I’m an art therapist. I’m all about honoring and understanding our feelings. I encourage every client to let themselves feel and fully express their emotions.
In an art therapy session, we may do this through making an abstract watercolor painting that captures how sad they feel. If the individual is feeling angry, I might have them rip up pieces of paper or make a giant sculpture out of tissue paper to capture how big the emotion is.
By honoring the emotion, we are letting it move through our body. Part of honoring emotions is understanding why they are present.
I do this through using Marshall Rosbenberg’s method of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). NVC states that feelings arise due to underlying needs that are met or unmet.
For example, an individual may feel joyful when they talk to a loved one because it meets their need for connection.
Frequently, a feeling has many needs behind it. For example, I had a client who was angry with her close friend for not fully listening to a vulnerable story she shared. We identified that she was angry because her needs for listening, presence, connection, and understanding were not met.
By understanding the needs behind the feeling, we can understand why we feel the way we do. This form of self-validation often leads to the emotion dissipating. It’s as if the emotion says, “Okay, you got the message I was imparting, I’ll step back now.”
Sometimes though, the emotion doesn’t dissipate. As we remember the hurtful conversation, we can get angry all over again. We can find ourselves slipping into a dark hole. As our minds ruminate, we lose the joy of the present.
In these moments, I like to physically shake my body a little. It moves the energy of the emotion through my body.
I then do a thought correction, such as, “Alright, Jackie, we know why you’re feeling this way and we’ve already taken all of the action we can.”
I then shift my brain to a different topic or task.
For example, yesterday morning I received a text that made me sad. There was nothing I could do about the information in the text. I took the time to understand why the text made me sad and what unmet needs were behind the sadness.
Over the course of the morning, my mind continued to drift back to the text. I had already honored and listened to the emotions, so I knew it was time to shift my thinking toward something else. I chose to read an uplifting book. This helped me to stop ruminating.
When I work with new clients, they often struggle with knowing when to honor emotions and when to stop themselves from going down a dark hole of stewing.
For these clients, I encourage them to first honor the emotion through some form of expression (writing, movement, art, etc.). I then suggest that they identify the needs behind the emotion.
These steps are often enough for a person to stop ruminating. If a client has done this and they are still ruminating, then I suggest they actively take steps to shift their thoughts and distract themselves. With practice (and thanks to the neuroplasticity of our minds), we become better and better at shifting our thoughts.
With time, it also becomes more natural to stay present with emotions and see the needs behind them. We learn that we can both honor them and stop ourselves from slipping into a dark hole.
I provide therapy for individuals with overwhelming thoughts and emotions.