My first thought as soon as my therapist names my emotional side is “Am I really able to feel it, my emotional side? Do I even know what she’s talking about?”
I’ve trained myself for decades to be as rational as I could. I managed to succeed at it hands down. I basically got a PhD in Applied Rationality. But how about emotivity?
I feel like an innocent – and even a little dumb – child, when I hear myself saying “I’m not really sure if I know what you mean by emotivity”.
She replies back with her usual reassuring tone: “The first step to gain emotional awareness is to listen to your body. It’s what you’re doing during your mindfulness classes, it’s what we did when we used EMDR. You scan your body and feel it, observing its reactions as they happen. That’s the very basic start. Then, the second step consists in becoming aware of that sensations that lay somewhere between your head and your heart, that occur and talk to you, even before you can understand and rationalize them in your head. It’s in the moment in which something happens, someone says or does something and you feel unease, for example. You let your sensations speak, before your head starts rationalizing them. When our guts tell us something, there’s always a reason. That’s why it is important to listen to those sensations.”
That’s it then, my emotional side, the one I’ve been demeaning for all my life, crushing it under the cathedral of my rationality. Only recently I’ve started to learn that once you listen to your guts, you can even dig some significance out of it. And of course, my rationality has fed on that possibility with great pleasure.
A very recent experience comes to my mind as I’m talking, so I go on and tell her about the week before, when I first discussed about my meditation sessions to some people I know.
Talking about the meditation course you’ve just joined seems to draw people’s curiosity very much. So I quickly found myself to be the focus of their attention and I even kind of liked it in the moment. Then, as it has been happening often since I started opening myself up to the others, I experienced some strange discomfort between my chest and my stomach, with my inner voice delivering a very well-known verdict: “You shouldn’t have said so much.”
That’s when I grabbed the opportunity: “Let’s feel it”, I thought to myself, “I want to see what lays in there.” I focused on my physical sensations at first: I felt my stomach shrink and my chest rush, I was feeling impatient and guilty, wishing I would have kept my mouth shut.
Then I started my favourite part: the Analysis. What’s the fear? Why do I feel like I’ve said too much? What’s the perceived danger that is triggering my anxiety?
The answer came pretty easily: I was dreading the moment in which, having unveiled something about myself, the people around were going to label me accordingly. I was basically scared about the space I had just provided them to judge me and tag me as “The one who…”
Needless to say, I wasn’t really scared about the specific contents of that discussion, I wasn’t really scared about being recognised as the girl who’s training in meditation; it was rather an automatic reaction to the idea of offering some information about myself to the others and give them the chance to put a label on me.
“Do you remember any other time in your past when you said something about yourself and, as a consequence of this disclosure, you thought you shouldn’t have?”, my therapist asks.
Once again, an image shows up naturally before she can even complete the question.
“Yes, there’s me as a child, ready for a cross-country race. I’m getting out of my car, I’m nervous and scared, the way I was before every single race, and I’m feeling sick, I feel like throwing up. My father spots me gagging and his reaction seems angry and disappointed: If you are going to feel like this, we better let go and get back home.”
I’m almost tearful as I speak. There must be something working deep inside of me in that image.
So my therapist completes the thought flow: “In that moment your fear wasn’t embraced and accepted the way it should have been, the way you should have needed. You would have needed to be hugged, maybe to be picked up into his arms and be reassured about your fears. But it didn’t happen. The reaction of that child, the healthy reaction I’d say, was to keep her fragilities hidden inside, since nobody was there to take care about them.”
It’s our last appointment, after all, and for the first and only time she’s just eased the work for me a bit, bringing the explanation forward. And she’s right.
The connection we just let emerge is touching deep in my stomach. Even way before I can rationally deem it as reasonable, I feel it true and deeply meaningful. She’s right again and I’m tempted to burst into tears.
I nod once more, while I realize that my eyes are shiny again. I nod and realize it’s not only about my weakness not being accepted, but it’s also about having felt like there was something wrong in me for being that emotional, the impression that I shouldn’t have felt that way, that such a feeling of fear was simply wrong.
“Does it still feel that way?” she asks.
“Not anymore.” I know now there’s nothing wrong in being scared, even more so in being scared as a child, but I also know that the feeling of having something wrong in me still sticks somewhere inside myself and gets out from time to time to hunt me.
I look at her with a shy smile and an expression that must be a mix between “It was so easy, how couldn’t I have seen that before?” and “So what now? What are we going to do with this?”
She doesn’t need time to find her answer: “The plan now is to reconcile with the awareness that your fragilities weren’t embraced, keeping in mind that your parents did all they could with the resources they themselves had been provided with, during their own development, that they did what they considered the best to grow up their daughter. To acknowledge that there are other people that can embrace and accept your fragilities now. To detach from your parents and become your own parent, taking care of yourself and your fears, hugging, cuddling and picking yourself up when needed.”
Our voices have softened, mine especially. We’re both surprised, I guess, I surely am about how, in such a conclusive session, where everything was supposed to be already settled, where we were just going to say goodbye to each other, such a huge weight has just been dropped in the middle of the room, easily, unexpectedly and almost effortlessly.
I shut up for a second, the way you do when a terrible accident has just occurred and you realize that somehow you’ve escaped it, that somehow you’re still alive.
I’m kind of amazed and relieved at the same time, by the immensity of the scenario that has just been disclosed, by the enormity of the boulder that has just been delivered, so that I can’t really figure out how it could have been inside of me for all this time. I’m amazed by the ease with which it just came out, by the talent with which my therapist exactly knew where and how to guide me, this time again.
“The plan now is to reconcile with this new awareness” she was saying, “to acknowledge that there are other people that can embrace and accept your fragilities now and to become your own parent.”
I try to joke around to lessen the tension I feel inside, while I’m looking at the point of my shoes: “How much time do I have?”
“You have all your life”, she smiles back.
“I think that should be enough.”
She gets serious for a moment to make sure her suggestion is clear: “Don’t take it as a competition, where you have a start line and a finish line. I know this is something that destabilizes you, but in this case, it’s not a race, where you have to get your result and deliver a performance. It’s rather like a walk, where the objective is to enjoy the walk itself.”
I nod and wish I can treasure this last hour, the way I’ve done so far with the rest of my therapy. I hope I can hold the mountain of significance and contents that we have explored today, surprisingly, during our last appointment as well.
I stand up and and shake her hand. “Good luck with everything!”, she wishes me.
There are no words in the entire world for me to thank her the way I wish.
Some months ago, when we concluded our sessions in December, I told her about how I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without her, about how determining her help had been for my journey, how grateful I was to her for coming along with me. In this our last encore, “Thank you a lot!” is all I’m able to say.
This time really is the last time.
I get out of her office, the next patient is waiting her turn sitting with her head bowed. I wish she was looking at me, so that I could smile at her and silently tell her “It’s going to be ok. You’re in such good hands.” But she’s probably lost in her thoughts, so I just walk past her, take a deep breath and reach for my car.
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