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Emotional Fitness
Book by Australian Cynthia Morton
Buy thru Amazon.com


Steve's note: This is a very good book. Practical. Personal. More notes are below.


Back Cover

This book began the day Cynthia Morton hit rock bottom. "I was a mother of two young boys, separated from my husband, and an emotional mess - shaking in a room in a psychiatric hospital."

Having experienced a traumatic and abusive childhood, she found herself repeating destructive patterns that were sabotaging her adult relationships. "Even through the fog of drugs and alcohol, I knew I had to get to the bottom of my pain. I now hope that the program that helped save my life will in some way help you."

According to Cynthia Morton, to be emotionally fit means 'to be unafraid of being yourself - warts and all.' She believes that the hardest work we ever do in our lifetime is to build a loving and caring relationship with ourselves: "... to be able to experience any emotion without needing to control it, suppress it, chemically enhance it or blame someone else for it."

Cynthia Morton's innovative program of 30 emotional workouts form the backbone of the book. These workouts are tailored for different stages along the path to emotional recovery and have been successfully used in sessions with individuals and groups. They help people overcome difficult issues in their lives, care for themselves and ultimately reach self-acceptance. 

A professor of drug and alcohol studies says the book is "unrivaled in its understanding of how abuse and substance dependence impact on a person's inner self and in helping people break out of self-destructive patterns of thought and reactions.

p 6

To be emotionally fit means to be unafraid of being yourself - warts and all. To build and maintain a loving and caring relationship with yourself: - to be able to experience any emotion without needing to control it, suppress it, chemically enhance it or blame someone else for it- is the hardest work we ever do in our lifetime

Talks about people you feel safe with (she calls dolphin people) and people who will hurt you - shark people. But I don't like these dichotomous labels.. better to think of people on a scale - ie how safe do you feel with them from 0 to 10. But the idea is good to evaluate people according to how safe or unsafe you feel with them.

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A good practical suggestion..

People who we are not deeply emotionally involved with are the easiest people with whom to start your workouts on emotional fitness. - She calls these "tertiary people" ie - they are not that important to you emotionally. So you can take risks, try things. Examples of such people are people you won't see often or maybe ever again.. like taxi drivers or people working in hotels or shops when you are traveling. Primary people would be like your parents. Their disapproval is obviously a lot more important to you - ie risky, dangerous so it is not the best idea probably to try things on them first.

She tells personal stories, which is a good thing.

She calls the above the beginner level and says not to try your "workouts" on others till you are quite skilled or comfortable at the beginner level. Makes sense. Like when I was skiing I wasn't ready to come down the black slopes the first day! I had to get pretty good at the basics, like turning and stopping. And even getting up again after falling!

Author was an alcoholic. She talks about some of her times in the support groups etc. So it is a very real, personal book.

BTW it is co-written with someone who got a degree in psychology, Timothy Sharp. In the foreword he says "Although I was previously not a believer in the approach that advocated survivors were the best helpers, in Cynthia's case I believe she has an enormous amount to offer... (Not surprising -- someone who has spent a lot of money and time to get a degree would be skeptical of someone who doesn't have a degree. It is good to see him admit someone without a degree in psychology can be helpful, and I would say possibly or even probably a lot more helpful.)

Secondary people include - co-workers, old school friends, fellow students, recovery friends, teachers, your parents' friends, children of your parent's friends, neighbors, your partner's friends

- good lists -

she says they have more involvement in our lives but we can limit what we tell them. they can know as much or as little as we want to tell them.

on page 27 she gives example of saying no to her mother. She says she is still afraid of saying no to her mother but 'it no longer controls me or creates the need to edit myself for her approval.

She says she used to go out drinking with her mother. But she got "clean and sober things were never the same."

Author was physically and sexually abused by her father and by a neighbor when she was young.

When her mother wanted her to leave her son's with her, Cynthia, (author) told her no because C knew that the mother had been drinking and the last time her boys were there they asked not to have to go back. The mother started yelling, over the phone, at her and saying things like "How dare you!? I am their grandmother! I have a right to see them!" Cynthia said she was nearly in tears but didn't back down. The mother also said "What's wrong with you?" and "You are going to screw them up..."

Cynthia says it was "the hardest no" she ever had to say in her life.

Sharp, the psychologist, comments at the end of each chapter. But I would say Cynthia's writing is a lot more helpful. And personal. Sharp is into cognitive therapy, like 99 percent of psychologists it seems. Sharp doesn't even comment on Cynthia's very emotional time with her mother! He just talks about cognitive therapy ideas and it is hardly connected at all to the chapter.

Chap 4 The elite emotional workout

p 38 she snaps at a shopkeeper and then realizes what she did, turns around and goes back and apologizes. The shop keeper, a young girl, thanked her and said she really appreciates her coming back. Cynthia said going back and apologizing gave her self esteem back.



Why are some people unable to just forget and move on?

Those who don't understand emotional wounding are often heard to say, "Oh, for God's sake, it happened 30 years ago, just get over it!" And they become frustrated at the individual who cannot keep up with them emotionally.

Then she talks about two athletes who are training. One falls one day and scrapes up his knee a bit, but it is just a surface wound and heals quickly. The other one fell down onto a rusty fence post and there was a lot of deep muscle damage.

Now if the first athlete with the surface wound rings the second with the deep wound and says, "Come on, mate, I had an accident as well, but it has healed. Don't be such a baby, just get over it, the triathlon is this Sunday," I would hope that once the first athlete had been informed of the severity of the wound he would have some compassion and understanding as to why his mate could not keep up with him physically for a while.

Emotional wounding works the same way, but it is invisible. People who are often heard saying, "Oh, for God's sake, just get over it" are in one of two places themselves. They are either totally uninformed and genuinely don't understand the difference between surface emotional wound and severe emotional trauma or, more often than not, they have never experienced an emotional trauma so they have no understanding of how immobilizing it can be and the time involved in its healing. This is why we cannot always "keep up" emotionally with others who have not experienced such wounding.

The other reason for such a dismissive response is that the person is living in denial of their own emotional trauma, and has learned how to sufficiently suppress it with some form of emotional escapism, such as exercise, work, drugs, alcohol, or food. Such people become annoyed by anyone who is looking at their issues and often try to shame the other into submission. p 54-55


p 55

She tries to make a list of what she calls surface emotional wounds and deep emotionnal trauma, but I didn't find her lists as helpful as most of her other pages. For example she lists breaking up with your first love and not being invited to a party as surface wounds, but if your first relationship was very emotionally intense and the party wasn't something which was really very important to you, there would be a big difference in how the two things affected you.

Under deep emotional trauma she mentions what are basically the common things people include such as death of a loved one, being raped etc. She also lists childhood abuse but only mentions physical and sexual specifically. She later mentions emotional neglect and constant criticism and belittlement of a child, though which are definitely forms of emotional abuse.

In general it seems she doesn't get into much detail in general about the specifics of emotional abuse in her book, although she does an excellent job of describing the effects of it and other abuse. I am sure that she was emotionally abused as well as physically and sexually when she was young, but she really doesn't talk about this as much.

p 56

She talks about why some people are so emotionally sensitive and says that those who "carry unresolved deep emotional trauma or injury are no different from a person nursing an undressed physical wound".... She says the slightest touch will result in excruciating pain for them. She says in the same way a person with unresolved emotional trauma are often seen as "overreacting" but it is the "underlying emotional wounding that is causing the hyper sensitivity."

p 64 she talks about how hard it was to write some of the personal stories in the book. She says, "My heart pounded and tears rolled down my cheeks, but I knew that on the other side of the fear would be empowerment."

These are the kinds of passages that make this book both real and moving, and which make it stand out from other self-help books. Her honesty is truly admirable. In other parts of the book she admits to the use of alcohol and drugs. It is a good thing the police can't punish people for things they did in the past which the police didn't find out about!

p 67 Chapter 7 - 30 Emotional Workouts

She lists the 30 "workouts"...

1. Keeping up appearances

2. Common senses

3. Reality overload

4. Receiving respect

5. Running away from self

6. Smother mothers

7. Following intuition

8. An emotional Band-aid called denial

9. Emotionally medicating

10. Asking for help - the beginning of the end

11. Letting go

12. Oh, to just feel good enough

13. Grieving for the perfect family fairytale

14. What is love?

15. Coping with remorse.

16. Personal boundaries

17. Being vulnerable

18. Responsible anger

19. Hope or expectation?

20. Safe friendships

21. Dealing with the ex-partner

22. Beautiful sexual intimacy

23. Giving and receiving affection

24. Understanding emotionally unavailable people

25. Conserving emotional fuel

26. Freedom from worrying about what others think

27. Deserving success, money, and recognition

28. Trusting in trust

29. Controlling my need to control

30. Accepting acceptance.


p 83

"I have spent many years in denial, It was an important phase of my life -- it kept me alive. It was an effective coping mechanism when I had no other.

Coping with reality takes emotional skill and support. I am a work in progress, on my reality trainer wheels. I will remember to be patient and kind to myself as I commence to build my emotional fitness.


Too much reality can be like too much sunlight for someone who has spent years in a darkened room. They need time to slowly adjust. They will lose their ability to see and become temporarily blinded by the light if it is suddenly forced upon them.

A key to healing and moving out of denial or fantasy into reality is to go at my own pace. I am not a bad person because of my denial. I have been wounded and now i am choosing to heal...

(ready to heal)

I will let others know if they are going too fast for me. It is my responsibility to honor myself if I begin to feel overwhelmed. People who attempt to force me to go at their pace and shame me if I am unable to may not understand that I am in healing. I will not assume that others will slow down for me. I must ask them to do so and explain what is comfortable to share with them.

p 84 I can avoid reality overload today with phrases such as...


- I am new at this.. I don't want to rush things.. Please just give me some time.. Could you slow down, please? I am having a little trouble keeping up. I need some time out... I will have to get back to you.


p 85 Receiving Respect

Receiving feels wrong and uncomfortable, like disinfectant on a wound.

She talks about how she was "promiscuous" and had decided she was "only good for one thing" so she might as well get used to it.

Then she tells a story of a guy who asked her out on a date, treated her nicely and it confused her. She wasn't used to that and she didn't feel deserving of it, so she never went out with him again.

p 87

I sometimes get angry when people are being nice to me because it can be so uncomfortable. It feels like they are cleaning my fear-based wounds with love, and it stings. But it is good for me, so today I will try not to wince and pull away.

p 88

Other times I get suspicious because they are being respectful. I wonder what they want from me. I will remember today that there are sharks and dolphins on the planet. Some people give to get and others give because they sincerely enjoy it. I am not obliged to another just because they treat me respectfully.

I know I enjoy giving to people I care about and respect. I am grateful to the people in my life whom I respect. They are role models and show me how to live life with meaning and integrity. I like to watch them. Sometimes it's quite difficult for me to tell them how I feel about them. When they look at me, warmly smile and say thank you, I feel good, as if I have given them a small gift. If they dismiss my words, I feel misunderstood or as if they are not accepting my gift (she means she feels rejected). If others show me signs of respect today I will say thank you, appreciating that it may be a confronting task for them to speak about how they feel.

A balanced life is about giving and receiving. It is selfish to deprive others of the opportunity to give to me. Receiving is difficult, but I will not hide from it today. (edited slightly)

Then she says "I will remember that I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity today" -- but I am not sure about this word "deserve"... need to think about it more.

Possible responses when others are treating me with respect...

Thank you. I appreciate you telling me that. It's great to feel useful, thank you. It's my pleasure.


p 104 Following Intuition

I will be more aware of my intuition today -- when my senses tell me whether something is healthy or unhealthy for me. It is sometimes called a gut feeling.

I can think of my intuitive nature as a set of traffic lights Mother Nature installs in every human being at birth. Red for stop, yellow for caution and green for go. I just need to pay attention to each color and follow its cue.

I will remember that excessive use of mind-altering substances will impair my capacity to read the colors, rendering me color-blind to my own intuition. I will still get a strong feeling, but I will be unable to make a move in the healthiest direction as the color will be indiscernible.

Following my intuition can seem daunting at times, as it often defies logic. It's really about following my truth and listening to myself to see what's right for me. I will take time to pause and ask if I want to take or not take a certain action today. If I am unsure, then that is my yellow light giving me the caution signal so I may need more time or information before I make my choice. (slightly edited)

I will not give my power away today and ask others to decide what is healthiest for me. My choices are my responsibility. As I cannot know on every level what is right for someone else, nor can they know that for me.

Intuition reminders for today:

I can say that I need time to consider a request before answering. Drugs and alcohol render me color-blind to my intuition. I will not make any important decisions if I have any of these in my system. It is safe to believe in myself.

p 106-7 Talks about how she and her friends were all in denial, all pretending to be happy. She said "Never speak about it, make up lies if there are bruises and keep the family secrets at all costs. Trouble is when you pretend for long enough you can even convince yourself that it is not happening."

"Denial is something you don't know you are in. It is very difficult to identify in yourself."

She says, "I did not understand then that pain is the root of self-knowledge."

p 108 A Bandaid called denial

Most people live in denial to some degree. It seems as though it is human nature to deny the greatness that lies within us.

To deny my talent, my intellect, sexuality, hunger, body shape, pain, insecurities, or sadness is to deny my truth.

Denial has kept me alive and has been a coping mechanism until this phase in my life. It is like a Bandaid that protects a wound. It eventually needs to come off so that the wound can heal. I hurt myself if I keep placing Bandaids over old Bandaids. This compounds my problems and infects them, making them worse than they were in the beginning.

I used to believe that if I denied my pain that would make it go away. I now understand I just put it on pause for a later date. It is easier to keep up with my pain than to have to catch up with more than one issue at a later date. Today I choose to deal with my pain as it arises.

I will remember not to be self-righteous if I see others in denial as I was once. I was helped most by kindness and compassion, not by shame and harsh judgment.

Denial awareness for today:

I will be patient with myself today. I will give time, time. I am only as sick as the secrets I keep. I am unafraid of my truth. Pain is a part of life; it is my denial that makes me suffer unnecessarily.

p 109 getting breast surgery to try to boost her self-esteem

p 110 "Alcohol was not lifting me like it used to and drugs were only temporary relief."

p 112 Story of how she was out of control due to drugs, alcohol and embarrassed herself.

p 113 "I will be aware of any pain that arises today and deal with it rather than running from it or medicating with some external substance or distraction. Avoiding pain just creates a huge backlog to deal with at a later date. Medicating with any substance only provides temporary relief and often creates more problems."


If I need help dealing with any painful issues today, I will seek help. I don't have to deal with pain on my own.

I will choose the company of others who are like-minded when dealing with my own pain. Support groups or dolphin people are the best company for me when I am in pain.

Substances such as drugs, alcohol, binge eating and/or starving, sex addiction or one-night stands, or obsessive cleaning, exercise or work are all areas to be aware of as pain avoiders.

I will not judge others who choose to medicate but rather show compassion for them, being sure to respect myself and not enable them to abuse or disrespect me because I have chosen a different path. I will not abuse or disrespect them either.

Alternatives to emotionally medicating - Go for a walk. Have a cry. Call your dolphin. Just sit and be still. Write about it. Ask for help.

p 114

Talks about how she was addicted to smoking. "Cigarettes had become one of my lovers. I would sneak away to have a rendezvous with them more often than I let on to others."

She admits she has breast implants, mentions her fake tan. Says she started drinking around noon to prepare herself for going over to someone's house that night - the home of her friends Peter and Meg. She says she loved Peter's "hungry eyes" on her body.

She says her body was her tool, her weapon, "a great emotional distraction" and she knew how to use it.

p 115 Talks about how she makes herself throw up in their bathroom. Then she tells how she had sex with her partner, Joe, in Peter and Meg's bathroom.

p 116 Says she passed out at some point and when she woke up she was a total mess -bruised and naked. She said it was from violent, self-induced vomiting. She says she cleaned herself up and sat there, wanting to die.

Talks about her plan for suicide. She thought of killing her two sons with her. "I understood parents who ended their own lives and took their children with them. It seemed responsible to me." "we would all be safer off this planet." She went out by a tree and asked "Mother Nature" to help her.

"I cried for a long time--then eventually just knew what to do next. I called a help line and found where to go to get help. I have not picked up a drink or drug from that day to this."

Then she says, "Thank you Mother Nature, for hearing my call."


Asking for help - the beginning of the end.

If I had been in an almost fatal car accident and broken both legs and arms, I would accept that I needed help physically while healing. I would not be able to do everything for myself. I would need assistance; in fact, it would be foolish of me not to ask for it. If I did not ask for physical help, I would put myself in danger of perhaps falling over walking up stairs or hurting my arm as I shut a car door. I wound not view anyone physically rehabilitating as weak or dependent if they asked for help while healing.


I will remember today that some of my emotional wounding has immobilised me just as physical wounding does. I know I will heal. Healing is not pretending to do emotional tasks I am not strong enough to do yet. Pretending may actually hurt me and prolong healing time as I may do more damage.

I am not weak if i ask for help. in fact it takes more courage and wisdom to ask for help with emotional wounding than it does for physical wounding.

It is not up to me to decide whether others can or cannot help me. I will ask an adult to help me knowing that they can draw their own boundaries and say no. I will not ask a child to help me; adult emotional issues are too much for them. It is not a child's responsibility to take care of an adult.

I may need professional help. I deserve the best help I can get. If it was my arm or leg that was damaged I would prefer that a professional help me heal. My heart surely deserves the same respect.

Asking for help is an act of courage. I choose to remember this today. These words are all I need to say: When you have some time, could you please help me?