by Ryan Berkompas, a Doxa counselor.
This post is a continuation of a previous post about How We Get Stuck In Emotions. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, please take some time to brush up on that blog before reading this second part. Below, I’ll be explaining two more ways that our emotions can stop being helpful guides but instead become unhealthy, unhelpful, and stuck.
We ignore important aspects of our emotions
Sometimes we get stuck in emotions when we lack awareness of an important piece. Emotions are complex and hard to “nail down” because they are made up of many components. There are four major aspects of an emotion that we may ignore, causing us to get caught in a cycle of unresolved emotion. These include what in our environment (past or present) the emotion is responding to, the meaning attached to our emotion (narratives, metaphor, beliefs, concepts), our physical sensations related to our emotional reaction, and the needs, wants, and action tendencies of the emotion.
By not paying attention to the important aspects of emotions, we fail to get a full picture of what we are feeling, what may be causing us to feel that way, and what to do about the emotion. Counseling can help resolve issues involving missing parts of emotional experiences by helping you accept and explore your emotions in a nonjudgmental environment. A skilled counselor can help you identify what about your past or present experience brings up certain emotions through listening and helping you identify what your emotions respond to.
Also, by teaching you how to focus on your physical sensations, a counselor can aid you in becoming more aware of the shifts in your bodily experience that communicate a change in emotions. Focusing on the meaning “attached” to an emotion helps us to recognize the automatic narratives that arise when certain emotions like anxiety or hopelessness are triggered. This process can also help you develop skills in communicating your feelings through learning how to identify metaphors and other meanings associated with your emotional state.
Finally, counseling can help you learn what actions your emotions move you to take and allow you to reflect on whether you want to act on the emotion’s urge or seek to transform it. This kind of work in counseling helps by successfully elaborating on all of the components of emotion so that you come away better equipped to manage the feeling and make conscious choices about how to act to meet your needs at the moment.
We get stuck in emotions left over from previous bad experiences
Many people are familiar with this way of getting stuck in our emotions and frequently associate it with how counseling can be helpful. Previous experiences of trauma, abandonment, neglect, humiliation, or other painful events can result in overlearned, reactive emotional responses. For example, someone may feel habitually insecure, fearful, or sad over past abandonment. While these feelings are the first, genuine reaction that we have to a situation, they have ceased to be helpful guides because they are stuck in our past. At one point they may have been helpful guides, but they have ceased to be healthy in the present. Stuck emotions that are a result of past traumatic or hurtful experiences are frequently called “emotional wounds” in counseling. These emotions can be very powerful and feel like they have a mind of their own when present.
Counseling can help you break the cycle of sinking into these familiar, bad feelings by first learning to discern them from more helpful, guiding emotions. This isn’t an easy task since it asks you to acknowledge and feel unpleasant feelings to speak truthfully about the ways that you have been wounded. One saying goes that you cannot leave an emotion before you have arrived at it. Later, after you have grown your awareness of the past experiences that give rise to these stuck emotions, you can work with a counselor to transform them through learning new ways to relate to yourself as well as having new, healing experiences.
Learning how to manage emotions and become unstuck is a complex and worthwhile journey, and it can be helpful to have a guide who is familiar with the terrain. If you’d like to learn more about your emotions and how they impact your life, call Ryan Berkompas or contact him using the form below for an appointment.
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