By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
How do we get better emotionally?
There are so many people telling us we should do this or not do that it is hard to know what to do to really see an emotional recovery. Which method works best? Recovery is a process. So is resilience. Most of the self-help blogs and books focus on one of the things you need to do to get better but not many integrate all three processes.
1. Become aware that you are feeling something.
This is the providence of mindfulness. Dan Siegel calls this “monitoring.” People who had unhappy experiences in early childhood, we sometimes call this “attachment problems” – they often are numb. Ask someone with emotional numbness what they are feeling and they can’t tell you. So the first step in emotional recovery is simply to become aware that you are feeling something.
Ask yourself where in your body are you feeling this sensation? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? It is not important to name this feeling just yet. Sit with the feeling a while. What else is associated with this feeling? Is it memories? Do you see pictures from your past? Maybe the feeling is part of a story in your head.
In anger management or impulse control treatment this is a common first step. Often people react to an outside event with no realization that they have had a feeling that propelled them into action.
There is also an important connection between feelings and thoughts. We interpret events based on a “schema” or blueprint that is stored in our nervous system. We rarely recognize that this emotional blueprint was created a long time ago and has been biasing our reactions in one direction or another.
Becoming aware of your feelings can involve a variety of data collection techniques. Mindful meditation, thought records and journals, can all be used to capture the fact that you are having feelings. Not sure what you are feeling? Try drawing a picture of your feeling. Crayons are not just for our kids anymore.
2. Find a label for what you are feeling.
In group therapy, particularly with men’s only groups, we find that people have a limited vocabulary to describe their feelings. Developing a larger vocabulary for feelings allows you to discriminate between the various shades of feeling. Many groups use a chart that shows drawings of people’s faces that portray a variety of feelings; all neatly labeled under the picture with a name we can call this expression.
Many people have only three names for their feelings, good, bad, and pissed off. Good and bad are judgments about the feelings not really names of feelings. Does good mean content or excited? There is a world of difference between those two. People have a need for security but too much security may become boredom. We all like a little excitement but too much coming at us can be terrifying.
3. Transform or modify the feeling
This is the tricky part. As long as you insist that you don’t feel but that others “make you feel” you are in a reactive victim place. It is likely that there are some feelings that are primary biological functions but our responses to those sensations are learned. CBT therapists tell us that our thoughts heavily influence our feelings.
For example, when your stomach has a non-pleasant sensation we try to do something to relieve that feeling. Most people who have that feeling think they are hungry and they eat. Research has shown that more than a third of people who think they are hungry are in fact thirsty, they are dehydrated. If they learn to try drinking water first, wait a while, say thirty minutes, many times what they thought was hunger goes away, dissolved by the water.
We learn to interpret body sensations and we also learn to interpret emotional ones. If we have limited names for these feelings we start putting the wrong label on the feeling and we respond incorrectly.
Narrative therapists think we create stories for ourselves about how we “should be” or how things “are.” Creating new stories for ourselves allows us to do new behaviors. So if the schema or blueprint in our head is fuzzy we need to take another look at how it was drawn, correct the faulty parts, and develop a new way of relating to our feelings.
Most thinking is done with words. The more words you know the more potential thoughts you might have. Most of us have learned a lot of technical words, about our jobs, sports, and hobbies. But we lack the vocabulary to talk about feelings.
This three-step process, feel, identify, and transform can go a long way to help us heal from emotional pain.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!
My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.
Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.
Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.
As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.
Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.
Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.
Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.
What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?
Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.
For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller
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