Monday, September 17, 2007

How Do You Feel?

As I said last month, two questions help jump-start any stalled therapy session. I've convinced you to talk about what you want. Now, I embrace the cliche and ask you to talk about your feelings.

Why? Getting in touch with emotion helps inform decision making, resolve issues from the past, and increase self-awareness.

When we make important decisions, we use both our brain and our gut. Think about your decision to take a job, move into a new place, enter a relationship with someone - you probably used both logic and emotion to make those decisions. The absence of either could cause problems.

By the way, in our world logic tends to be valued more highly than emotion, making people reluctant to admit that emotion plays an important role in decision making. Rather than just admit that feelings were a factor in a decision, we tend to go overboard with rationalization ("sure, it's nice that it's a convertible, but I chose it because it gets 3 more MPG!").

Sometimes people are so overwhelmed by emotion that they can't deal with it all at once. The tragedy of abuse, loss, rejection, abandonment, or other forms of pain can just be too much. So they feel what they can at the time and store away the rest for later. Some would call this "sweeping it under the rug," others would term this repression. As much as we might like, these unexpressed emotions don't just go away - they stay within our psyche and body until we let them out. I know, it's starting to sound a little new-agey, but there is truth here. People can hold on to unexpressed emotion for years, decades, even the rest of their lives. Problem is, the body wasn't meant to hold on to that kind of pain for too long - it can start to break down. Still, many people choose the slow burn of repression over the sharp pain of letting emotion out.

Part of your identity lies in how you emotionally respond to the world around you. Your feelings determine facets of your personality, your relationship style, your opinions, and how you view yourself. When clients tell me they don't really know who they are or what they want, I direct them toward their feelings. Along with your thoughts and experiences, your feelings determine your deepest sense of self.

Research has shown that men and women experience emotion equally, but women tend to express while men repress. No big shocker there. In the next blog I'll give a quick lesson in getting in touch with emotion.