Saturday, September 3, 2016

Tolson 4 TEARS* on "How Are You Feeling?"

In therapy, clients talk about their feelings. Therapists ask, "How are you feeling today?" 

Conversations with my therapist(s) frequently sounded like this:


“Lynn, what are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must be feeling something.”

“No, nothing.”

“Please, tell me what it feels like.”

“I don’t know.”

I shrugged my shoulders, which was not an acceptable answer to the question of “how are you feeling?” from my therapist. How should I know? I had no clue, no compass, and no map to lead me through the hot and sweaty tropical jungle of twisted emotional thorny vines that lay strangled with family secrets and lies.

My step-father had taught me to deny my feelings at seven years old. He said, “Whenever someone asks you how you are doing, you say, ‘Fine, thank you,’ no matter what.” He added, “Speak only when you are spoken to.” He raised me under his curse of “children should be seen and not heard.” These powerful authoritarian childrearing dictates led to the cold, calculating climate of control that froze all feelings into a block of ice that could only be released when talk-therapy chipped at the surface decades later.

What I felt was numb, which is a suppression of real feelings. Talking about my experiences and emotions in therapy years later did not feel good. If/when I felt, I felt crappy. Even in the company of a therapist I sensed I was safe with, one whom I trusted and developed rapport with, I dared not enter the realm of emotion. I was afraid to unlock my heart and uncover emotions. If I felt a bona fide feeling, I would surely go insane.

With that admission of feeling in the form of prose, my therapist taught me that putting words to experiences and the emotions they carry can dispel the hold they had on me. She said, “As your fears recede, courage will emerge. Love was locked inside, shielded by fear. When the darkness of fear disappears, the light of love appears. You built walls around yourself to block out bad feelings, so you also blocked out any good that could come your way. You perpetuate pain by locking up feelings.”

My therapist explained that the depression used to cover up emotions can become a permanent part of the personality. She said, “The symptoms of anxiety and depression you experience are not personality flaws but the consequence of childhood wounds. When you excavate and explore emotions, you allow the fear to fade.” Digging deep like this may alleviate the depression, and allow room for expansion of joyful feelings.

I also had to accept that emotions are transitory, universal, and can co-exist. I had to trust that feeling would not drive me crazy. I learned that feeling could lead to positive emotions, especially L-O-V-E. I understood that in my head, but I needed to feel it in my heart.

Transformation from fear to love requires more than rationalization and intellectualization. Healing transpires from fully feeling emotions, and then taking necessary action, like this: determine the cause of an emotion, identify the feeling, and acknowledge its presence. Honor an emotion in the moment; just be with it, and that is more like going sane.

My therapist and I started with where I was at: scared to death of the world at large. There was a pervasive apprehension that cast an ominous shadow on my world. Slowly, we examined the fear to make it manageable. With each exhale of fear, I could inhale the courage to face my fears, feeling compassion for myself and others. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” That is how we learn how to feel.




Post completed by Lynn C. Tolson, author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivors Story
*Tolson 4 TEARS: Telling Everyone About Rape & Suicide, so no shed tear is wasted

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