Knowing ways to manage your emotions is important. It’s important to have ways that you can settle yourself down, how good it is that you know how to distract from emotions when they get too strong.
But say that you’re like many of the clients I’ve worked with that have mastered this whole “distraction” thing. They have “managed” all their lives. They know how to stuff their emotions and needs. But something in their life throws their “management” off balance.
There’s a tragedy.
They’re abandoned by the person who they relied on for support.
They’re so tired that they can’t function well anymore.
Or some memories from the past start to break through.
Or their close relationships aren’t working.
Or they start to feel panicky and they don’t know why.
“Managing” isn’t working anymore. They want more out of life. They want the problems to stop. They want to be closer to people. They want to quit losing their friends or partners. Or they’re tired of giving to other people all the time, and they want to learn who they are — but they don’t know how to start to identify what they want under all those layers of distraction they’ve built up.
So here’s what we do together if you come see me:
1. We learn how you’ve been managing. We shore up that tool kit if you need more ways to do that. We find out exactly how you’ve been distracting and how you’ve been coping. We find out what those strategies have been doing for you. We might even practice them in session, and help you to manage your feelings deliberately. If you’ve always kinda numbed out or gone all intellectual when you’re about to feel something, I might encourage you to do that on purpose, and to notice what that does for you. And how you do it. And how it feels. And if you don’t love the strategy you have, I can help you find new ones.
2. We learn how to gently interrupt your distraction. So you start to have a feeling, but then say that your coping method of choice is to get very analytical. We will start to together notice when you’re doing that. And I might encourage you to come back to what was happening in you right before you started analyzing. Maybe it was grief, or anger, or a knot of fear. We come back, gently, to the stuff you’ve been distracting from. We find out a bit more about it. We find ways for you to start to tolerate that emotion so we can find out what it’s telling you.
Emotions can be telling you any number of things. They can be a clue to something unresolved from your past. They can be clues to something you want in your life now, but have been afraid to hope for. They can be clues to something that has been not quite right inside of you for some time, something that wants resolution. We start to use your emotions to create a map for who you are and where you want to be.
When your emotions are circular and overwhelming, we find ways to find out “the feeling beneath the feeling” so you can get true resolution and stop circling that same old block of that same old emotion.
When your emotion is unfamiliar, we get acquainted with it and learn what it’s telling you.
When your emotion signals a need or a want you have, we work together to learn how to meet it.
When your emotion is around unresolved pain, we resolve it. Piece by piece. Together. By feeling it bit by bit, by making sense of it, and by finding out what it says about who you are and what you need.
People often tell me that this stage of therapy is transformative, once they’re ready for it. This is where people learn that there’s so much more to life than “coping.” Energy frees up to do what they want. They start to notice what they want from their lives, and to go for it.
Their relationships become more genuine, more relaxed, more open.
They learn how to identify the emotions that are leading them somewhere good (even if the emotion is momentarily unpleasant), and how to stop the emotions that are old patterns that don’t get them anywhere. They start to feel when they’re being genuine, and to be able to return to that place of solidity inside.
When you know when to distract, and you also know how to face yourself, with all your pain and all your hurt and all your desires, things start changing inside you. And your life starts changing too.