Learning to Feel

When a couple first enters my office, they are usually bleeding badly. Like an emergency room doctor in a life or death situation. I must act fast. I move to triage the pain as to stop them from further hurting the relationship before someone has to call it dead. Sometimes, sadly, it is too late. There is no heartbeat. They should have sought help before going too far down the road of unrepair. So, I scramble, pulling out bandages, splints, pain management or whatever it takes to resuscitate any hope that we can stop the damage, begin the healing and find some remaining underlying connection.

Once we accomplish this first and necessary task of stabilization, we then can take a longer more in-depth look at how the injurious action originated and what can be done differently to be more accountable and relational.

And then, if the couple sticks around and are interested, we get to the fun part. Building long-term, more in-depth intimate connection. I am always amazed, even when by now when I shouldn’t be, at how few people speak fluently the language of emotional intimacy. This really should be a language class taught in grammar school alongside French and Spanish. For, without knowing how to speak emotional language, we are screwed. The words of feelings are the words of relationship, connection and life satisfaction.

Via micro-coaching, I often ask a patient if he or she even knows how to know what they are feeling in any given moment. Almost always, with a little understandable embarrassment at the elementary question, the honest answer is “no.” I tell them that they need to put a breath in their body, pause and do a scan between their neck and their abdomen. This bodily rectangle is where we hold feeling energy, not in our heads. I then tell them that they have seven choices – love, pain, fear, anger, joy, shame and guilt. Like learning the ABCs, if we can get these seven down, we are golden, for all the other multitude of feeling options are variants of one of these.

If he or she is a quick study, I then take it up a notch. I tell them that not only can you have more than one feeling at the same time, but you always have a “self” feeling and an “object” feeling. The “self” feeling is what I feel in me about me. The “object” feeling is what I feel in me towards you. And these feelings can not only differ but also contradict. For example, if you receive good news, news which I wish were mine, I can feel happy towards you and sad and jealous in me. Both feelings are authentic and can exist simultaneously.

What are you doing to increase your emotional literacy? Stop the waiting. Your emotional and relational health will profit.

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