I recently told a psychiatrist I know that when working with clients I focus on emotion, to which he asked “doesn't all therapy focus on emotion?” Of course his question was a good one, because good therapy seeks to improve how people feel. After all, the reason most people seek therapy is because they are experiencing some sort of troublesome emotion. The million dollar question is, how do you help someone ‘feel’ better and what’s the most direct route to getting there. Focusing on the emotional experience of a situation and deepening one’s understanding of that emotion, leads to greater clarity about what he or she longs for and how to get there.
Our emotions help us organize our responses to situations and provide important information about what we want and desire. Sometimes we experience difficult emotions that need our attention and love, but instead we take a judgmental approach against our emotions and criticize ourselves. Honoring difficult emotions, although counter-intuitive is a crucial part of emotional health. Avoid mud-fights with your difficult feelings. Even if you win, you’ll still end up dirty. Instead, ask your difficult feeling, how can I bring you healing? Let your valid emotions guide you.
Here’s an example. Have you ever been sad about anything? Let’s say you applied for the job of your dreams and you got rejected. You get that rejection letter in the mail and you feel sad. It makes sense that you feel sad-- something that was important to you was blocked from you. And although feeling sad is not a pleasant feeling, it’s important to honor and recognize the sadness you feel. That sadness is a message to you; it’s saying “I didn’t get something I want and I want something more in my life.” If you ignore that sadness and say “Ahh, who cares” you’ll likely give up on your journey toward that which you truly desire. If instead of subverting your feelings and judging yourself for feeling sad, you recognize that you're hurting for a completely valid reason - you want something more for yourself - you’ll be more likely to move forward and problem solve effective ways to diminish your sadness (i.e. improve your resume, get more training, etc) so you can get the job you want.
We have many names for aspects of our feelings that often stem from shame: low self-esteem, low self-confidence, self-doubt, feeling inadequate, and more. Even anxiety can stem from shame and feeling "different." When we work up the trust to talk about our shame, we can find out that we are not alone and that "I am enough."
Mindfulness is about focusing one's attention, non-judgmentally, in the present moment. It's about awareness and paying attention in a way that makes experiencing life more enjoyable, and in difficult times more bearable. When we turn our mind to the future, it often creates anxiety and worry about what will be. When we turn our mind to the past, it often leads to regret and depression about what we "should have" done. By focusing on the present moment, without judgment of how the moment "should" be, we are better able to embrace reality as it is and either accept or change it as appropriate. Mindfulness can be a helpful way to deal with difficult emotions.
Invalidating Comments... Sometimes others say them to us. Sometimes we say them to ourselves. Here's 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval. See more images here.
Couples, Family, and Individual Therapy in Mount Washington, Baltimore, Maryland.