I am amazed by how creative we are at avoiding our emotions. Over the past 10 years I’ve noticed so many of my clients have found themselves in counselling because they have stuffed, ignored or disconnected from important feelings. It is no wonder given traditional beliefs that cognitions were more reliable than feelings. Even in the psychotherapy profession for a number of decades, emotions were seen as something to fear or contain rather than welcome and learn from.
This way of thinking has not come without a cost. Jackson Katz in his documentary “Tough Guise” discusses how so many men have been socialized to disconnect from softer feelings like hurt or fear, leaving them vulnerable to aggression and self-destructive behavior such as abuse and addictions. The connection between male shame and depression and the overt ways it manifests in men is explored in Terry Real’s book “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”. Harriet Lerner‘s classic “The Dance of Anger” challenges the notion that “nice girls do not get mad” and provides a roadmap for women to connect with anger in safe and healthy ways.
Neither good nor bad, emotions are an essential part of who we are!
I have witnessed the power of emotions to move people, including myself to identify what is needed and begin the healing process. Simply knowing a situation is wrong or needs to change is not enough. Whether struggling with issues of loss, depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, eating disorders or past traumas; learning to listen to our bodies and identify and connect with our emotions is what the research says is at the heart of change. While I firmly believe this, I recognize that so many people come into counselling terrified of the potential tidal wave of emotion they’ve locked away. Sadly, many avoid getting help at all for fear of bursting the dam and becoming consumed or overwhelmed by powerful emotions. But the good news is feelings are merely sensations. Although they may feel like they last forever, they are temporary states. Much like a wave, they peak in intensity but then naturally begin to lessen their grip. I’ve found it’s when we keep trying to stuff our feelings that they can seem like they are taking on a life of their own.
If you think it might be time to stop running from your feelings, here are some questions for reflection on your own or with the help of a trained therapist:
What is this about for me?
Where am I feeling this in my body? Engage all your senses and try to make the feeling concrete. Sometimes it can be helpful to externalize the feeling.
When have I felt this way before and how do I typically act?
What do I need right now?
If/when tears flow; after reflect on what image or thought helped you to cry. This might lead to more tears, which trust me is not a bad thing and definitely NOT a sign of weakness.
Be sure to ask these questions from a place of NON-JUDGEMENT & COMPASSIONATE CURIOUSITY.
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Nicole Aug 24, 2012