So today I want to talk about language and how it relates to our emotional understanding. Once upon a time, I was in a supervision session (therapy for my therapy) and I said ‘I feel like I am doing okay with this client because xyz’/.
‘No Helen, you don’t feel that, you think it. When we feel something, it is generally a short sentence, with an emotional word, when we think something it’s a longer sentence’.
Naturally ever since then I can’t stop noticing when people say ‘feel’ instead of ‘think’. Somehow when it’s a feeling, something seems more acceptable and easier to dismiss or ignore, which is precisely why we need to use think instead of feel.
The other reason for saying ‘feel’ instead of ‘think’, is that it is somehow less confrontational, that it isn’t as concrete, that it doesn’t hold another person quite so responsible. If someone behaves in a way that you disagree with, i.e. cheating on their partner, and you say ‘I feel like it’s not really something I would ever do’, rather than ‘I think it’s something I would never do’, it’s less judgemental, or critical of the other person because you have made it a feeling rather than a thought.
Does that make sense?
Another thing I notice time and time again is when people talk about their emotional experience; they often say ‘you’ instead of ‘I’. You only have to watch interviews of people who’ve experienced tough things in their lives to see what I mean.
We do this to disconnect from the emotional impact of the event.
‘How did it feel when you realised you had been attacked?’
‘Oh, well, you just feel in shock kind of’
It’s clever really isn’t it? Our brains protect us from the emotions by projecting them outside onto others, without us even noticing. This can also be problematic relationally, because you’re telling someone else how they feel, which you can’t possibly know, and that’s not very fair! (I’ll blog on that someday very soon!)
The problem is, that in therapy, usually we need to experience that emotion, understand it, and process it. We can’t do that if we talk in the third person.
In the response I’ve created above, the client even goes so far as to minimise their experience by saying ‘kind of’.
The way we use language really determines how we process emotion. When we suggest ‘it was a long time ago’, or ‘worse things have happened to others’, we are still minimising or avoiding our emotion.
But here’s the kicker.
You can’t avoid it forever.
If we stay in a place where we don’t confront the horrible pain life events have bestowed on us, we end up releasing it elsewhere. It turns into depression, it turns into anxiety, it turns into anger or resentment or fear or anything other than the original emotion because we have shrouded it in emotional armour, and when that happens, we have more therapy to do and more pain to understand, because the original emotion is so well buried we have to dig much further to find it.
So here’s my challenge to you. Notice when you are talking about yourself and you use the third person. Notice when you say ‘I feel’, when really it should be ‘I think’.
Be kind to yourselves, have a great week and weekend,