It’s no secret that a big focus of therapy is on emotions.
A lot of times people will have an aim in therapy to “control my feelings better”.
This often comes from a place of sensing or having been told that their feelings are “too much” or “out of control”.
There’s a perspective that feelings are problematic in some way and therefore need to be managed.
Perhaps you can relate to this belief.
Although this is a common perspective, it’s quite unhelpful as a part of one’s healing journey.
In saying the above, we are essentially invalidating our own emotional experience.
We are saying that our feelings are inaccurate, excessive, wrong or something like this.
The truth is ALL feelings are valid and real. Emotions are there to alert you to something important. Kind of like a notification popping up on your phone, saying “hey, pay attention”.
We don’t want to disregard this, avoid it, suppress it…. what might happen if we didn’t feel…
So instead of saying “how can I gain control over my feelings” what we really need to be asking is “how can I make space for these feelings/sensations I’m noticing”, “how can I allow them to be there”.
This implies acceptance (which does not mean liking) of how we feel, which is validating.
There is no need to deny or push away how you feel.
*For clarification, this does not mean acceptance of the situation which may have triggered the feeling. This is an entirely different matter.
Rather than trying to control the feeling, you are likely to have better outcomes by seeking to gain control over RESPONSES to those feelings.
This is where true problems can be created or avoided.
For example, if we look at two people who both have noticed a feeling of anger, the first might respond with some reassuring self-talk, “man some people are so rude, it makes me so mad when they just cut in front of me”.
He might proceed to glare angrily at the car in front but reminds himself to take some deep breaths and just let it go.
Now the second person reacts differently, he too notices the anger at being cut off in traffic but instantly reacts by tailgating, tooting his horn and yelling various profanities.
So let’s look at this.
In the first example, the person was able to control their physical/psychological response, and this led to the anger reducing fairly quickly, and he was likely to go about the rest of his day as normal, with not much thought about what happened.
In the second example, the response was not controlled (it was automatic), which resulted in dangerous behaviour and likely meant that the anger hung around a lot longer, possibly impacting the rest of the day.
The person might have gone to work and complained about “idiot drivers” etc.
We can see from these examples, that it’s not the FEELING that is wrong or inappropriate or problematic, but rather the RESPONSE to that feeling which CAN be.
So, just to recap, we experience better overall wellbeing when we work towards accepting our feelings and managing our responses to those feelings in a way that serves us.
How can therapy help me do this?
- Firstly, we can explore how you currently view feelings and where these beliefs might have come from.
- We can identify particular emotions that you might struggle with, most of us have some that we are ok to feel and others that we try to avoid or don’t cope well with.
- We can explore current patterns of responding to these various emotions and determine the impact these responses might be having in certain areas of your life.
- We can define a pathway of what you might like to change and how to do this.
- We can practice acceptance of emotion and increase your tolerance for the full spectrum of feelings.
- We can empower you to feel confident and capable about understanding and managing your internal (thoughts and feelings) and external realities (behaviours).
If you struggle with your emotions or your responses to those emotions, I would love to support you in this journey to greater confidence and more inner peace.
Author: Cindy Porter, BPsych (Hons), MClinPsych, MAPS
As a registered psychologist, Cindy has experience working with mothers, infants, adolescents and adults. She aims to help people on their healing journey through understanding and empowerment, allowing them to overcome whatever is currently holding them back. In doing so she strives to help people flourish and create the life they desire.
To book with Cindy try Online Booking or contact M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
Harris. R. (2008). The Happiness Trap. London, England: Robinson Publishing.
Hayes. S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.