“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they may seem.” ~ Ann Frank
I have a paper tucked away in my office drawer that I like to pull out every once in a while with clients. On it you’ll find a list of several dozen “Feeling Words” – each listed under a specific sub category. This simple sheet of paper can often provide some clarity. For instance, I’m not just “happy”, I’m “hopeful” or I’m more than simply “angry”, I feel “bitter”. I find that this simple sheet of paper comes in handy when people find themselves stumped – unsure of exactly how they feel. Gaining this deeper insight also opens the door for better answering the questions of who & what prompt these feelings within us and why & how they occur. More so, beyond the use of any kind of “Feeling Words” cheat sheet, I find it important that in the safety of the therapy room that feelings are discussed and processed in a different sort of way. Honestly, I see a need for a kinder, more compassionate stance towards our feelings – and towards ourselves – than we often experience. And what do I mean by this? What I typically notice is that we can quickly get into a harsh cycle of (1) feeling our feelings and then (2) criticizing ourselves, even shaming ourselves, for experiencing these true feelings. An example of this may sound like:
“I feel jealous towards my co-worker for getting the promotion…and now I hate myself for feeing jealous when I should be happy for her.” OR
“To be honest, I feel depressed today – like I really did not want to get out of bed. Man, I must sound pathetic.” OR
“I miss my mom so much right now. I feel like I should be dealing with her death much better than I am.“
What stands out most to me in these three examples can be summed up in one word: JUDGMENT. I can picture three separate individuals bravely and honestly speaking these truthful emotions outloud and then upon recognizing the discomfort, isolation, or sorrow that these feelings bring, swiftly judging themselves. Perhaps they deem themselves not “strong enough” or not “normal enough”. Further, how often have we – you and I – responded the same to our own feelings. The danger about this judgment is that it provokes a third part in the cycle mentioned above. First (1) we feel our feelings, (2) we judge our feelings, and then as a result (3) we get stuck in the “muck” of self-loathing. All of the sudden we are trapped, our self-condemnation preventing us from the necessary work of digging-deepeer and seeking awareness and possible healing in the midst of the initial feeling that brought us here. A Better Way?: Perhaps a better response to our feelings can be found in replacing Judging with simply Noticing. As the initial quote by Ann Frank so accurately states, “feelings can’t be ignored” – especially the bad ones. Furthermore, there is something so incredibly important in recognizing that we are not “bad ones” for feeling these natural human emotions. Anger, guilt, desperation, sadness – it’s all there for any one of us to feel. How completely human we are when they touch our hearts. As psychotherapist Stephen Howard (in his book Heart & Soul of the Therapist) explains, we are much better off approaching our feelings with honesty and curiosity than avoidance or disdain. The reality is that our feelings are important. Though not always easy and rarely simple, our active feelings tell us something. How vital it is to listen to them with openess, ready to be aware of what direction they may be leading, truth yet to uncover, or acceptance needing to be had. __________________________________________________________________________________ Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.