In my own experience, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time avoiding a normal and healthy human experience – having emotions. As a therapist, I encourage my clients to connect to their emotions. I am a firm believer that you cannot give away what you do not have. With that being said, I am on my own journey to connect with myself and others more deeply. Learning to manage emotions, vulnerability, and honesty are essential skills learned at home. Growing up, I was not taught these skills. I have spent my adult years learning how to experience and process emotions with healthy expression. There are many different ways one can learn to manage emotions and identify feelings.
Family therapy is an excellent approach. It is common for families to fall into dysfunctional communication patterns with each other. Typically, people fall into these traps to avoid feeling. This can feel more comfortable in the moment; however, it is not beneficial to the person or the family in the long run. Facing emotions and connecting with others can feel scary and uncomfortable. It does not always look pretty and can be messy. Having a therapist guide the process can make it more tolerable and give family members greater insight into what is not working and to what is working in the family system.
Below are examples of dysfunctional communication techniques that families fall into instead of being honest with one another. All of these communication techniques are ways to avoid emotions and confrontation. When I learned to identify these patterns, I discovered I was also missing out on connection, love, and intimacy with my family members and other loved ones. This awareness has helped improve my relationship with myself and others. As you read through these examples, I encourage you to ask yourself if you identify with any of these patterns. If so, then ask yourself, “what am I missing out on in my relationships?”. When a therapist asked me these questions, it struck a chord within me, and I realized some things needed to change. I hope this can be a good start for whoever needs to read this, as it was to me.
The Blame Game
Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience.
Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”
Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”
Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.
Partner (1): “I do not like the way you made our bed. It needs to be done this way.”
Partner (2): “I was trying to help; I knew you would be busy this morning”.
Partner (1): “Thanks, but it’s not done the way I like it.”
Changing the Game
Deflecting from the issue or question.
Caregiver: “I told you that your room needs to be cleaned before you can go to the movies with your friends”
Child: “Jane hasn’t cleaned her room and she is out with her friends”
Playing the nice guy
Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.
An example of this would be a mom that confided her young adult child about her fight with his dad. The child listens and comforts his mom even though he feels uncomfortable and now feels pressured to take sides.
Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.
Brother: “Mary is always fighting with mom and getting her way because mom is scared of her”.
Sister: “Yeah, it’s annoying and mom just lets it slide”.
that is human is mentionable and anything mentionable can be more manageable.
When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting,
and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know
we are not alone.” – Fred Rogers
I love this quote from Mr. Rogers; it is the epitome of what I believe as a therapist and strive to achieve with my clients. We are all human and we have immense capacity for handling emotions, but sometimes those emotions feel completely and utterly overwhelming. Having a person that we can trust can make those emotions feel more manageable and we might, just maybe, even be able to talk about them more openly.
We all want to feel like we matter and that
someone cares about us; that is a universal human desire. No one wants to feel
like they are all alone in this life, but often that is a feeling that we
experience. How do we combat those feelings of being alone, isolated, not
heard, or not cared for? Connection. Connection to someone or something that
allows us to feel seen, heard, and understood. Connection requires vulnerability
and vulnerability can be scary. Let’s be honest, we have all probably experienced
a situation that we chose to bury, ignore, or deny an emotion rather than risk
being hurt by being vulnerable and sharing.
Many of us grew up with Mr. Rogers as our introduction into learning about feelings. He didn’t shy away from talking about the hard topics either: death, divorce, pain, rage, and anger all featured on his show aimed at children. His forthright presentation of issues that we, as human beings, all struggle with was not typical for the time where children were, largely, encouraged to be seen and not heard. How refreshing to help children, and the adults that we became, to learn to recognize, identify, and name the emotions that we were feeling and that it was ok to be scared, it’s human. And if it’s human, then it’s mentionable and manageable with a little help from our friends in the neighborhood. In the words of Mr. Rogers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Saraf, P., Turtletaub, M., Holzer, L. (Producers), & Heller, M. (Director).
(2019) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood [Motion Picture]. United
States: Tristar Pictures.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize emotion and to use it to improve your life and your relationships. It is truly one of the most important skills you can develop as a human being, and yet it’s not something we seem to talk about very often. Here are some ways to work to achieve Emotional Intelligence in your marriage.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
All people have emotions. Some may be more expressive or communicative about them, but everyone has feelings. It sounds simple, but it’s important to recognize that both you and your spouse have inner experiences that influence you both.
Sort and Label Emotions
To be able to utilize and express your emotions, you first need to be able to identify them. The six basic emotions are happy, mad, sad, scared, surprised, and disgust. The ability to articulate in your mind, “this is what I’m feeling,” will help you communicate better with your partner. Being able to name those emotions makes the intensity go down so you’re better able to keep calm even in a tense situation.
Manage Emotions In Health Ways
Couples often have problems in that they don’t know how to cope with their own feelings, so they have emotional outbursts with their partner. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath before you choose to engage or say something. Just take a pause and give yourself some time.
Express Emotions in Ways That Bring Connection
When you understand your emotions, you can ask for what you need in a way that brings you closer. If you’re sad, you can ask for comfort or encouragement. Also, look for signs that the other person has some emotions that need to be acknowledged. You might say something like, “gosh, you’ve seemed upset this week. Anything you want to talk about?” Acknowledging, labeling, and managing our feelings allows us to connect more with our partner and make sure both people’s needs are met.
Click here for a free printable Feelings Word List to help you better understand your emotional experiences.
An important first step in developing emotional health is becoming more aware of your internal emotional cues. Once you learned to recognize that you’re feeling something, the next step is to give a label to the emotion you’re experiencing. Interestingly, the very act of naming your feelings helps reduce the intensity of the feeling, making it more manageable.
Use this feelings word list to help you label your feelings and increase your feeling vocabulary.
Recently, I was interviewed by “Good Things Utah” as to what is the secret to a happier, healthier marriage. And really, who doesn’t want this kind of marriage? One in which both partners feel connected, valued, and loved. From my 20+ years of experience as a clinical counselor, I’ve found that fostering the skill of empathy can really make all the difference for couples.
What is empathy exactly? Feeling bad for someone who’s struggling? Relating to someone else because you’ve gone through something similar? I like the research of Theresa Wiseman, who helps us understand empathy by breaking it down into these 4 parts:
The Pixar movie Inside Out goes into the head of a little girl, Riley, who experiences her world through the lens of her emotions, each represented by a unique character, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy and Sadness. Joy is the leader of this group of individual emotions/characters, and works throughout the movie to protect Riley from sad emotions. Finally at the end of the movie, Joy learns that sadness is was pulls people in, and allows Riley to make the connection with her parents that comforts her and helps her begin to manage all the other emotions that are swirling around in her growing brain. That connection with her parents can also be called secure attachment.
Sadness is a primary emotion, and primary emotions are our vulnerable emotions. Sometimes we don’t feel safe being vulnerable, so we mask our primary emotions with secondary emotions. Secondary emotions are the reactions to our primary emotions that are designed to protect our vulnerabilities, so we sometimes use them to put up walls or push others away. This serves an important purpose in situations where we don’t feel safe, but can cause problems when something happens that causes us to feel unsafe with a romantic partner, a family member, or close friend.
If someone we care about does something that hurts us, we might feel sadness, or rejection, or fear, when we are hurting we work to protect ourselves and mask our sadness, rejection, or fear with anger, disgust, or frustration. We lash out to prevent the other person from hurting us more. This behavior starts us on a cycle of pain and protection.
If we can figure out a way to break the cycle, we can rebuild trust and emotional bonds, and regain that sense of comfort and attachment to important people in our life. Just like in the movie, the key to breaking the cycle is to become vulnerable, to express our feelings of sadness or fear. This can begin to change our interactions, and as our loved ones are able to respond to our primary emotions, we are able to be comforted.
The next time your partner expresses anger or frustration or disgust, try to imagine what primary emotion they are experiencing that is being masked, then respond with empathy to that primary emotion. You may be surprised what creating a safe space for them to be vulnerable does for your relationship!
Always remain emotionally distant. When you have a problem keep it to yourself. Never allow yourself to be open and vulnerable to the other person.
Reach out to old flames on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other social media sights, so you can see what they are doing on a daily basis.
Start talking to these old flames regularly. Find out about their current likes and dislikes. Examine if they are happy in their relationship.
When you are sad, angry, hurt, confused, and/or any other negative emotion toward your spouse turn to this new/old friend for support. Your spouse does not need to know. This information will only burden them and create even more emotional distance. Lean on and confide only on this new friend. Emotional closeness with someone of the opposite sex holds no danger for you. In the long run you are looking after your spouse and hopefully protecting them from hurt feelings.
If you find yourself falling into any of these categories and feel that the relationship with your spouse is not going well, call Wasatch Family Therapy today. We are ready to help you through this difficult time and teach you effective ways to strengthen your relationship, and keep proper distance and boundaries in areas that may lead to cheating in the future.
Mindfulness is becoming somewhat of a movement; mental health professionals and wellness advocates are singing its praises as a way to become more in touch with ourselves in the present moment. And it’s not just talk, either. There’s a lot of research to back up the idea that mindfulness can lead to greater happiness.
So what is mindfulness exactly? Some may think of practicing yoga or chanting mantras of peace and calmness. And while mindfulness may include meditation or have a spiritual component, at its core it simply refers to paying attention to ourselves on purpose. What clues is your body telling you? What emotions are you experiencing? What does your breathing sound like? We are such a distracted generation, and sometimes we need to slow down and tune in. The RAIN strategy is a simple technique to help you practice mindfulness:
I frequently ask my clients this question, “What is the difference between guilt and shame.” Most clients reply that they aren’t really sure. The reason I ask this question so frequently, is because a lot of people I work with get swallowed up in these emotions from time to time. These are pretty common and even normal emotions to have in certain circumstances, yet most people have a hard time articulating what the difference is, or identifying them in themselves. I thought it would be useful to get to know each of these a little better.
GUILT- “I did bad, so I feel bad.”
One might ask why in the world were we created with this emotion. It is awful to feel! It certainly does not make the top ten lists of people’s favorite emotions to feel. Guilt can actually be a very useful emotion. Somewhere, deep down inside guilt, is a little seed of empathy, or concern for others and how they feel. Guilt helps us distinguish the difference between right and wrong, and works as little bumper lanes on a bowling ally do. Guilt keeps us pointed in the right direction. Now, People feel guilt for different things. What you feel guilt about depends on what you deem right or wrong. This is where I see people get in trouble with guilt. Many times, people who feel overwhelmed by guilt have attached it to things that have no moral implications of wrong, or are completely out of their control. You can see how guilt in these situations, is unnecessary, and frankly really ineffective. Remember, guilt is supposed to motivate me for positive change. So, feeling guilty that my child got an F in math is completely useless. First of all, getting an F in math isn’t morally wrong, and most importantly, I am not in control of my child’s behavior.
SHAME- “I did bad, so I am bad.”
Unlike guilt, shame is not motivating at all. In fact, for most people, shame is paralyzing. The big difference with shame is that you see yourself as the problem, not your behavior. One that is engulfed in shame, typically feels hopeless because you cannot escape yourself, and if you see your inherent nature or character as the problem, that feels pretty powerless. In the basement of shame is the belief that because I’m bad, people won’t love, accept, or value me. Typically, those swallowed up in shame have a hard time forgiving themselves, seeing their good intentions, or focusing on efforts rather than results.
Hopefully, you can now understand the difference between shame and guilt. If you find yourself feeling shame, you may be struggling with depression or anxiety. If you find yourself feeling guilt for many things that don’t have any moral implications, you may also be struggling with depression or anxiety. The good news is, there are proven ways to dispel shame and guilt, and to see the value in yourself again. If you are interested in learning how, schedule an appointment today.