Connecting With Your Deeper Feelings

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Is This Coaching or Therapy?

As defined by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a coaching relationship is not psychotherapy. The ICF defines coaching as:

Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Coaching, then, focuses on visioning, success, the present, and moving toward the future. Therapy, on the other hand, emphasizes psychopathology, emotions, and the past to understand the present. It works more with developing skills for managing emotions or past issues than coaching.

So, while coaches should not take the role of the therapist and be working through past experiences with their clients, they must also realize that self-inquiry is an important part of creating one's best life. To solve this contradiction, coaches can,

  • recommend a therapist when their clients are having significant emotional problems
  • suggest self-help books, videos, or exercises so their clients can process their past experiences on their own

The latter is an example of "knowledge-based" coaching. If a client is obviously struggling because of past experiences, it would be remiss not to recommend one or the other.

The following is self-help "knowledge" that can help clients work through their past experiences.

Processing Past Experiences

We all have deeper feelings of love, joy, strength, sadness, and pain than we notice day to day. The busier and more distracted we are, the less we feel. When we experience pain in our early lives, either through abuse, neglect, or a lack of love from either or both parents, the human tendency is to avoid the resulting feelings. Our brains are great at creating distractions, but not as good at solving the root problem.

The “distractions” mentioned above range from the obvious (workaholism and substance abuse) to the less or not-so-obvious (overeating, obsessive-compulsive disorder, grandiosity, condescension, psychosomatic illnesses). When you are so busy you do not have time to pause, you are not in touch with your deeper feelings. When you are hyper-focused on putting your surroundings in order you are thinking but not feeling. When you are pleasuring yourself by overeating and then vilifying yourself for having done so you are in touch with immediate joy and pain, but doing an avoidance dance around your deeper feelings. Distractions result not only in avoiding painful or sad feelings but limiting your connection with love, joy, and strength.

For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you are in touch with love, joy, and strength. At the same time, let’s assume those feelings will bloom further if we can process the deep negative feelings: sadness and pain.

Why would anyone want to revisit these unpleasant feelings? Simply put, to free yourself from the hold they have on you.

Your brain is masterful at wanting to forget unpleasant events. There is suppression and repression. Suppression might go like this: You have an important dinner to attend and just before you learn a relative had passed away. You might suppress your feelings voluntarily until after dinner. Then when you return home you might grieve the loss. Repression is involuntary. It is a defense mechanism that blocks unwanted thoughts. Repression is your brain’s attempt at tightly wrapping up pain. But repression takes energy and causes unwanted health and behavioral side effects. It can make it difficult to control your behavior – and to find the energy required for self-discipline. It gives rise to distraction behaviors, as described above.

Psychologist C.G. Jung says the mark of great character is psychological wholeness. When we accept a weakness, instead of denying it, we gain some influence and can minimize its effects on us. In Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Jung further says,

It is under all circumstances an advantage to be in full possession of one’s personality, otherwise, the repressed portions of the personality will only crop up as a hindrance elsewhere, not just at some unimportant point, but at the very spot where we are most sensitive: this worm always rots the core. Instead of waging war on himself, it is surely better for a man to learn to tolerate himself and to convert his inner difficulties into real experiences instead of expending them in useless fantasies. Then at least he lives and does not waste his life in fruitless struggles.

Here are a few examples of repression:

Jacob’s older brother bullied him nearly continuously from when he was three until he moved away from home at age 18. Jacob is now 24 and says he remembers the bullying but it does not bother him anymore. However, Jacob finds it difficult to speak up for himself at work and often lets his more vocal peers take credit for group work in which he has participated.

Frank’s father was a brutal disciplinarian and almost never gave him words of encouragement. At age 30, all he remembers is his father's constant criticism. He finds adult relationships difficult and he is addicted to gambling, using poker machines, which he calls his “pokies.” He says he has made peace with his father’s memory, but he is miserable and on the edge of bankruptcy.

Jane’s mother was severely depressed. She was not abusive, but limited in her ability to love and did not model how to live a joyful life. As an adult at age 34, Jane feels overall that she is mentally healthy. She has been in a number of relationships but none of them have felt right to her. She is beginning to realize no man can fill the void.

In the last two examples, the parents are clearly not meeting the needs of the children. Even if parents try to meet their children’s needs, but themselves have unaddressed issues, those issues may be passed on to the children. As psychotherapist and author Andrew Feldmar says, “Children swim in their parents’ unconscious like fish swim in the sea.”

In these examples, Jacob, Frank, and Jane recognize they went through painful situations, but they do not feel the pain or even recognize it exists. They are not in full possession of their own personalities, as Jung would say. Their repressed portions of their personalities are “cropping up elsewhere.” The worm is rotting the core.

For additional reading on repression see this article, Repressing Emotions: 10 Ways to Reduce Emotional Avoidance.

Continuing with Jung’s advice,

Instead of waging war on himself, it is surely better for a man to learn to tolerate himself and to convert his inner difficulties into real experiences ...

it seems one should address all aspects of one’s life with frank honesty. Some of it will feel happy and good and some of it will feel sad and painful.

This idea is not about facing trauma and feeling depressed. Instead, it is about,

  • facing trauma and turning it to your benefit
  • reducing energy-sapping repression
  • ridding yourself of the grip pain has on you
  • using your connection with pain to drive change for the better
  • feeling courageous and powerful because you are facing your inner difficulties honestly – you are transforming yourself
  • understanding we are all suffering -- then having compassion for your fellow humans, and in turn, for yourself

Regarding the last point, there is a nice passage in the book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield (2000, page 69):

When we honor the gate of suffering, what arises is the wondrous power of compassion. This compassion is described as the fluttering of the heart in the face of the pain of any other being. It is a tenderness for all forms of life, all that is born and dies, all creatures who live by one another's births and deaths. Sometimes it is compassion for ourselves. The need for such compassion is there in every journey, Buddhist or Hindu, Jewish or Christian. The question of human suffering is central to the journey of grace and redemption.

How then do we identify the repressed portions of our personality? How can we process our deeper feelings when our brains have them wrapped up just beyond the reach of our cognitive abilities? How can we relieve ourselves of the repression?

One method is to connect with your deeper feelings by doing the following meditations or "reflections." It only takes five to ten minutes, several times per week:

  1. Put on some music, ideally touching instrumentals, while leaning back or lying down, maybe in bed at night or in the morning. An example might be Element Series: Earth by Peter Kater.
  2. Think about the people who care about you and how important their love is. But let your mind go wherever it wants to go. Thinking about your past might lead to really good feelings about yourself, or maybe sad feelings, sad enough to make you cry.
  3. Try to move closer to the feelings so you can sense them physically. Then think about how you reacted to them at the time.
  4. Next, think about the thought patterns your experiences have created. If they were early childhood experiences, those thought patterns are likely underpinning your current perspectives and behaviors.

From these reflections, you may end up feeling a rush of strength. Realize it can make you feel powerful when you can connect with your full spectrum of feelings. Connecting frankly and honestly with all of your emotions makes you a more complete human being. You can feel like you are living your life in the best way possible.

Integrating Your Deeper Feelings

Once discovered, how can you integrate your deeper feelings into your everyday life? Your brain doesn’t really like change. You might find yourself forgetting your discoveries. Don’t just go there and then forget it. Journal your thoughts, talk to someone you trust, or express your feelings through art. These are all ways to integrate your discoveries into your everyday life. Do something meaningful like hiking to the top of a mountain to commemorate your discovery. Sit at the top and think about how you are opening up your feelings and taking control of your life. Easier yet, write a note of gratitude to a friend. Tell someone close how much they mean to you. Buy a gift for your significant other. They will feel better and you will know you are growing into the best person you can be. Your brain will generate more dopamine and oxytocin and your everyday sense of well-being will improve (see Brain Chemistry).

Keep the Ball Rolling!

Connecting with your deeper feelings is not something to do just once. Take the time to do it weekly or monthly. As you age you gain wisdom and see life differently. It is worthwhile to take a look at yourself periodically from new perspectives.

Dr. Paul Conti: Therapy, Treating Trauma and Other Life Challenges by Andrew Huberman