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Our feelings are there for a reason, to help us to be aware of what we need and what is important to us. When we try to rise above, repress or otherwise not feel or deal with our feelings, we lose access to important information about ourselves and don’t experience life as fully as we could. In Living Like You Mean It: Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want, Ronald J. Frederick outlines a four step process that can help you to work with your feelings instead of against them.
Step One: Becoming Aware
Feelings are there for our benefit. The defenses we develop to protect us from feelings that make us uncomfortable are what cause us to get stuck. Feelings have a natural flow and if we let them rise up and peak they will settle out. Feelings are stronger and operate much faster than thoughts but we need to pay attention to them in order to make decisions. Our feelings are what keep us in touch with our true self.
We learn from early experiences with our caregivers which feelings are acceptable and which aren’t. These early lessons affect how we see ourselves, others and the world. We adapt our behavior to fit with our environment, to be accepted. The more positive experiences we have in sharing our feelings with others the better we get at dealing with them. Even if that was not our early experience we can grow and change and learn to experience all our feelings with less fear.
With practice you can become more consciously aware of your feelings. There are eight basic feelings- anger, sadness, happiness, love, fear and guilt/shame, surprise and disgust. Feelings are felt in your body and tuning into your body sensations brings you closer to your feelings. Thinking distances you from your feelings.
A defense is any thought, behavior or reaction used to distance ourselves from our feelings. Defenses develop to protect us from the anxiety we feel when an uncomfortable feeling starts to rise up. Even another feeling can be used to cover up our true emotional experience, such as feeling anger instead of sadness. Once you are aware of your defenses you can allow yourself to experience your feelings and connect more deeply with yourself and others.
Step Two: Taming the Fear
Anxiety or fear can be a helpful sign that we're getting closer to our emotions. Identifying and naming our feelings helps to lessen the anxiety. There are helpful techniques we can use to keep from being overwhelmed by feelings. Placing a hand on your heart, doing abdominal breathing and visualizing a positive memory all help to calm the nervous system.
Step Three: Feeling it Through
Feelings have a beginning, middle and an end like a wave if we allow ourselves to fully feel them. Tuning in to what is going on inside us frees up the energy of our emotions. When we feel our emotions through to completion we will experience a body shift; we feel freed up and relieved. Experiencing our feelings and expressing our feelings are two different things.
Step Four: Opening Up
Our feelings help us to see what we need or want in order to make things better. The wisdom of our feelings can guide our choices. Putting our feelings into words is one of the most powerful ways to communicate. We need to keep our message simple and clear, use "I" statements and communicate in a way that is respectful to ourselves and the listener. Speaking slowly and making eye contact help to reduce the fear and increase the likelihood of being understood.
These four steps can be used as a guide. Opening up to your feelings may reveal unfinished business from the past that needs our care and attention. If you feel stuck you might find it helpful to seek the assistance of a trained professional. Overcoming fear of our feelings is a process that takes time and practice but with effort and determination you can find your way through.
I highly recommend Ron Frederick's book Living Like You Mean It: Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want. He provides lots of examples and helpful exercises to guide you through the process. You'll find several free resources to help you at https://www.LivingLikeYouMeanIt.com/resources.
Understanding love and attachment
Therapists now have a new understanding of what happens in love relationships thanks to over 25 years of research by professionals like Dr. Sue Johnson. In her book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Sue describes her findings and how they can help couples to understand how they connect and disconnect. The new science of love comes from knowledge we now have about the need for secure attachment throughout life and not just as children. New brain imagery techniques have shown us that we respond to threats to our emotional security in similar ways to threats to our physical safety. We fight, flee or freeze. This helps us to understand some of the seemingly extreme responses that we can have in conflicts with our significant others and why we get stuck in them.
How love goes wrong: the Demon Dialogues
Sue calls these interactions where we disconnect Demon Dialogues. Each person will take a position, focusing on defending themselves or attacking the other in an attempt to justify their response. As long as this goes on they will remain stuck in this negative feedback cycle. What both are actually seeking is to be heard and understood. Unfortunately this cannot happen until they are able to talk about what is going on at a deeper level- the fear or hurt that is driving their behavior. Most people have not learned how to do this and many people see this kind of vulnerability as a weakness, believing that we are supposed to be self sufficient individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we are literally wired for connection.
Finding the Raw Spots in the Demon Dialogues
Everyone has emotional raw spots, a word, a look, a tone of voice that calls up memories of past fears or hurts. When this happens the same kind of emotional response gets triggered in the brain. It can feel like we are being high jacked by our emotions. This threat to our emotional connection can evoke intense responses that may not seem to make sense. But they do make sense emotionally if we take the time to look more deeply into ourselves.
Fixing mistakes and creating a secure base: Revisiting a rocky moment
Once each individual has done some exploration of their raw spots the two can revisit a rocky moment from their past and talk about it in a different way. Taking the time to listen and help each other to understand what leads them to take up their positions in the conflict gives them new knowledge to help them recognize and interrupt the demon dialogue. When couples have this kind of understanding of their partner's responses, they are able to respond with compassion instead of feeling the need to attack or defend.
Becoming open and responsive- The Hold Me Tight conversation
Talking to each other with this new understanding allows couples to be more vulnerable with each other, trusting that their partner will be there for them emotionally. They can express their need to feel secure in the relationship and the pain they feel when the connection is broken. This renews their bond and gives them a new way of resolving differences that pulls them closer together rather than driving them apart.
Forgiving injuries and trusting again
As couples continue to practice this new way of communicating it becomes easier and more automatic. With a renewed sense of security in the relationship they can talk about and forgive injuries and learn to trust again.
Keeping your love alive and caring for your relationship
In order to keep love alive couples need to stay attentive, responsive and engaged with each other. Taking an active interest in each other, trying new things together and making plans for your future together helps to maintain a secure bond.
Hold Me Tight is a great resource for couples who are interested in learning more about this process. It is highly readable and includes lots of examples to illustrate the steps as well as exercises for you to practice at the end of each chapter.