So many people come to counselling and find themselves crying uncontrollably, and sometimes inexplicably, during sessions. Often they apologise for this whilst reaching for the inevitable tissue box. But actually this release of emotions is a really helpful sign. Not only is it healthy, as sometimes we need to cry as much as we need to laugh. But it starts us on a journey to find out what is going on emotionally, and more often this is not what the client might think.
People who say “I don’t do anger or confrontation” really mean they don’t do it well, so they avoid it. Dig deeper and ask how they really feel, or more significantly felt, about something traumatic, and they honestly say they don’t know. Dig even deeper and ask how emotions or crises were dealt with when they were growing up at home, and they say they weren’t. Suddenly there’s a pattern emerging and yet so many people fail to see it in themselves or make the connections.
We are all bundles of complex, confusing and sometimes downright frightening emotions. We are left without any instruction manual or formal training and expected to work out how to interpret and regulate them, so ideally they enrich our lives without overwhelming us. In other words work with them, not deny them. But for a whole host of reasons this can sometimes just be too difficult or too much. So we repress the difficult emotions whilst constantly expecting the more positive ones. We deny anger, jealousy, rage, guilt, loss and constantly wonder why we don’t feel happy
This may make life manageable, but repressed emotions don’t go away, they just lurk and pop out at inappropriate times. Hence the inexplicable crying, the panic attack or the outburst of inappropriate hysterical laughter. They don’t go away unless they are explored, communicated and better understood.
Ideally they need exploring in a safe and controlled environment, such as counselling. This will help develop self-awareness, challenge dysfunctional behaviours, tackle underlying issues such as anxiety and increase our chances of being happy!
This process can take some time so in the meantime here are some simple techniques that might be worth practising for use when we feel emotionally overwhelmed.
This can be as simple as a breathing exercise. Either find a quiet corner, or just do it quietly, and breathe in for the count of five and breathe out for the count of five. And whilst you are doing this just concentrate on the breathing. If your mind wonders, bring it back and think only about the breathing in this moment. You can do this for three breaths or three minutes, but practice it and it does work. It works best BEFORE things have got really out of control. This is because our emotional brain is triggered almost instantly and our rational brain is slower to kick in. So if you are facing a difficult situation, or something you know from experience might “press your buttons,” do some preparation with the breathing BEFORE the event.
Other things that you can try and work for some people are meditation apps that you can get on your phone for free. Insight Time and Headspace are very popular. Enter how much time you have got, e.g. 5 minutes, what the issue is e.g. low self-esteem, motivation or anxiety, put your headphones on and zone out.
Visualisation needs practice but can be very effective where you visualise a calm and safe favourite place, such as a beach or wood, and expose all your senses to what that place would be like if you were there now.
Favourites photos of reassuring people or scenes on your phone can help. Playlists of calming favourite music can also be helpful.
Above all, if you come to counselling and you start crying, don’t apologise! It is the start of healing and better understanding those “difficult” emotions.
If you want to discuss any of the issues mentioned in this article, or any other issues that are distressing you, please fill in the contact form for a free assessment session