How do you feel about that?
May 9, 2012 by
Categories: Acceptance, Emotions

Some people picture therapy as largely consisting of talking and then being asked, “How do you feel about that?” Before becoming a therapist, I used to laugh along with those people and think it was a myth. Surely, there was a lot more to therapy.

Turns out, I would be asking that question, not just once, but many times. It initially took my surprise. As time passed, however, it became a natural part of therapy.

The tricky part is, sometimes this question can immediately have a person shut down.  They would rather hear what I have to say, or are used to associating sharing of feelings with rejection or hurt, or would rather not discuss feelings at all.

When this occurs, I have to respect the right of my client to not want to share.

After all, I have faced my own struggle with answering this question. I’ve had people take my answer only to tell me, “You shouldn’t feel like that,” “You’re too sensitive,” or attempt to come up with a solution before giving any form of empathy (It can be as easy as saying, “that sucks”).

These responses are extremely disheartening and the quickest way to invalidate someone, someone who was courageous enough to be vulnerable with you.  It taught me to be guarded, to internalize my feelings, and filter what I shared. I became afraid.

It wasn’t until I was more firm in my boundaries (e.g. standing up for my right to have my feelings) and gained insight into my style of processing emotions that my fear lifted.  I started to believe less in the negative messages I was receiving and really reflected on the context of the situation.  I had to sort through people who were more comfortable around the expression of emotion, and those that avoided or belittled it. I slowly started to build trust with those who did not tell me what to do or how to feel.

I learned to frame the “sensitive” parts of me as strength because it was a way to empathize and connect with people. But I also recognized that at times it posed challenges, because I was more prone to feeling hyper-aware and thus, hurt. Either way, it’s become an aspect that I have come to respect rather than regard as a weakness. On occasion, I revert back to my old fears of being shut down.

Now, I recognize this as an indicator that past experiences can carry a lot of power through the present. This further affirms the importance of being gentle and not prying out information from someone who is not ready.

This is what I want you to know— as cliché as the question may seem, the bottom line is that I truly want to hear your opinions and observations about your life. They are most likely infinitely more true and meaningful than any comment I have.  And I know from experience how important it can be to have someone respect your right to feel whatever it is you feel.

As you sort through your emotions with guidance, it may be the first time someone genuinely wants for you what you want, and not what they think you should want.  My hope is that as a therapist, I can be part of changing the negative experience and attitude towards emotional expression, as well as the acceptance that it comes in many forms.

Talking is not the only way to share; appreciating and valuing different perspectives and styles is what is most important. (but that’s for another post!)

What are ways that you express your emotions?

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