Thoughts from therapy – sitting with your emotions

I thought it might be interesting to share here some of the things I’ve been learning in therapy.

This week I tackled feeling things. By that I mean, sitting with the emotion, rather than stuffing it down out of sight. I’m not very good at just feeling things, and am very good and repressing them. Which means that things I do feel? Well, by the time they’ve burst back up into my experience, they are really un-ignorable. And by that I mean, totally fucking overwhelming. I would bet a solid £1k that almost everyone who reads this knows exactly what I mean, as well. I think everyone probably does this a little bit, so I’ve learnt not to feel too weird about it, but it doesn’t mean I don’t to fix it a bit.

The big problem is that, as I actually said this week, it’s rather hard to want to engage with suffering. By that I mean sadness, or fear of loss, or despair. It’s hard to want to sit with these things and let yourself feel them, when you can much more easily push them away. Who wants to suffer? My therapist did not look particularly impressed when I said this, pulling an expression I would call her ‘calling out bullshit’ face. Again, I’d bet everyone pushes stuff away to avoid suffering sometimes too, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t right. Pushing away your emotions just makes you more miserable down the line, sadly. They all get so big and powerful that the moment something lets them loose it feels like they will crush you, or send you mad.

Another, perhaps more personal problem with actually sitting with negative emotions is that it all seems rather pointless. Objectively, I can guess why this I think this. I mean, if you spend your childhood expressing how miserable you are with a thing*, and your parents response is either to get angry when you express those emotions or to just to tell you that you have to do it anyway, and this happens every week for ten years you would be forgiven for learning that expressions of pain, anger, despair or fear are largely pointless, right? That’s a personal example, but I anticipate plenty of us learnt similar things from our parents. Every time our parents failed to take our fears or hurt seriously, or every time someone close to us when we were growing up mocked us for showing emotion, we learnt to bottle it up.

I know, academically, that the people who I care about and who I love now are very responsive to my emotional expression. But it’s taken almost ten years of practice (and a careful collation of friends and family) for me to understand that, and it still remains rather a factual kind of knowledge, rather than an internalised, real understanding. In the spirit of honesty, I therefore told my therapist it all felt pretty pointless. Again eliciting her ‘yes, and you know that’s bullshit too’ face! But we did settle on one way that there is a point to feeling the emotions, beyond the hand-wavey hippy-dippy it’ll-make-you-healthier crap:

Basically, if you feel the emotions in the moment, they are less overwhelming.

If you aren’t afraid of them, don’t struggle, and let them rise up and then run away like sudden tide, they will not overwhelm you. If you try and dam them, then eventually they overwhelm you and you are beaten black and blue by their passage. If you just feel things in the when and how they need feeling, they pass quicker and are less powerful.

For someone who struggles with overwhelming emotions, who describes their feelings as ‘turned up to eleven’, that’s a pretty strong motivation!

So this week I’m trying to sit with emotions. Not just the bad ones, the good ones too (because heaven knows I’m afraid to do that in case they will inevitably be crushed – but that’s a story for another day!).

I hope if you’ve read this, you might give it a try too.


*Before you worry – this isn’t a tale of physical or sexual abuse.

Thoughts from therapy – sitting with your emotions

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