‘Getting in touch with your feelings’ is something of a therapeutic cliché.
As if we should be imploring our clients to remember to send their rage a Christmas card; call up their despair once in a while, or maybe regularly email their ennui.
But a great many difficulties in life are kept going because, far from being ‘out of touch’ with our feelings, we insist on cohabiting in a shoe box with them.
Sometimes your feelings need to know when to butt out, act their age and give you some space. They also need to know how to listen to what you want once in a while.
Okay, that’s quite enough personification of emotions for now!
So how can we help our clients avoid getting swamped by their destructive emotional impulses? Here’s three tips.
1) Help them plan ahead
Rather than always being taken by surprise by an emotion and then getting ‘defeated by it’ (sorry, I did promise no more personification!), helping clients see – and plan for – vulnerable times can help them manage their feelings better.
Forewarned is forearmed.
For example, because depressed people tend to do a vast amount of dreaming (whether they recall their dreams or not), their mornings tend to feel exhausting, often the worst part of the day. Planning for this ‘worst part of day’ ahead of time by remembering to bear in mind that energy will, to some extent, recover as the day goes on, can really help depressed clients get some distance on morning hopelessness.
If someone knows that a certain individual makes them angry, they can plan to limit their contact with that person. If your client knows she gets anxious when the phone rings, she could plan to take three deep breaths, breathing out slowly on each one before answering.
Having a plan, a strategy, is vital when dealing with emotional patterns. If you know how to help your clients with hypnosis, then the more you get them to hypnotically ‘rehearse’ responding constructively to their emotional patterns, the more they’ll be able to do this in reality.
2) Help them see the bigger picture
Say you don’t like a certain person very much. Pretending to like them can sometimes help a little, but is more likely to make you feel resentful and manipulated. However, actively finding stuff that will help you ‘humanise’ this person in your own mind can really help dilute the dislike.
A client of mine couldn’t stand her neighbour, whom she saw as an interfering busybody, always endlessly talking ‘at’ her. From our conversation I discovered that this neighbour’s husband had left her after many years of marriage. I asked my client to reflect on the reality of having been left like that, and the awful loneliness her neighbour may have felt, and so forth. Now although this reflection didn’t magically transform her irritation into liking, it did enable my client to feel much more relaxed and less annoyed by her neighbour.
3) Find the ‘tipping point’
Emotions can take us by surprise, creep up on us from behind and, before we know it, have us doing, thinking, saying and of course feeling stuff we would really rather not.
It might not be very easy to see, but there is always a ‘tipping point’. Before we get to it, we can always backtrack. But once we have reached this point, it becomes more and more difficult to stop the slide into the emotional swamp.
If we can teach our clients to locate their tipping point, we can help them rehearse avoiding it.
For example, one mother would find herself getting uncontrollably angry when her young son used a certain tone of voice. She would try not to get angry, but past a certain point she just couldn’t help herself. I got her to practise imagining that tipping point and as she reached it to imagine drifting out of the situation and watching it from the outside.
When she imagined doing this she instantly felt calmer about it, and later reported that her son could no longer “press her buttons” when he used that tone of voice. And he very soon stopped using it altogether.
Yes, clients do need to understand their emotions, and often these emotions are important and valid signals that some emotional need remains unmet. However, a signal only needs to be just strong enough for us to heed it. When it is too strong, it becomes a problem in itself.
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