On becoming more comfortable with feeling emotions
by Fe Robinson
One of my therapeutic interests is working with people who have difficulties in relating, both with themselves and with others.
Sometimes, what underlies this difficulty is a discomfort with emotions. It could be that you spend a lot of time unaware of feelings, or that you feel intensely and continually, or that you swing between the two with little predictability. These patterns can happen for many reasons, and are more common than people usually suspect.
So why do these patterns happen? It may be that you have a strong preference for thinking, and are not in touch with what you feel very often. It may be that your family was one where emotions were not acknowledged or talked about, and so you learned first not to share emotions, and eventually not to even feel them. It may be that you experienced situations which were frightening and overwhelming, making your surroundings and perhaps your own body feel unsafe, shutting down you feeling of emotions and body sensations to restore safety.
On the other hand, you may have grown up with a family where feelings were very apparent, where people were unpredictable and strong emotions were the norm. If so you may not have learned that emotions could be safely experienced and disappated, and you may not have skills in stepping back and reflecting on what you experience.
Whatever the reason, a limited ability to safely feel emotions can be problematic. It means that you have mostly two settings - detached, or overwhelmed. When strong emotions come up, or an emotion builds over time, you may go from calm to out of control very quickly, and have no means of deliberately getting back again.
Where emotions are uncomfortable, the work at hand is to build a sense of safety so that they can be tolerated with less fear. As you learn ways to soothe yourself, and to have perspective about a range of emotions and sensations, then you can open up more and build the breadth and depth of what feels OK for you.
To do this, you may need to both build your current internal resources, and address past patterns and memories. Approaches like Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) can support you in finding ways to do this.
This kind of work can significantly change experience. If you are frequently overwhelmed it can make emotions much less intense and much more manageable. That can feel very strange for a while, it takes some adjusting to. Likewise, if you are used to not feeling your feelings and become more able to, that also can be unfamiliar and take some getting used to, it may feel quite intense for a period as you adjust.
As you approach psychotherapy, as well as being clear what you no longer want, it is helpful to build a clear sense of what you would rather have. Any path will not do, change work can be profound, and you are well-advised to fully explore what you want to have happen and the potential effects before you begin.
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