Making Friends with Feelings:
By Ines Guariguata,LCSW, LCAT, ATR-BC, SEP, Experience Wellness Group Therapist
Feelings seem like a therapist’s favorite subject. Yet, even for a therapist, feelings are not so ‘comfortable’ to be with. I sit with feelings, my clients’ and my own, daily. Painful feelings can appear to take up a whole room, becoming daunting and unwieldy! They appear so big they can loom over us, outside the confines of our bodies. Feelings can weigh us down. In so many ways, they are not comfortable. These large, loud and unpleasant internal tenants are often the reason people show up in therapy.
Painful feelings are rarely welcomed, often treated like wild creatures. Taming them means keeping them on the sidelines in well-labeled containers, making sure they didn’t ‘get of hand.’ Pleasant feelings, likewise, get favored and become ‘goals.’ The goal is to feel happy, content, inspired, courageous, etc. Pleasant feelings = good. Painful feelings = bad. This sets up a very unhelpful dynamic, creating a never-ending campaign against painful feelings.
Pema Chödrön’s words describe my new intentions for myself and for clients, “Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself. Loving-kindness for yourself does not mean making sure you’re feeling good all the time.” Feeling good all the time isn’t possible. In fact, it isn’t even a helpful goal!
Feelings have stories to tell us. The task at hand, I believe, is learning to listen to all our feelings without getting swept away, overwhelmed, or paralyzed. We can build our capacity to connect to our wide range of feelings so pleasant feelings get a chance to relate to painful ones (and vice versa). We get to have anxiety and joy, sadness and gratitude, anger and kindness. With mindfulness we can stay compassionately present to ourselves, inviting feelings in as guests. Learning to treat feelings like friends offers clients a more harmonious and kind way to see themselves. It certainly makes my work as a therapist much more hopeful (and even fun)!
Ines Guariguata, LCSW, LCAT, ATR-BC, SEP is a primary and group therapist at Experience Wellness Group.