It's Not Always Depression

Hilary Jacobs Hendel
Year of publication
When I read it
March 2021
What I thought


Choice Highlights

...the phenomena of healing are invariably accompanied by vitality and energy, which have clear somatic affective markers.

“Positive” in AEDP has a very special meaning. It certainly includes positive emotions, like joy and gratitude and happiness. However—and I cannot emphasize this enough—the way we define “positive” in AEDP encompasses those as well as anything that feels right and true to the individual.

As a result of what we know about attachment theory and about how the autonomic nervous system works, most experiential therapists seek to activate the social engagement system and establish safety and connection.

If round one of therapy is how to get past defenses and anxiety, and round two is working to heal suffering and bring about increased effectiveness and resilience, in AEDP, there is a round three! Round three of AEDP, metatherapeutic processing (metaprocessing for short), involves experientially working with positive emotional experiences as systematically and thoroughly as we work with negative emotional experiences.

The transformational affects include, but are not limited to: the mastery affects of joy, confidence, and pride; the tremulous affects associated with the positive vulnerability of having new and somewhat unprecedented experiences; the healing affects of feeling moved within ourselves, and gratitude to and love for those who help us; and the realization affects of wonder and awe at the changes taking place.

Emotions are survival programs deeply embedded in the brain and not subject to conscious control.

Emotions are immediate responses to the present environment.

The three corners of the Change Triangle are core emotions, inhibitory emotions, and defenses. Core emotions, our inborn survival emotions, tell us what we want, what we need, what we like, and what we don’t like. Inhibitory emotions such as anxiety, shame, and guilt block core emotions. They keep us civilized so we can fit in with the groups we love and need. And they serve another function: they are a stopgap or fail-safe mechanism to prevent core emotions from overwhelming us. Defenses are the mind’s way of protecting us from emotional pain and being overwhelmed by feelings.

Because core emotions are hardwired in the middle part of our brains, they are not subject to conscious control. They can’t be. Core emotions and their impulses work automatically, propelling us to act immediately.

Our core emotions are really a bunch of physical sensations.

Inhibitory emotions preserve connection by overriding core emotional expression.

Defenses are brilliant and creative maneuvers the mind makes to spare us the pain and overwhelming sensations that emotions can cause. They are anything we do to avoid feeling core or inhibitory emotions.

...a defense is any thought, action, or maneuver we make that takes us away from being in touch with discomfort.

Anniversaries bring up memories, some of which may be completely unconscious.

It is not uncommon for people to shut down defensively when they feel angry. The shutdown response protects them either from being internally overwhelmed by emotions or from upsetting a caregiver who can’t deal with their anger.

By repeatedly repairing small breaks and ruptures in a relationship, we learn to trust more and more.

Gaining awareness about one’s body in space helps illuminate a story of our wants, needs, traumas, and relationships.

Specificity is a key ingredient in working with emotions and the mind. If you can elicit a specific feeling, image, memory, body sensation, or belief to work with, healing can occur.

Processing core emotions is a repetitive process of checking in to your whole body, noticing sensations, listening to the sensations for the impulse, seeing what the impulse wants to do, imagining that impulse carried out in a fantasy, and checking in again…repeating these steps again and again as needed until the energy from the emotion is released and one feels subjectively calm.

Frustration is a very common way people thwart or constrict the anger they consciously sense but do not know what to do with.

If someone says we caused hurt, we cannot deny it. Being hurt is subjective, and the victim gets to decide that it occurred.

Did you ever meet someone who can’t stop moving, working, talking, or being productive? If so, it is probably because he doesn’t like it when he becomes aware of emotions.

We can ask the defense, How are you trying to help me right now? The defense knows the answer and can communicate it. Our defenses work hard to protect us even when the threat that originated them is long gone.

If I was hurt by someone, I can expect to feel both sad and angry (core) but instead I feel ashamed (defense). • If I was violated by someone, I can expect to feel disgusted, angry, hurt, and frightened (core) but instead I feel only sadness (defense).

There are two main ways to get to the openhearted state: first, by experiencing our core emotions. … The second way to access the openhearted state is by looking for your C’s and seeing if you can make a conscious shift into being them just by being aware and applying your emotional energy.