How to man up to your emotions
The client, Mr. K., reports that it no longer affects him emotionally that his parents did not visit him and his wife after the birth of their daughter. Because he decided to make it a priority to deal with the very difficult relationship with his parents, I ask him if he would like to check this. He agrees.
I ask him to remember what it was like when his parents did not come after the birth of their daughter. I ask him to imagine that he can see everything as though it was in a movie – and then sense which scene or situation is the most intense. I do this because usually our visual memories store a lot of what is emotionally powerful.
There is silence in the room, while he just stares ahead and remembers as he connects more closely with himself on the inside. After less than a minute, he describes the short scene after a dinner a few weeks before the birth, in which his father announced in the presence of his mother that they intend not to come. He still speaks in a relatively neutral tone.
Then I say, „Can you recall what your father’s face looks like as he says those words?“
Mr. K. nods, takes a short time to investigate inwardly and I notice a change in his facial expression and in his mood. I support him: „Yes, exactly, something important has come up. Just stay in contact with it. Be kind and friendly towards this feeling.“
To explain: It is absolutely normal for us to turn away when unpleasant emotions arise. However, this often prevents the necessary processing of the feelings and leads to a kind of „traffic jam“. Therefore, I support Mr. K. by encouraging him to be in open contact with the emotion.
„You can be curious about the feeling. It shows up now because it has an important message for your well-being and wants to help you. Take a deep breath, as if you were saying to the feeling: Hello, I notice you.”
„It’s totally sad,“ he says. His voice is more hesitant and quieter than before.
„How do you notice that you are sad?“ I point to the area of the body between the neck and stomach, where most of our emotions sit. He points to the chest area, where a feeling came up of being “constricted“.
„If you like, put your hand there, showing you are attending kindly to that feeling.“
Our concern with therapy is not that the patient loses himself in feeling, but that he is in compassionate contact with himself and stays with the feeling long enough for relief to take place. When feelings are suppressed, they tend to come back again and again, perhaps in a hidden way, for example as body symptoms, and then they really become bothersome.
He puts his hand on his chest. I continue to coach him: „Take a few more breaths. Allow yourself to enjoy the compassionate contact. “
When an emotion is detected and words or pictures are found, the centers in the brain, which map the organic correlates to the emotion, calm down. I would like to support the development of this experience with my clients.
„It feels easier,“ he says, nodding. The relief is reflected in his sigh.
„Allow yourself to enjoy it,“ I tell him, and we both enjoy the coherence of the event for a few breaths.
„I can breathe better now,“ he says and sighs again.
„Stay in touch with the lighter feeling in the chest. Ask the feeling if something else is important. “
These questions can seem very strange. It is important, however, that the answer does not come from the intellect, but from the emotion. For many, the idea that they communicate with the feeling is helpful.
After a while, he says, „Yes, I still feel hurt.”
I ask, „What do you need?”
His answer: “To be loved. To be accepted.”
He nods, he feels that it is consistent and also his body signals this by spontaneously nodding. I still support him: „loved and accepted. Just stay in contact with it. Stand by the feeling in the chest and watch the small change. „Two breaths later:“ It feels even easier. „A grin on his lips. I underline this: „It feels good to know what it is all about. To know, you need love and acceptance. Good.“
For all those who have grown up without role models for the empathic, helpful contact with their own emotions, this type of support in therapy is very helpful. When we are in open and authentic contact with ourselves, we can recognize our own needs and find orientation in life. We also have better chances to experience satisfying relationships. Often particularly for men who usually learn in the course of their socialisation that emotions are „women’s issues“, this type of guidance is very important.