Fall can be a time of freshness. Of increased vitality. Something new in the air. Leaves are transforming from green to vibrant flashes of yellows and reds and oranges. What better time for me to be writing my first blogpost ever (Exciting! Scary!) and introducing you to the benefits of working with feelings.
Right now, as far as therapies go, behaviourally and cognitively oriented therapies are in vogue. That's great - because sometimes we do need to modify our behaviours or cognitions when they are not supporting us. Still - there is really nothing like working directly with our emotions. Our emotions speak to our inner selves, the core of who we are. To what we truly want and need. And guess what?! There really are evidence-based and transformative ways to work with them - to allow them to be, just as they are, to understand what they are trying to tell us, and to transform them in several different ways, which I will introduce below.
As far as arriving at our emotions - Les Greenberg, who developed Emotion-Focused Therapy, says: We cannot Leave a Place we have not first Arrived at. Painful emotions are the absolute worst. No one wants to feel them. I often don't want to feel mine. Yet what happens is that when we avoid feeling them - they become worse. They take on a life of their own. They terrify us, control us in ways that we may not even understand. They make us anxious and depressed. We lose the capacity to feel Positive, life-giving feelings - since if we are afraid of feelings, we avoid even the good ones.
So Step 1 is to actually Feel our Feelings - even the hard ones! A great way to learn to do this is through Focusing. Focusing is a practice created by psychologist Eugene Gendlin. It is different than mindfulness - which is also super in vogue - in that rather than simply re-focusing on our breath, or noting and then moving away from our feelings, we go into feelings. We do this by first noticing the way we experience the feeling in our bodies. This is so radical in our society, where we tend to be a bunch of talking heads and essentially forget for most of the hours of the day that we even have a body. It can therefore be challenging - and it can take time to develop this muscle.
Once we can go inside, and see what we are experiencing in our bodies, we can then give the experience a name, a description. Maybe we are feeling a surge in our chest. Maybe there is a tight ball there. Maybe a sinking feeling. Maybe a warmth or a tingling. Whatever is there - invite it to be, get curious about it, describe it - rather than pushing it away or intellectualizing!
For me, as I write this blogpost, there is a surge of something in my chest. I know it is some mixture of excitement and anxiety - but in focusing, I try to stay close to what I am actually experiencing inside and name the sensations as I am experiencing them rather than analyzing or rushing to label it with traditional emotion words. As I notice this feeling of "surging", it changes. For me in this moment, it loses its intensity when I focus in on it.
Perhaps I will go more into the practice of focusing in a future post. For now, feel free to experiment with focusing via the following instructions:
Step 2: So once we can actually feel our feelings in our bodies, then what? Do we actually want to stay there, in the muck of bad feelings? Of course not! For one, the irony, the paradox, is that when we actually allow our feelings to be as they are, they run their course. They change. They come, and then they go. I promise. They really do. They might come back, but if we keep allowing them to run their course, they will fall just as they rise.
Furthermore, in the presence of a caring other - such as in therapy - our feelings can be transformed. For example, if I am feeling hopelessly depressed - and all alone, and I express this to a caring other - and I receive a caring response, I might begin to feel a sense of Connection in addition to my feelings of Despair. This can be transformative! From now on, my feelings of despair have some link to my feelings of connection. I learn that I can be in Despair and feel Connected. The despair loses its power, its terror. It becomes bearable. It transforms into something different - maybe it turns into sadness, or a sense of longing.
Speaking of despair, I know that some of you are feeling kind of hopeless or sad about the end of summer. I get that. I love summer as much as the next Torontonian. I challenge you to see if you can allow both the feelings of sadness at the loss of Summer and the excitement and vivacity of fall. See if you can allow this mixture - and see what it makes! Red plus Yellow makes Orange. Play with what comes for you when you mix emotions! Perhaps Sadness and Excitement together makes a whimsical hopefulness - an openness or curiosity to what comes - both inside and out.
Happy Fall Colors ya'll. Would love to hear your thoughts, whether or not this resonates or is helpful, and any suggestions for future posts.