As a therapist, many people believe that the main area of focus in my work with clients would be on helping them understand and work through their emotions. This belief would be accurate. What causes the most grief, however, is trying to get people to understand the difference between feeling their emotions and thinking about their emotions. One of my clients this week made a really important point this week; he said “ I have always focused on getting through my feelings with a focus on getting to the other side, instead I need to be in my emotions, with the focus being on actually experiencing them.”
The more we focus on pushing through, with hopes of ultimately freeing ourselves of our feelings, the longer we remain hostage to them. Emotions have a role in everything that we do and the more familiar we become with them, the healthier and happier we can be.
Funnily enough, when I challenge individuals on what they want to accomplish out of our work together, I often hear the words “ I just want to be happy.” Happiness is an emotion – it’s an important emotion and one that feels so lovely to experience – but it’s still an emotion. Most people don’t strive to push through happiness but to be present in their happiness and to absorb as much of it as they can. Sadness on the other hand, is an emotion that holds just as much significance but feels a lot less enjoyable to experience.
All emotions are important, some just feel better than others. Instead of focusing on pushing through, I encourage clients to try to just sit with them, pay attention to how they feel, notice where they experience them in their bodies. The more present we are with our emotions as they arise, the less control they have over one’s life. Instead of pushing, we sit. Instead of trying to get through them, we remain with them. This is what ultimately allows us to move through our painful feelings faster so we can experience the joy and peace we are looking for.
I often get asked how to do this – what tool can I provide clients with to become experts in understanding and processing their feelings? The number one thing I recommend is to actually be present in their body. Most claim that they pay attention to their body but they do so with a sloppy, typically neglectful approach. Instead, be as methodical and detail oriented as you can be. When I ask clients how they know the difference between their happiness vs sadness vs anger vs. love they tell me they feel different; their experience in their bodies is different with each emotion. So start noticing exactly how an emotion feels in your body. Compare them if you need to (how do I know I’m not happy? What makes this feeling different than happiness) and figure out where you physically notice those emotions. Be precise in your language – does your chest feel heavy? Do you feel tears in your eyes and a lump in your throat? Do you feel like your energy has been depleted? Do you feel like you have so much energy you want to dance? Does your chest feel open and airy? Are your hands relaxed or clenched?
Get so curious about yourself that you know exactly what each feeling feels like in your body. Your thoughts will follow and will give you their opinion, but your body will allow you to experience your emotions so that you can move, not push, through them to the other side.