Why "Feelings" ARE Important

Here at the Phoenix Counseling Collective, we believe that emotions (what some call “feelings”) are important for a number of reasons. This post will explore the territory of what emotions are. 

Emotions are...

the language of the body.

the currency of experientially knowing and being known. 

what connect us to ourselves, other people and the world around us. 

what sets us apart from every other creature.

That is much beauty all wrapped up in the idea of emotions. Let's begin to explore these ideas together. 

Emotions are the language of the body. 

Your body has a ton of knowledge that you may not even be aware of, but you can access. Emotions are stored and felt in the bodies, often times unconsciously. The language your body often uses to let you know important information is emotions. Once we get to know this language of emotions, then we understand what our body is trying to tell us and then we can use that information to make better decisions. 

We can integrate the knowledge from our bodies with the knowledge in our heads and move forward as whole beings. 

If we didn't have emotions, then we would be missing out on an entire stream of information that is accessible to us.

Emotions are the currency of experientially knowing and being known by the world around us. 

Once we understand the language of emotions, it gives us the opportunity to know that language in another. Emotions give us the sense that we are seen, and connect us to be able to access the environment around us. They are a primary lens that we see and make sense of what is going on around us. Consequently, strong painful or joyous emotions make an imprint on our minds because they help shape our existential experience of an event. Our memory is intimately connected with the emotional sensations that we have along with it and the stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory. (However, sometimes the memory is so painful that our mind protects us by "forgetting" at a conscious level that something has happened.)

Emotions are what connect us to ourselves, other people and the world around us. 

Because emotions are naturally short term and vary throughout the day, when we are tuned into our emotional responses we begin to see how moment to moment experiences influence us. This provides us greater insight into our values, motivations, and worldview. Additionally, because we do not live within a vacuum our perception of events are largely impacted by our history. By having the opportunity to notice our emotional experiences we begin to recognize the why behind the way are behaving or responding to various stimulus. Often times it points to another time in our life that we have felt similar. Emotions have context within not only our current situation, but also our individual stories. For example, how we feel about sadness has to do with how we learned (or didn't learn) to name sadness. And what we do with the sadness is based on what we did with sadness when we were 6 months and 4 years old and 16 years old. All these ways of navigating, avoiding, or being overwhelmed by an emotion effects what we do with our emotions as an adult.

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, emotions are the key that unlocks connection with others. Our emotions are expressed in our tone, facial expressions, and body language. They allow us to be understood by others and allow us to understand them. They move us from being robots, into people who create an interactional process that defies math. It provides context and ability to be better known by others. Emotions connect us with others.  They allow us to connect in deep and meaningful ways and help us bond in a much deeper way than other species. When someone cries and feels sad, we may cry and feel sad with them. To experience emotions with someone is deeply connecting and helps us know that we are not alone. 

Emotions are a core component of what sets us apart from all other creatures. 

There is not another species on the planet that can experience the intensity and expressiveness of emotions like humans can. In fact, to deny our emotional depth is to deny a part of what makes us fully human. Emotions are something that happens in our bodies when we experience something meaningful. For instance, when we hear about someone losing a job or a boyfriend or girlfriend, we may will literally experience in our body our heart drop, tears well up in our eyes, or simply a heaviness in our shoulders. These are indicators that something big and meaningful has happened. We don’t experience emotion when something is small or meaningless and therefore when we feel and notice emotions (such as sadness, joy, fear, shame, pain, hurt, or anger) we should pause and be willing to notice what is happening in the moment. Emotions tell us that something meaningful is happening and if we don’t slow down, we might miss something. 

Emotions are what we are feeling. They inform us of how we are responding to our surroundings and others.  Our emotional states are not random and they can give us much insight into what's happening within our minds and bodies. 

Take a moment to tune in to yours- right now. 

What are you feeling?

Pay attention. 

If you’d like to come in and talk to us about it, or if you have trouble sorting out your emotions, please contact us.

Take Care, 

The Phoenix Counseling Collective 

Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, Molly

Photo by Marco Molitor on Unsplash

Why Do Emotional Wounds Cut So Deeply?

Almost everyone knows the feeling of an emotional wound, whether it be heartbreak, abandonment, or loss. When someone you love hurts you, often you can actually feel physical sensations that go along with that.

For example, people will say they "have a heavy heart" or "I'm heartbroken" and this correlates to actual physical sensations they feel in their chest.

This blog explores why physical sensations go with emotional wounds. 

While other people can see physical wounding (for example, if you break your leg and wear a cast, people will have empathy for you and ask how it is healing), emotional wounding is often hidden and minimized by ourselves and others.

Many people don’t carry physical scars or wounds from their emotional wounds, and that means other people can't see them right away. Sometimes, people think that it must not be that bad, since there aren’t any physical scars. Some think "I should be able to ignore this." But you literally, physically cannot do this. 

Here's why: 

Emotional pain registers in the same place in the brain as actual physical pain. This leads us to believe that we experience emotional pain the same way we experience physical pain. Let that sink in for a moment. 

Our mind does not differentiate between a physical wound or an emotional wound.

The same flooding of neurotransmitters and pain-relievers occur with both wounds. 

Read this link for more information on the science behind this. 

Emotional pain can cause "dorsal vagal shut down." Do you remember in your Psych 101 class how you learned about Fight/Flight response? There's a third response called "Freeze." It is when the dorsal vagal shuts down, and you can read more about it here. 

Emotional wounds are wounds from/within/of relationships. 

It is a natural need of survival that causes emotional wounds to hurt. In the same way our ancestors had a need to avoid disease and a broken body so as to prevent most certain death, our social support is a threat to our survival as well. From a practical standpoint, humans are more likely to survive in a tribe than on their own. We feel as if we are more likely to have a tribe (ie. friends, a spouse, support within our relationships etc) if we are "acceptable," "good," "worthwhile," or "have something to offer." If we believe that these things are NOT true of us, then we have a physical response as a survival mechanism. These thoughts can create emotional wounds.

Emotional wounds trigger our own shame and fear. 

If we are afraid that we won't be accepted, it feels as if we may not survive. Or, that we will be left alone (it equates to the same thing.)

The process of healing emotional pain is nuanced. Usually the pain has to do with our relationships and our identity. These issues are really close to our hearts, so when we are wounded there, it takes effort and intention to heal those wounds. Most often, they connect deeply with other stories of our past where others have wounded us before. That's like re-opening a physical wound over and over again, and can make them worse and more complicated to heal. Each time we are wounded again, that old emotional wound is reopened and the infection spreads. 

The stigmas and perceptions associated with emotional pain make it even more difficult to seek help. 

The cultural mentality of "suck it up" and "get over it" doesn't allow these wounds to be processed and healed, therefore causing more ache and deeper pain.

Emotional wounds can linger and grow deeper (often times are left untreated and almost stay in an infected way). It seems "easier" to ignore emotional wounds and bury them. But they are always there, and often doing more damage as the years go by. 

Don't ignore your emotional wounds. If you are heartbroken, or have some deep emotional pain that you're experiencing and you want some help, please feel free to contact us.

Take good care of yourself- physically and emotionally. 

The Phoenix Counseling Collective 

Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, & Molly

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

What Can You Learn From Your Anxiety?

I always ask my clients what their anxiety looks like.

Sometimes they look at me with a look of “aren’t you supposed to be the expert?” But I can’t be the expert on their anxiety. Only they can be that. And so, we begin the process of looking at what their anxiety looks like emotionally, bodily, and cognitively.

Anxiety looks different for each person. Sure, there is the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and those can be helpful categories to look at, but if we stop there we miss the person, the story, and everything else beneath the anxiety.

One of my professors in graduate school talked about anxiety and depression as being different sides of the same coin. I find this to be very true in my own life and in my clients’ lives. When something is “off” in my life sometimes my symptoms manifest in more anxious behaviors or thoughts (irritability, flighty thoughts, sleep disruption), but other times my symptoms look much more depressive (muted mood, tired, quick to anger). Now, if I just stay on the surface and try to figure out if I’m depressed or anxious, it doesn’t do me much good. And, if I just try and appease my symptoms, that may alleviate some discomfort momentarily, but no real change happens. If I can look beyond the symptoms, behaviors, and tendencies, I will usually find much more. My symptoms become a gateway to understanding what is really going on versus just something to manage. Most of us want our symptoms to go away without realizing they actually have so much to offer us.

Have you heard of the dashboard analogy? Picture the dashboard of a car. The lights that routinely or randomly light up are there to indicate to you that something needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is a signal to find a gas station and fill up with gas. Other times it’s the indicator to change your oil. And then sometimes, the really obscure light pops up that we have never seen before. Do we need to drive straight to a mechanic because our car is about to explode? Is our tire pressure off? Does the engine need to be looked at? When this happens, we have a choice. We can choose to investigate and address the problem (i.e. filling up with gas, getting an oil change, pulling out the manual and determining what’s going on), or we can ignore the light. If we ignore the light, the car will ultimately stop working at some point or great damage will be done. Our anxiety symptoms are like the lights on our dashboard; they are there to give us a glimpse into acknowledging that something needs some care. If we choose to ignore, or mute, the symptoms, the problem doesn’t go away. You may have turned off the light, but the car will still run out of gas or oil or worse.

Therapy can be a place to begin to look at those symptoms with curiosity and grace. In participating in the therapeutic process we can learn how to manage symptoms in the short term, but to find lasting benefits we want to learn from what our bodies and brains are telling us.

Lots of therapeutic modalities are used to address anxiety. And there are lots of tools and skills out there to help with decreasing symptoms of anxiety. A tool I find helpful for myself and some of my clients is the Meta Fi app. It was created by therapists to help individuals learn more about what their body and mind are telling them. I often find it difficult to name (in the moment) what is going on (i.e. How I’m feeling, what I need, etc.). This app is really helpful in asking poignant questions to help us focus in on what’s going on. The app offers a lot more (like making connections with those emotions and bodily sensations, tracking patterns, journal options, etc.), but I find just simply taking the 1-2 mins to pause and enter some info in the app is incredibly helpful.

We can’t really start to address our anxiety until we begin to actually understand more about it. I realize that this doesn’t really sound “fun.” Most of us just want to rid ourselves of the symptoms, but I believe you can find much more freedom and choice if you risk stepping into your anxiety and asking it what it has to offer you.

Peace and grace to you and me as we hold our anxiety with care and curiosity,