Hills Counselling: Three key things to know about emotions.

Most of the time when people come to counselling it is because something is happening to them that is affecting their overall level of emotional well-being. They may be feeling very sad, fearful, distressed, anxious, angry, even numb.

Sometimes the intensity of what people feel is also a source of distress and confusion: “I used to be able to cope with stuff, but lately I’m not coping with even the smallest things.”

So here are three important things to know about your own emotions:

1. It is completely normal to have emotions.

It is part of what makes us human. On a fundamental level our emotions are there to help us adapt to situations in our lives.

Sadness is a very normal response to loss; fear is a normal response to being threatened in some way; anger is a normal response to injustice – or perceived unfairness.

For example, when we experience the loss of a loved-one it is very normal and healthy to experience intense grief and sadness, and in fact – if we allow ourselves to grieve our loss, it will help us to heal and to adjust and adapt to the new normal.

 2. Why emotions can become problematic.

In actual fact, it’s not ‘having’ an emotion that it is the problem. It’s often when we block the fundamental, adaptive emotion that we can get into problems.

Using the above example, I have sat with many people in the Hills, counselling, who have experienced significant losses in their life, but for a variety of reasons they were not able to grieve the loss. Maybe they have been told, ‘real men don’t cry’; or maybe there was an expectation that they should just ‘get on with it’; or maybe the people in their world at the time were so caught up with their own grief that they could not be there to offer support.

When this kind of thing happens, people will often end up suppressing – or burying the feeling and just try to pretend it isn’t there.

And if this adaptive – or what is called ‘primary’ emotional response is suppressed, a secondary emotion comes out instead. I can’t tell you how many men I have worked with who present with secondary anger issues and underneath is a whole pile of primary sadness or hurt (generally speaking men are socialised to believe it’s ok to be tough and angry but not ok to be sad).

Conversely, many women suppress primary anger because women (generally speaking) are socialized to believe that it’s ‘unfeminine’ to be angry. But it’s socially ok for women to be sad and to cry – so this can often be a secondary emotion.*

(Of course I am generalizing to illustrate, but this hopefully explains why we can sometimes feel confused by our own emotional responses to things.)

 3. Over-reacting is often a sign that you have unfinished emotional business.

Have you ever known someone who kicks over the dog’s water bowl (which is about a 2 out of 10 in annoyance level), and then reacts at about an 8 or 9 out of 10?

This can be a result of modelling (ie: they had a parent growing up who over-reacted to things and now they have taken on the same behaviour).But more often than not, the person doing the over-reacting has a lot of buried emotions that have back-piled through-out the years.

The term that appears to be used for this back-piling these days is ‘baggage’. Burying and suppressing things may help us cope in the short term, and it may actually be the only available option in some cases.

However, it doesn’t end up being a good long-term solution because we simply end up walking around carrying a heavy load of baggage that can make us edgy and tense more than we need to be.

Conclusion.

Emotions are normal and healthy. They help us adapt to our environment when expressed safely and with the right support.

But as you can see, if buried, suppressed or avoided, they can end up feeling overwhelming or confusing – and come out in ways that may cause distress or harm to ourselves or to others.

If this is the case, and especially if you live in the Hills, counselling with a qualified professional can help you make sense of what you are experiencing with the aim of helping you move toward a greater level of overall emotional wellbeing.

*the concept of Primary and Secondary emotions is taken from a theoretical counselling model called Emotionally Focused Therapy, originally developed by Dr Leslie Greenberg (www.emotionfocusedclinic.org) and Dr Susan Johnson (www.drsuejohnson.com). This model is taught and developed in Australia by Dr Michelle Webster, Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Institute For Emotionally Focused Therapy in Annadale, Sydney (www.eftherapy.com)