It's Not Always Depression
- Hilary Jacobs Hendel
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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.
Externalizing parts of us that hold uncomfortable feelings so we can talk to them is a reliable way to immediately relieve shame, guilt, and anxiety. Imagining isolating a part of us is the most efficient way to learn more about and heal traumatized aspects of ourselves.
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 theory2 and about how the autonomic nervous system works,3 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.
Much as our core emotions alert us to what we must deal with, and are specific to different kinds of challenges (for example, fear is an emotion specific to danger, and grief is an emotion that is specific to loss), the transformational affects alert us to important positive changes that are occurring within us.
The transformational process culminates in core state, a state of unifying integration and openness. In her book, Hilary calls it the openhearted state. The openhearted state partakes of both AEDP’s core state and Internal Family System therapy’s core Self.
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.
sadness, joy, anger, fear, disgust, excitement, and sexual excitement.
Emotions are survival programs deeply embedded in the brain and not subject to conscious control.
Emotions are immediate responses to the present environment.
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.
Knowing what our angry impulses want to do or say to the people who hurt and angered us, and then using our imagination to express our anger in a fantasy, is a prime way to release blocked emotions and practice healthy ways to process anger.
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.
When we use too many inhibitory emotions and too many defenses, emotional energy is blocked and we have problems.
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.
By repeatedly repairing small breaks and ruptures in a relationship, we learn to trust more and more.
PAST EXPERIENCES MAY have taught us that certain core emotions were not acceptable, so when a core emotion is evoked in the present, anxiety and other inhibitory emotions can be triggered unconsciously. The inhibitory emotions act like a red light that sends the signal: STOP. Don’t feel that! The emotional experience switches from one that is core to one that is inhibitory. Core emotions are thwarted in three different ways: with anxiety, with shame, and/or with guilt.
Toxic shame is the deep sense that “I am bad, I am not good enough, I am unlovable.”
Guilt is what we feel when we have done something bad. Shame is when we feel that we are bad!
Many of our shame-forming experiences happened before we could speak, when we were babies.
In addition to what I have shared about shame, I recommend three books to learn more about shame: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, The Psychology of Shame by Gershen Kaufman, and Shame and Pride by Donald Nathanson.
We have to see our shamed parts as if they were separate from us; once a little separation is achieved, we can begin to relate to our shame in a healthier, more healing way.
When using the Change Triangle to help with guilt, I find it useful to separate guilt into two categories: guilt for when we actually do something truly bad and guilt for when we haven’t done anything objectively bad but we feel like we have or someone told us we have—for example, guilt we feel for having a particular need, preference, thought, or emotion.
If someone says we caused hurt, we cannot deny it. Being hurt is subjective, and the victim gets to decide that it occurred.
WHEN USING THE Change Triangle, a “should” is often a thought that is acting as a defense.
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.
If you are on the inhibitory corner it means you have figured out that you are experiencing either anxiety, guilt, or shame.
His book You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For: Bringing Courageous Love to Intimate Relationships is written for the general public.
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.
How do we recognize when we are in an openhearted state? With the 7 C’s, as described by Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS):1 • calm • curious • connected • compassionate • confident • courageous • clear
Anniversaries bring up memories, some of which may be completely unconscious.