can be fixed. You try medication and it doesn’t work. You head back to the doctor, though not before experiencing a few leaks through your clothes at work. Ugh.
Odds are bladder leaks have caused you to feel an entire range of emotions. As one of our Depend community members shared, “This had been a hard experience. I have had a lot of feeling of embarrassment, shame, anger, depression, feeling overwhelmed. At times, I feel hopeless. Treatment seems to be an all-or-nothing thing for me. Either they get me working or I'm still in diapers even if there is improvement. I'm afraid of what side effects I may get and am worried that those will be more intrusive to my life than diapers. I worry that they will change me so much that I won't be as good of a father to my son or husband to my wife. It seems like I have a long road ahead of me and there (are) a lot of unknowns.”
So how can you get a handle on your feelings, so they don’t become destructive? First, you must discern which emotions are harmless and which can be harmful.
For example, two of the most common emotions associated with incontinence are shame and its milder counterpart, embarrassment. What is the difference between embarrassment and shame?
Embarrassment is defined as “the state of feeling foolish in front of others.” It usually comes up quickly and may even make you laugh. There’s a feeling that what has happened to you has also happened to others, so you may feel a sense of commonality with other people.
Shame, on the other hand, is much more intense and can adversely affect your feelings about yourself. Brene Brown, Ph.D., a shame researcher whose TED talk on the topic has been viewed over three million times, defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
What a difference! If you believe what you’re feeling is veering toward shame, here are a few things you can do to get things back on track:
Pay attention to what you say to yourself. If your self-talk is extremely negative – for example, thinking, “I am such an idiot” when you forget to bring back-up protection – practice replacing those thoughts with more rational ones, like “Everybody forgets something once in a while. This is embarrassing, but I’m letting it go.” With practice, it gets easier and easier to create thoughts that support you, rather than ones that make you feel bad about yourself. You’ll also notice that how you talk to yourself has a big impact on your self-esteem.
Ask for help from professionals. Ask your urologist if they can give you a referral for a counselor or social worker that has experience working with people with bladder leaks. There are times in life when a little extra help can mean a lot to your self-image. When moving through the initial stages of incontinence, talking to a professional can help you maintain a positive perspective that allows you to stay active and work through negative emotions like shame. They can also help you determine if what you’re feeling requires medical intervention.
Consider joining an online forum or an incontinence support group. The Depend forums are a great place to share your thoughts and ask for advice from people experiencing the same symptoms you are.
In-person support groups can also provide helpful camaraderie. They meet regularly to share common experiences and provide tips for dealing with the condition. While many urology centers have groups you can join, don’t be disappointed if you can’t find one: you can always start your own! One of our community members created an incontinence support group by reaching out to other patients at his doctor’s practice. There are plenty of online resources to help you set one up, like this article: Starting a Support Group. Plus, you get the emotional boost of knowing you’re helping others who are experiencing the same symptoms you are.
What about you? What have you tried to better manage the emotional aspects of incontinence?