Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pastoral Counseling Tips: How to "Sit" on a Feeling

The Rhythm Between Suppression and Expression

The constant shift between expressing and restraining emotions that goes on in normal social discourse is like the rhythm between the accelerator and brakes in driving a car across town. People need both functions in complementary interplay all the time in order to safely arrive where they are heading. 

Through modeling and coaching about how to diplomatically communicate feelings to others, you help counselees mature in personality and relationships.  You help them become more open about recognizing when they are having an emotion, and then thinking about the context of the feeling: 
  • "What is stirring up this feeling?"
  • "Am I reacting to something in the present or reactivating a memory from the past?"
  • "Do I need to alter my thinking in order to change the feeling?"
  • "Do I need to express the feeling or simply be aware that I’m experiencing it?”
There is real wisdom attached to the notion of counting to ten before expressing a strong feeling. This ability to “sit on a feeling” long enough to reflect on it, prior to conveying it to others, is called emotional suppression

"Sit" on a Feeling

You educate your counselees that while emotional repression is unproductive, emotional suppression is a perfectly healthy adult relational skill that assists them to overlook or diminish feelings that would be disruptive or even harmful if expressed. By the same token, you lead them to intentionally express any emotion that contributes to their well-being or helps another person to understand them better. There is room for expressing hurt, disagreement, or even anger, but only after enough reflection has transpired that they can do so diplomatically.

Likewise, counselees need encouragement and sometimes modeling to know how to express praise, compliments, enjoyment, and excitement without getting so carried away with these positive feelings that they become histrionic. Even feelings like love often need a little coaching so that the counselee expresses caring without becoming invasive or presumptuous with another person.

Express Feelings

One caveat about working with feelings lies in giving up the need to make a counselee happy, whether at the end of each session, or as a consequence of the course of counseling. Some individuals create such conflicted circumstances that happiness will elude them for many years, while others cling to rigid personality patterns that perpetuate misery.

Here we must surrender any vestiges we have of a “Messiah Complex.” We can’t heal all people all the time, but we can accept the reality that we do the best we can, stopping short of taking responsibility for a person’s life and choices—even God doesn’t do that!  

Most sessions can end with a 
pleasant emotional tone, in that the pastoral/therapeutic bond creates a 
fellowship that does indeed bring comfort.

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1 comment:

  1. I like the distinction you've made here between suppression and repression. It's important to understand that it's rational to selectively convey your emotions to the world. It's been said that it's foolish to convey every fleeting thought. Knowing when to share and seek help is important as well, so I'm glad you showed how to do it productively. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!


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