Monday, 28 March 2016

Acknowledging own emotions: T2 article dated 27th March 2016

When psychotherapist Marsha M. Linehan developed Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, she noted that the key to dealing with emotions, paradoxically, is by accepting them.
The idea that emotions or feelings can be worked upon and perhaps be transformed, tamed or channelised is not a popular belief.
When we feel bad, sad, worried, angry, humiliated and vulnerable, we also feel helpless that we feel that way. And the more we 'fight' these feelings and try to deny them, the more we become their victims.
We get angry and frustrated that we are angry, we hate ourselves for being sad and depressed, and get defensive and aggressive when we feel vulnerable. A simple feeling is now transformed into layers of selfdefeating and complex emotions as we shied away from it.
To a large extent, our logic and rationale is also the outcome of how we get affected by our own emotions and how we have learnt to deal with them. We seldom acknowledge our emotions without judgement and apart from suppressing them, ignoring them or being in denial of them, we rarely have any other mechanism to handle them. This can be true when we deal with our own emotions or someone else's emotions.
The following case study throws light on this.
Roshan seemed angry and frustrated when he came in for a session. His wife Sonia was going through depression and she would have regular therapy sessions as advised by her psychiatrist. Their daughter was three years old; Roshan wanted a second one but Sonia did not. This apparently made Roshan angry and after a little insistence from Sonia's therapist, he agreed to drop in to talk about his feelings, though " only to help" Sonia and " put things in perspective".

Roshan: I just don't understand what Sonia's problem is. We have everything! She has the most wonderful daughter and a caring husband, why can't she be happy? What is her problem with having another child? It will be good for our daughter.

Therapist: I see that you feel frustrated that Sonia doesn't seem to be happy.

R: Yes! I give her everything. She doesn't have to work and nobody says anything to her yet she remains gloomy all day.... My mother had four children and after my father passed away early, she had to slog to raise us, yet she is the most positive person... and look at Sonia!

T: Okay... it is specially difficult for you to understand Sonia when you have a reference point in the form of your own mother, who is efficient and nurturing…

R: Yes, absolutely. She should be happy!

T: I get why you are angry. Sonia doesn't fit into your idea of a positive, hard- working, nurturing mother.... R: Yes! T: So, you actually feel angry about Sonia's condition rather than her not wanting to have another child.

R: I guess that's true. But I don't want to admit that to Sonia and I guess I feel let down by her... and I feel I let my mother down as I chose to marry Sonia.

T: I see.... So you are angry at yourself, too, for choosing a person who doesn't fit into your mother's shoes.

R: Yes. I think I don't want to admit that either… but Sonia can sense my frustration. I am trying to help her come out of the situation. I know that times have changed and it's wrong to expect Sonia to do what my mother used to, but I really want my child to have a normal childhood and a normal mother.

T: So you want to help Sonia but she can sense your frustration. Is it possible that it creates a hindrance for her to feel good about herself and come out of the situation?

R: (After a pause) Could be… Maybe I am harsh on her at times. I don't really want to be…

T: Right. I can see that your intention is to make her feel better…

R: Yes but perhaps in my overzealous way, I also make her sad…

T: Maybe both of you can try to create a conducive environment at home where Sonia and you can express and work on your emotions? But first, let us be clear that this has little to do with having a second child. As you talk about the second child, Sonia feels pressured and cornered. Instead, just let her know that you want to help her be happy.

R: I can do that.

How Roshan reacted to Sonia's emotion can also be true for one's own harsh criticism towards one's own emotional state, which often aggravates problems than resolve them. Vishal came with a similar problem like Roshan's. He too was angry and he hated himself as he was feeling depressed and unable to come out of it.
This anger made it more difficult for him to get out of the depression as he got trapped in the following cycle: Depression .. feeling that he is not good enough .. desperate to get rid of the depression .. anger towards self, self- loathing ( when unable to do get rid of depression) .. reinforcement of the belief that he is not good enough .. feeling more depressed.
Acknowledging one's own emotions without any judgement and seeing them as they are is the first step towards being empowered.

[The names and details in the examples have been modified]

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coach
write to them at