Emotions 101

I’ve been continuing to work with my new therapist on emotional “stuff”. I’m frequently dumbstruck in our sessions when she asks how I’m feeling and I can’t find the words, or when she asks me what a particular feeling is like and what it means to me and I don’t know.

This week we talked about empathy.

In the course of our discussion I learned that empathy isn’t when you tell someone about events in your life (like your mother having cancer) and they ignore you so they can talk about something else. And I learned that empathy isn’t when a friend launches into hysterics about how your stuff makes them feel. I’m still not sure what empathy actually is, though.

Honestly, I know I’m not dumb, but I certainly feel it during these sessions. 😦

In better news I went to a concert this week. Amazing singers. Perfect pitch, beautiful harmonies, and magical music. Here’s one of the pieces they sang (although some of the group members have changed since this was recorded). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

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11 thoughts on “Emotions 101

  1. This post reminded me of something my therapist taught me early on in our sessions, regarding feelings and how to identify them. She suggested that I pay attention to what was going on in my body, rather than trying to label feelings from an emotional perspective, which was often confusing and felt threatening or wrong. This allowed me a little bit of distance/safety in thinking about feelings, and was also kind of surprising once I started paying attention. I noticed, for example, that I was actually angry far more than I was fearful, and that was a helpful thing to learn, based on how my body responded to events.

  2. Hi David, that’s a really useful suggestion. My therapist (#2) has been getting me to pay attention to the physical side of feelings, but I’ve got myself all muddled with the emotional perspective. Well, I’m just as muddled with the physical side. I feel like such a doofus with this stuff! :S

  3. Hi Kerro,

    Empathy is tough for some people, but the examples you gave are pretty clear examples of what empathy isn’t! Some people just can’t do it because of their own issues, or personality… but others can.

    I find it easier to understand the definition of terms before I can bring them into any sort of awareness. Saying that, I still get it wrong…

    You’re not a doofus… you’ll find a way that works for you. Paying attention to what doesn’t feel good is a great start!

    Take care,
    CG

  4. You’re not a doofus at all –this stuff is hard! What helped for me was using a few basic words that described how my body would feel … these words are different for everyone depending on your specific physical reactions to adrenaline, dopamine, etc., but examples would be “dizzy,” “flushed,” “hot,” “icy,” etc. Rather than trying to decide whether I was afraid or angry or what the hell was going on, I’d identify the physical feeling on a 1-10 scale, as in “Right now I’m at a 4 on the dizzy scale.” Once I got used to doing that (it didn’t take as long as you might think) I started to look at the events that had led up to the physical feeling. It’s sort of a “through the back door” way of looking at emotional cause and effect, and depending on how you’re wired, it may seem more practical … because if your emotions didn’t manifest in your body in a way that troubled you, they wouldn’t really bother you much, right? So paying attention to the manifestation as a way of tracking them down can feel like a more direct.

  5. Hi Kerro,

    I can really relate to this post. I’m glad that you have a therapist to help and guide you through this process. I remember when I started doing emotions 101 and then while working on being multiple how many inners did the same work. They would start out wanting and wishing to be more connected to our body and emotions as a part of walking the path of healing, to being sad and crying so much, to their admissions that emotions suck, to identifying and accepting and valuing emotions as an acceptable part of life. I’ve seen this process play out with so many survivors. And I can say to you that you will come out the other end of this and you will be more healed in wonderful ways because of the process.

    For me empathy is one of those hard ones, like love. I still doubt myself and then I always remind myself I might not know for sure what they are, I might doubt that I really have a wide range of emotions, especially love and empathy, but then I remind myself that when I have trouble believing in myself, good emotions should and often are expressed in action. So I would suggest to you that empathy is what your blog friends do when they give you good comments and interactions. And empathy is what you are feeling when you likewise reach out to others. I know that I often feel your empathy.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

  6. emotions can be really hard, my T has been going over this with me at the moment, it’s hard because emotions that I felt as a child were seen as wrong and my abusers tried on stop any way I had to see what was happening was wrong. I’m really struggling with really feeling what I feel but it feels better now I can identify what’s going on in my head. I hope you get more comfortable with your emotions with your T helping you. Take care, I’ll be thinking of you, Alice x

  7. @ Castorgirl – thanks. It’s odd. Until last week I thought I did know what empathy was. Talk about pulling the rug out from under me! I think I also find it easier to understand definitions first, although I really want to get to a place where I can identify the feeling by, well, feeling it. Seems a long way off right now, though. Hope you are taking care out there. 😉

    @ David – Thanks for the tip, this stuff is really hard! I look at friends’ kids who can name their feelings at only five or six years old. And here I am at 41 unable to do that – it’s just crazy making! The PNT has been getting me to identify the physical sensations as well, but sometimes I can’t even do that. I’m so bl00dy disconnected, some days I think you could cut off a limb and I wouldn’t notice!

    @ Kate – Thanks so much for your comments, and for sharing your experiences. I’m really glad you’ve been able to “heal” in this as well, and it gives me hope that I could follow. I hope you’re right and I will make it, and it will all be worth it. :S

    @ Alice – Thanks to you also for commenting, and for reading. It is really hard when some of the emotions we have are caught up with all sorts of weird messaging. It’s no wonder we switched off! My therapist is trying to get me to sit with the emotion – that’s really hard too. Thanks for your kind thoughts and wishes.

  8. You deserve better than that Missy and I bet you know that!
    Shaking my damn head at needy people that take take take, even when the other person is down to the dregs…

    My definition of empathy, I try to imagine how I would feel in that situation and then I let that person know they have every right to feel what they are feeling and they can’t scare me away and I won’t judge them. I offer comfort and apologize for the piss pooredness of it in light of the events but it is heartfelt and I want to help.
    Deep Sigh, is that so difficult?

    You are doing a smashing job of navigating through this by the way!

  9. @ Phoenix – you really make me LOL GF, thank you! 🙂 You’ve got empathy down pat, I can see that. No take take take for you, I see 😉

  10. Ker,
    I just want to clarify that my exasperation was not aimed at your trying to define/understand empathy. I was making a poor attempt at lambasting your oh so supportive friends out there. Please know that you are cared for dearly by us in the cybersphere.
    Sorry if I offended you, totally not my intent 🙂

  11. Hi Phoenix, no, no offence taken at all. I was actually impressed that you could define empathy coz I sure couldn’t!! 😉 I really should do a blog post on one of the oh so supportive friends. She’s excised me from her life for not being able to go to her “party”!!!! Epic fail on the empathy front for her.

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