08 Feb Facing Fear and Shame
I was recently travelling in the car with my 7-year old daughter and she was telling me about feeling scared about something she was about to embark upon. As she continued talking and describing this feeling of fear in more detail, she clutched her stomach and said she felt sick. Then, suddenly she stopped. “Oh!” She said with surprise. “The feeling has finished! Now that I’ve said it, it doesn’t feel bad anymore”.
I thought her sweet 7-year old insights really did sum up an important process that happens in therapy. This being the act of naming, acknowledging and owning our feelings takes away their power and releases their tight hold on us. We can never rid ourselves of difficult feelings, for these are an important part of our humanity, however by speaking about them to a safe other, by naming them and acknowledging them to ourselves, we can reduce their intensity and impact on our daily lives.
Many of us grew up receiving messages (and may still be!) from caregivers, teachers and other significant adults in our lives about how to deal with difficulties. “Suck it up and deal with it”, “don’t focus on the bad feelings, you’ll only make them worse”, “just get on with it” or similar. Whilst these messages were well-meaning, they can give us the idea that only certain feelings are okay, or that it is dangerous to talk about difficult experiences, thoughts or feelings. When in reality voicing and acknowledging them and being truly heard by another person can be profoundly healing.
Of course, it is not always that simple as telling a counsellor something once and feeling better. If we have internalised many messages for many years, or we have experienced trauma or adverse life events, it can take time to build trust with a counsellor. Your story may need to be told a number of times in different ways. Difficult feelings may be difficult to tolerate, you may need support with that. Shame will likely rear its head. It is not always an easy process. But I have never had anyone tell me it was not worth it.