As an art therapist, I specialize in women* who believe they have too many emotions.
I phrase it as women who “believe” because I don’t believe the same thing about them. I don’t think my clients have too many emotions.
I understand that they believe it’s too many. I know the amount of emotions FEELS that way. Overwhelming. Debilitating. Exhausting.
But I don’t think the problem is that women have too many.
In fact, the first thing I work on with these clients is helping them to claim and allow their emotions.
Typically, life experiences and culture have led women to believe they feel TOO MUCH - they’re dramatic, over-the-top, too sensitive, etc.
As a result, women become extremely self-critical and judgmental when emotions arise in themselves. They feel like they shouldn’t be so upset, and get upset that they are upset. The self-judgment leads to more emotions (frustration, resentment, self-hate, etc.), which only exacerbates the problem. It creates an emotional cycle filled with shame.
I help women to step out of this emotional shame cycle by interrupting the shame. I teach that emotions are present for a reason. They are helpful messengers that alert us.
When we look at the “need” that is fueling an emotion, it helps us to understand why that emotion is present (this is a framework taught by Marshal Rosenberg in his book “Nonviolent Communication”).
For example, an individual may feel angry after a conversation with her partner because her needs for understanding were not met.
Conversely, an individual may feel great peace when out in nature because her needs for connection and harmony are met.
By identifying the needs tied to the emotions, we can see that emotions are valuable and that we are valid in feeling them.
Typically, accepting and understanding why an emotion is present helps it to dissipate. It puts us back in our power. We understand what is happening and can choose how to respond.
For example, if we are angry after reading a news article on a particular subject, we can identify what needs are beneath the anger (perhaps safety, justice, equality, etc.). Once we know why we feel that way, we can choose how we would like to respond.
In some cases, we may take action, such as choosing to better educate ourselves on the topic or talking with someone about our concerns.
However, there may be times where there is nothing we can do. In those instances, we can allow space for our emotions. We can use expressive arts (writing, poetry, drawing, etc) to vent about how we feel.
We can then help the emotion to move through our body with movement (dancing, going on a hike, doing some push ups, etc.).
Typically, moving through the steps of honoring an emotion (naming the emotion, identifying needs, choosing action, expressing, and moving), helps it to dissipate.
However, sometimes, the emotion remains because our thoughts feed it. We ruminate on how unfair something was and become angry all over again.
In these instances, and only after all of the aforementioned steps are complete, do I recommend that someone practice thought stopping, where they catch themselves thinking unhelpful thoughts and deliberately switch to another topic. With practice, they become better and better at it.
As with all things, these processes take time and practice. As women practice honoring their emotions, they begin to see that their emotions are helpful messengers. They learn that previously “difficult” emotions (such as anger or sadness) can alert them to important unmet needs.
With time, they no longer feel they have “too many” emotions, but instead, the right amount to help them live their lives powerfully and remain connected to their intuition.
*I work primarily with individuals who identify as women or were raised/socialized as girls. This includes trans women, trans men, and non-binary folx. I specialize in this population because much of the therapeutic work I do focuses on dismantling the harmful impacts of patriarchy and the socialization of girls/women. I also work with men when they feel I would be a good fit for their needs.
Interested in learning how to work with your emotions?
I provide art therapy for just that.