Handling Overwhelming Feelings During Therapy (And Other Times!)

Sometimes your feelings might seem to have a life of their own, especially when you are doing the hard work of therapy.  These guidelines might help you to deal with difficult emotions when they arise.

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  • Appreciate That Feelings are Normal

It may feel like you’re going crazy sometimes, or you may feel so numb that you don’t seem to experience much of anything.  Or, you may swing from one extreme to the other.  This is all totally normal and a part of the process of healing.  Telling yourself how you “should feel” is just about has helpful as telling yourself whether you “should” be thirsty or not.  Emotions are not choices or moral concepts: they just happen.

  •  Try to Get Clear about Your Feelings

Sometimes you might think you are feeling one thing when you are really feeling another, like becoming angry instead of acknowledging fear or sadness.   Or your emotions might be coming out toward inappropriate targets - often those who feel like a safer bet.  This is why trouble at work can often be taken out on a spouse or family member, for example.  Examine your feelings honestly and ask yourself hard questions about them.

  • Understand that Feelings are Different from Behaviors

Many time people are afraid to acknowledge that they feel angry, for example, because they do not want to yell at people and carry on.  This is where the distinction between feelings and behaviors becomes extremely important.  Certainly you would not want to have any important discussion while you are feeling angry; people just aren’t in the right frame of mind to communicate clearly and lovingly when they are feeling that way.  But feeling angry isn’t the same as acting angry.  When you feel angry, you can acknowledge that emotion internally and see what you can learn from it. 

  • Let it Out - Appropriately

You might have heard that it doesn’t do any good to bottle up emotions, and that is true.  At the same time, it doesn’t do any good to let your emotions spill out willy-nilly all over anyone who happens to be nearby.  It can be helpful to start processing your emotions in ways that you know won’t be damaging to your relationship – writing in a journal, talking to a friend or therapist, or just taking long walks and thinking about what is going on with you.  When you spend this type of time with your feelings, often you can come up with constructive ways to use the information that they are giving you.  To keep with our example of being angry, after you have cooled down you can use the information that the anger gave you to have a constructive conversation with about what it is that is bothering you.