Something fantastic dawned on me the other day. We each possess an infinite spectrum of possibility for human emotion. Think of the worst pain and despair that you have ever experienced. Did you realize that you have the potential to experience euphoria on the same level of intensity? Maybe it’s because, throughout the course of human evolution, all of the abilities that we have developed, from walking upright to feeling sad, we have developed because they serve some purpose. Getting to the bottom of that purpose may be the challenge so it’s important to give yourself a time to feel.
If you haven’t seen Inside Out yet, I highly recommend it. Aside from just being a good movie in every way, the theme of the story is the importance of all emotions. The plot revolves around a young girl named Riley and the emotions who guide her. Her emotions work in the control center of her mind and they are Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust. Joy is the main character, and she is in charge of managing the other emotions in the control center.
During the story, Riley has to move to a new city where everything in her life changes. Through the course of events, Joy does everything she can to keep Sadness from having anything to do with helping Riley. Until as fate may have it, Joy and Sadness both get separated from the control room, and chaos arises in Riley’s life. Since she no longer can appropriately experience Joy or Sadness, she is left to only use Disgust, Anger, and Fear when she should be employing Sadness. Until finally [SPOILER?] Joy and Sadness learn to work together so that they can bring balance back to Riley’s life. The moral of the story is if you don’t give yourself a chance to be sad, you may be in danger of losing control of all of your emotions.
The other day I was working with a depressed client that I have helped off-and-on for over a year now. As she was sharing her life with me, she mentioned that she had been dealing with depression for so long that it felt as if people in her life expected her to know how to “get over it” at this point. So I felt it would be best to go about the session by giving her permission to be depressed.
So I induced her hypnotic experience by bringing her into a comfortable trance. During the induction, I started off giving suggestions that might lead to warm-fuzzy and secure feelings. Then, I explained that she was going to learn how to recalibrate her emotions by taking a minute to be as sad as possible. I even gave her specific suggestions and ideas that might elevate her level of depression in that moment. I eventually gave her suggestions for peace and happiness before bringing her out of trance, but not until after I showed her how to put that sadness away.
The reason for this practice is actually quite simple. All emotions should be experienced in their proper contexts, and in developing a proper context for experiencing her depression, she may not only learn to process her sadness but also learn to control it. If you take a minute to be as sad as you possibly can be, you are practicing controlling sadness. When people think of controlling their emotions, they usually first imagine someone suppressing a “negative” feeling. The reality is that you have control over anything that you feel on purpose.
It’s important to mention that I wouldn’t have done this with a client had I not already had a strong therapeutic relationship with them. I knew how she responds to hypnosis, I told her before hand what we were going to do, and I knew she would trust me throughout the exercise. After she came out of trance she even said that she could have made herself more depressed if she had wanted to, but she found the level of sadness that worked for her. She sustained that level for just long enough, and then she was quite happy to experience peace. At that point, her unconscious was so tired of being sad that she was eager to comply.
The reality is that feelings are neither good nor bad. What matters is the impact they have on you and how appropriate they are for the context. Both of those variables may be more subjective than the feelings alone. If you find yourself experiencing certain emotions at inappropriate times, it may be beneficial to create an appropriate context through which to explore those feelings. A self-hypnosis or meditation practice may be the perfect tool.
As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, don’t hesitate to let me know.