Cut to the feeling

I had to…I’m sorry. But it’s going to be a song of the summer according to Still Processing (a favorite podcast of mine) so I had to include a Carly Rae Jepsen song title in my blog. I’ve apologized in advance, now we can move on… And when I say “cut to the feeling,” I also like to visualize us moving towards the feeling, maybe even leaning into it. Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, that phrase may be overused, but one that most can identify with. Because I didn’t read the book, per se, what I am writing about is not necessarily based on how she might “lean in.” Leaning in is a movement to describe what I find most helpful when working with feelings and emotional experiences. And there is a particular way, a stance, with which I would encourage a client to lean into his or her feelings. It is the stance one might want to take with someone close to them (either physically or relationally) whom they see struggling (but not in a way where they are in imminent physical danger.) That stance would have curiosity or wonder to what the experience is that is there. Is a Feeling a Thing? I want to try to create an image for the reader, as this image is one that has resonated for me. I see feelings and emotional experiences as “parts” of us, not necessarily that are fragmented and disjointed from one another, but rather elements that together make a whole emotional being. So, when we break down the experiences into parts, they actually have this way of becoming “things,” or as I might say in sessions, “it.” “There is something there that you’re noticing is feeling icky,” I might reflect back to a client. There is a certain grasp we can get on the feeling when we can see it as an “it,” instead of this vague sense of “what the heck is this?” We could also notice where we feel it in our bodies. Interestingly, we often will describe in talk therapy a feeling as if it is in our head, because that’s what creates the thoughts and words we use, but it is crucial to remember that feelings are actually felt by various parts of our bodies. So, now we have located some emotion, and are able to see it as a thing inside of us that is causing us some sort of physical feeling. What now? Well, if you’re like me, you’re probably not very satisfied with “icky” as your feeling that you are going to convey to someone else, or even to yourself. There’s not much to “icky” that we can make sense of, except on the spectrum of emotions, it skews towards the negative end. Curiosity Finds the Feeling and Names It So it is with that gentle curiosity that I want us to be able to approach this icky thing in us, like we might do with a friend of ours who is struggling with something but we, as the friend, don’t know what that is quite yet…but what we do know is what we see: maybe they are crying in front of us. We’d probably want to ask them “what’s going on?” Or, the least empathetic of us (or perhaps how our parents were when we were little) might say “snap out of it, it will be okay just let it go!” The latter response definitely toughens someone up over time, but not in a way that allows for human experiences, to have their emotions, and work through them. Rather the latter statement says that emotions aren’t worth it and to ignore/compartmentalize them. It could be okay in the moment, but the ripple effects will be felt in all of your relationships. Instead, let’s try the former approach, literally asking that thing inside of us, with a gentle curiosity, “what’s going on for you right now?” And again, quite literally, see what comes up then. The feeling inside might shift (it might go away, but will come back eventually.) Staying with it, even talking about it out loud and checking if it resonates with ourselves, is the process to take.