The ABCD of Encountering Emotions
Often, what brings clients into therapy is a reticence to experience their feelings. This can show up in all sorts of ways, in low mood and depression, in anxiety, in disordered eating, addictions, obsessions and compulsions…there are many mental health conditions that have an aspect of emotional avoidance embedded within them.
Andrew Seubert has a simple initialism that provides a process for emotional containment. It succinctly describes the skills that clients may learn, in therapy or elsewhere, that help them to approach and be with feelings more safely, lessening the need for the symptoms that are arising while this is not possible.
A Awareness of the feeling
This initial step is about actually experiencing the feeling, not about intellectualising it. It’s about actively being receptive so that you can notice what is arising in your body.
2. Be with and breathe
The second step is to hang out with what you notice, to ride the waves if there are any. It’s about breathing into it, and if it’s useful using movement or visualisations to stay with it and stay contained. Here the idea is to tolerate the feeling or sensation, to allow it to be there and to witness it without overwhelm. As you become familiar with it, breath into the sensation, and as you exhale, let it go.
3. Check it out.
The next step is to notice the perceptions, thoughts and beliefs that triggered the feeling, to notice whether the message you are receiving from the feeling seems right. If it’s guilt, have you actually done anything wrong for example? If it’s shame, is it shame about something you did, or misplaced shame about who you perceive you are? Is it a piggyback of old stuff coming along for the ride and changing your response to the here and now?
4. Decide what now
The final step is to actively choose what you do about what you notice. The opposite of repression is not expression, it’s awareness. You can choose whether to express, and how to express, it’s up to you. You might ask yourself, what is good to do? - considering me, those around me, and the world at large.
Being with feelings is not so easy if it is not a habit you are familiar with and have practiced. If you need support to find your way into this, psychotherapy may be useful to enable your early forays into this very beneficial practice.