Emotions Need to be Processed: Mental Health and Therapy Review Series: Post # 4

Welcome to post #4 on the Therapy Review series. Links to other posts will be below:

pexels-photo

During one of the therapy sessions, there is a comment that struck me. This is as close as I can recall. This was in the earlier appointments, where in almost every instance, there is an insight that I have never articulated before that actually reflects  something deep and subconscious about myself, and when it is out in the open like that – it is a bit unnerving.

“You are actively using a lot of your power to keep control, to keep it together”

And I completely agreed with her. It’s hard to explain, but yes – my default setting for a while is to shut down what I am feeling, to not get riled up and express it. But then, I know that I AM feeling something.  This is specifically about emotions on issues that affect my personal life. Because it is a requirement for me to cope and survive and because there are very limited available options for comfort in my younger years, so what’s the point?

I never learned how to constructively speak out when something is not right, but to internally and silently grumble, or ignore the niggling feeling in my heart and gut. Then, that proceeded to also ignoring feelings of yearning and wanting things that provide reassurance, empowerment and comfort. It probably doesn’t help that for the longest time, I never felt that I deserve those kinds of things.

The act of suppressing emotions, brews it up to the point that it can either stifle, or that it becomes explosive. And I know that exploding is not acceptable and has not really been received well before in the rare times that it happened. It also results to having an brutal inner critic that snaps whenever I am on the verge of losing control. An additional issue that comes up as well is being unable to identify one’s own boundaries. Sometimes, emotional reactions towards small things, when there are no healthy ways to express, add up and cause misery for an unnecessarily longer duration.

Emotion coaching is the term that I learned about this process on how to finally let it unfold, like emotions are a normal and healthy thing. It is the process of allowing one’s self to ‘flag’ that an emotional reaction took place, identify it, and give the processing time and space it needs.

The first part of this is to consciously take time to observe and identify what is happening – as in being in a mindful state. To overcome the knee-jerk reaction that says ‘eeep! I’m getting mad, I should stop right now!” and instead approach is as “My face just flushed and I clenched my fist for a second. I am getting mad because of what I heard. I know that now and can take a moment to let it be, and then do something about it”.

And then the emotion coaching process is as follows:

  1. Attend to the emotion, which is acknowledging with a calm disposition that “I see something is up – that I am feeling something”.
  2. Name, label, identify, find words that can describe what is being felt, something like “I feel afraid, I feel fidgety, I may even be breathing shallowly”.
  3. Validate the emotion, which is difficult but very helpful. It involves identifying the event that caused the emotion, the reaction, and the reaction makes sense and that it’s okay to feel that way. In the instance of feeling afraid “That stranger is yelling hurtful things and making aggressive gestures, and that looked like a threat that can hurt, and of course that makes me afraid.” Validating can be directed towards self, or come from others. It does not matter that the emotions are right or wrong, or that they are unfair or exaggerated. Just taking the moment to realize that the emotion is felt, and there is an unspoken truth, inside that person, that make them feel that way.
  4. Meet the emotional need. My handy printout from that session says “Each emotion has a corresponding need from the environment. ” Soothing, safety, and re-establishing boundaries were the ones that were outlined. It can be a combination of verbal or non-verbal actions, like saying ‘It”s going to be okay” and giving a hug.
  5. If applicable, the process of “fix/ problem solve”. Having a tangible action to work on addressing the situation that caused the emotional reaction. Does not always happen because sometimes the “need to vent” is all that is needed.

I wish I can explain it in more tangible practical detail, but since I am learning it as well I still am not able to, and for now that’s okay.

This process is very much helpful, particularly for “negative emotions”. I place them in quotes because these are not inherently bad, but they alert us that something is missing whether it is soothing (when feeling sad), safety (when feeling afraid) or our boundaries (when feeling angry).

Using the emotions = information viewpoint I learned in my early sessions, those feelings are an indication that whatever I am experiencing, it matters to me. Examples are:

  • It’s actually okay to be annoyed, to be resentful to be jealous at times. For things big and small.
  • That I was wanting those things.Whether it was acknowledgement, sympathy, or that darn chocolate chip cookie after I already ate half a dozen of the,
  • That I am grieving not having those things. Whether that is support, or someone being on my side during that time of mistreatment and suffering.
  • That there is a part of me that genuinely believes that I deserved those things.

And that’s okay.

It took several attempts during therapy sessions to try to initiate the emotion coaching process in the most practical way – dealing with what I was feeling at that very specific period of time. With patience and leading by example, opportunities are taken to be present and pay attention to what I am feeling, without shame or worrying about perceived rules. That it doesn’t matter what school, society, family, or even I think about whether those feelings are justified or not – the main focus right now is simply the fact that I am feeling those things and they need to be attended to, right now.

The unusual thing, at least for me, is after letting it out, I feel freed. And the situation is not as dire as it seems because the emotions that heightened the perception is more manageable. The problem, the crisis, that prompted that feeling is put into perspective. And even it is definitely dire and problematic, there seems to be a way to work through it. The fight or flight mode that obscures the vision feels like a uncomfortable wave of smoke being lifted. But that’s the thing, the smoke has to be let out before it gets cleared.

I was amused when the therapist had determined that my process of emotion coaching did not quite fit the step-by-step process, at least not 100%. But that’s okay and it works for me. During this stage of the therapy process, the feeling I got is more equipped and informed. The sense of comfort and empowerment that I have a tool or a process I can apply, to the best of my ability, is an incredible feeling. These are not meant to “fix” me, but to patch me up when needed, so that my body and my self can take the time it needs to heal.

This video was a timely and helpful supplement to this particular insight in these therapy sessions. As a side note, this video channel has helped in many ways, complement these key insights I have been learning in therapy.

In summary, I wanted to share a key thing I learned – that emotions need to be processed. Emotions that we feel need acknowledgement, space, validation, so that the weight of it can be lifted from the mind and heart. It’s very important to do this in a timely manner because they indicate an important message about what is happening at the moment, so that if feasible, it can be addressed sooner. I hope to be able to use this indefinitely, as I am realized its value now, and will be more handy in future endeavors that are likely to be more emotionally charged.

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