Over the course of my journey as a therapist, I’ve noticed that a lot of my clients share one very similar fear. Whether they are my patients on the psychiatric unit at the hospital or my clients in my outpatient practice, this fear transcends treatment levels, diagnoses, socioeconomic status, and more. In fact, this may be a fear you share as well.
It’s the fear of opening up and giving space to our emotions.
Why this is scary
While some people may be okay with expressing their emotions, the vast majority of people I encounter are not. There are several reasons for this, but the most common denominator is the belief that if you open up about the emotions you have inside, that everything will fall apart and you won’t be able to put it back together again. This fear is paralyzing. Whether you’re the super mom making sure your child has a picture-perfect childhood, the high-achieving professional who excels in your career, or someone struggling to juggle your 3 jobs in this side gig economy–you feel like you cannot possibly rock the boat right now and get off track with something silly like emotions. You’re focused, you’re goal oriented, and this nonsense will just get in the way.
Why that doesn’t work
That would actually be a solid plan, if emotions could simply be ignored. Unfortunately, they cannot. So when we try to ignore or minimize them, they are going to start coming out in ways we didn’t intend–sometimes in really destructive ways. We can see this type of sideways emotion in everyday life. When we get super annoyed with a loved one over some small misstep, we can’t seem to stand being alone in our home with nothing or no one to preoccupy us, some small critique makes us secretly burst out in tears feeling that we’re a failure, or we can’t seem to stop sabotaging our relationships–these are some of the ways that our emotions (and past hurts) can come out in our daily lives. These sideways emotions are destructive to our goals, our well-being, and the health of our relationships. Also, if we are constantly blocking our emotions, that means we’re blocking the highs with the lows. We’re not able fully be present in our lives and that’s sad. Besides that, it’s also just simply exhausting.
How we can fix this
Let’s imagine a glass of water in which the glass represents you and the water represents your emotions. When we push down our emotional responses we’re adding more water to our cup. That’s more water (emotions) we have to find room to hold. Eventually at a certain point we’re going to overflow that glass and water (emotions) are going to be spilled everywhere. We don’t know when or what situation will overfill us, but it’s going to happen. In a situation we tried so desperately to control our emotions, they end up controlling us. It’s exhausting to walk around with that feeling of impending doom.
However, we don’t have to walk around with a full glass just waiting for it to overflow. We have the power to pour water out of that glass at any point, so that when life adds more water, we’re able to hold it until it can safely be released. Working with our emotions to express them in a safe and controlled way allows us to decide when we want to process the big emotions instead of becoming emotionally flooded. However, that means we actually have to process them at some point and not just shove them down in our already full cup.
Why that doesn’t have to be scary
That idea of giving space to emotions is terrifying for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Working with a therapist on emotional regulation skills gives you the space to be able to identify your emotions, become aware of when they are present (and possibly wrecking havoc on your life), understand the driving beliefs underneath those emotions which keep them coming up time and time again, and gives you the tools to help bring yourself back to an emotionally neutral space. So instead of having a fake sense of control over emotions (through avoidance and minimization), you can have actual power to deal with them as they come up. This puts you back in control of your life, rather than having your emotions (or fear of emotions) control you. Pretty neat, huh?
The best part though, is that therapy can also move at YOUR pace. So many clients are afraid that we’ll rip their emotional bandage off, leaving them raw and exposed without any help. No good therapist would do that. Therapy is a collaborative process–meaning you and your therapist work together to define your goals and make sure you have the skills necessary to process what you need to. I work with clients to build the skills they need to gain trust in themselves and the process so that they can do the deeper work without the fear that they will fall apart. It may be scary to think about starting to actually deal with your emotions, but you don’t have to do this journey alone. If you’re ready to feel like you’re back in the driver seat of your life, reach out to someone like me or another licensed clinician.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Jess. I’m an EMDR therapist here is St. Louis, MO. I use EMDR in combination with CBT, attachment theory, and family systems theory to help adult individuals, adolescents, couples, and families work through the issues that have been holding them back from the life they want. I work with clients who face a range of issues including: eating disorders, trauma, attachment issues, body image, anger issues, self-hate, grief, anxiety, depression, and family/relational issues. If things have not been feeling “quite right” in your life, let’s chat! Give me a call at 314-484-1196 for a free 15 minute consultation or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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