It amazes me that we know so little about emotions. We tend to shy away from negative feelings, dislike it so much that we battle against it or try to ignore them. Most people I know are ill at ease with emotions of sadness and do not know how to handle it when they see it being displayed. We feel awkward around someone who is sad, or sometimes become hard-hit with heaviness at the pain expressed.
I was confronted with this reality during a discussion that took place when we were in midst of developing training materials on the topic of depression. Concerns were brought up about getting participants to relive sad memories. They were well-intended concerns set to safeguard participants, in order not to let them go away feeling unregulated in their emotions.
Could such concerns be misinformed?
In trying to justify why we should not shun away from recapturing sad memories and naming it, I have borrowed heavily the ideas from an eminent psychologist, Dr Leslie Greenberg, who has played a major role in developing Emotion-Focused Therapy.
I really do not believe that expressing sad emotions will destroy a person. Naming is the first step in regulation because speaking about it does not mean that we act on it. Saying “I feel sad” or “I feel worthless” does not mean that “I have depression” or “I am worthless”. By reprocessing the emotions, it gives information, separates the feeling from the person and strengthens the belief they can do something, or see a new perspective. It may even help one to establish a sense of control.
To be fair, just expressing sadness on its own may do no good unless there is a trained facilitator. I can also understand that there is a fear of opening up fresh wounds in more vulnerable individuals who may have experienced trauma.
I also recognise that although I can cognitively understand the importance of facing my feelings, I find myself sometimes unconsciously doing things to avoid being subjected to sadness or longing-ness. When I am away abroad and missing my family, I made it a point to avoid looking at their pictures, lest I find the emotions unbearable. I guess, we all gravitate away from pain as protection for ourselves.
This is also reflected in the numerous campaigns that focus on positivity and thinking happy thoughts. Of course, such campaigns are definitely meaningful. Though I would want to add on that it is perfectly fine to think sad thoughts. Maybe that in itself is a happy thought?
We ended the discussion to further think about how we can recapture feelings of sadness and at the same time to make it safe and protected for all participants. So if you do join in some of the experiential activities that CHAT does in our training, be sure that you will have a positive experience even while experiencing the blues!
Posted by carousel at 6/9/2011 7:20:14 AM