As a therapist my role includes supporting people as they go through difficult times. I give encouragement. I help them seek their own solutions. I also give advice…my opinion based on my training, my knowledge and my perspective. And there are some messages I give consistently. One of those is that emotions exist for a reason. The exist to express what is going on inside of us. And, the proper way to deal with emotions is to feel them.
That’s right, feel them. Even the difficult ones. The hard ones. I don’t believe their are “bad emotions. So when a client is in a situation where they have those difficult emotions like grief, sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration and others, I tell them that what they need to do is just be in the emotions. To feel them and let them express what they are expressing.
It doesn’t mean acting on it (see my last post!). It doesn’t mean not moving forward. It does mean acknowledging those feelings and letting their energy dissipate. Failure to do so almost always has bad results in the long term. Emotions that aren’t expressed, ones that are buried, don’t stay buried. We use unhealthy techniques to help numb them. It might be alcohol, food, medication…a myriad of ways to avoid rather that actually cope with them. And, if we do successfully push them down they end up escaping as behaviors that don’t serve us well.
As a therapist I get to help people understand that. And I know how much most people don’t want it to be true. As a therapist something else is true. I’m not immune to the same process. In fact, I am supposed to know better and should “do it right.” That may be true, but the fact is, it doesn’t make it any easier.
Just because I know the healthy way to deal with difficult emotions doesn’t mean that when they occur it is simple for me to “just be in them.” Instead, it actually ticks me off! I have those emotions that I don’t want to feel. They feel terrible. They hurt. They are uncomfortable. And, because I know better, I can’t really choose to do something different. When I do consider not doing it the “right way” I think about all of the times that I have told clients how I believe those emoti0ns should be handled. And I know I couldn’t face another client, let alone myself, if I didn’t at least try to put in practice what I tell clients.
And it is hard. Just having the emotion initially is hard. Our instinct is to want to move from those emotions as quickly as possible, in any way possible. But that’s not the point. That’s not what we need. We need to be in them. They serve a purpose. They let out energy in us associated with an event. If we don’t do it now, that energy will come out later.
The next time you feel difficult emotions think about this. Understand they are there for a reason. And know that it isn’t supposed to be easy. It is just supposed to be. And remember this also – you aren’t the first to just sit and let the waves of emotion flow over you. Others have been there…and survived them. And you will, too. Not only survive but be healthier for having done it.