In the realm of feeling and emotion, this is one of the most powerful things you can read. In other words, if you are a human, this might be very helpful…
I recently had a client who had been molested by his grandfather, whom he had idolized, when he was five or six years old. He was in his early thirties when he came to see me, so he had been carrying an intense amount of pain around for over 25 years. Intense pain. He said he couldn’t handle this pain anymore. It had completely wreaked havoc on his life, even causing him to seriously contemplate suicide several times. He even purchased a gun about a month before coming to see me. He told himself it was for self-defense, but he knew what it was really for. For some reason, he returned it the next day and decided he’d try therapy one more time. Before that, he had tried anything he could to make the pain go away, including drinking and drug use as well as taking legally prescribed medications like anti-depressants. Here’s the thing, though – he had done everything except actually feel and experience the pain.
As he was telling me about this pain, it became clear that it was time for him to go there. I asked him if he was ready to feel the pain right now. He wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect, but it was clear that the time was now. I had him close his eyes, breathe, and relax into it as much as possible. Invite the pain head on, face to face. Meet it. Thoroughly feel all of the anger, sadness, fear, shame, etc. Whatever is there, just feel it. No words, no story – just feel what has been waiting to be felt for 25 years.
He was having an intense experience as I talked him through this, and tears were flowing. He was sweating and shaking. I reminded him to breathe and continue to relax his body as much as possible as he was doing this. After only a few minutes, his body had visibly calmed down some, so I checked in with him and asked what he was experiencing. He replied that only sadness remained. I told him that emotions often come in layers, like an onion. He might feel intense anger and then shame and then sadness underneath it all. This is how feelings work.
Finally, he started to laugh and said, “That’s it? That’s all it is? I’ve stubbed my toe before and it was worse than that. That’s what I’ve almost killed myself over?” The whole process took less than five minutes. Amazing.
He discovered a beautiful and powerful truth – that when we simply feel our feelings without thinking, when we directly experience them without a story, they aren’t as bad and powerful as we thought they were. This intense pain never did have the power to ruin his life for 25 years, and it never did have the power to cause him to commit suicide. Nobody had ever taught him this, though, until he was sitting in that comfortable chair in my office and we went straight to the heart of the matter. In less than five minutes, his whole life had completely changed.
I was eager to see him at his next appointment one week later. He knew he could call before that if needed, and he hadn’t, so I knew he was at least okay. When he came in, he was doing very, very well. He said that he had looked his biggest demon right in the eye and it was nothing. It was like the Wizard of Oz – a small man hiding behind a big curtain so he couldn’t be seen. When seen directly, he was nothing like he seemed.
My client said that his pain and sadness weren’t all gone, but the vast majority was. It no longer had the power to ruin his life. In subsequent sessions, more layers of emotion came up. We handled them the same way – feel it. That allows it to pass. Then search the mind for false beliefs that were learned from the experience and correct them. And always continue to feel. And if more layers of the onion come up, we’ll address them then.
NOTE: All of these client stories are told with no identifying information and of course with permission from the clients. My only interest in sharing these stories is to help more and more people find peace, and these clients are interested in the same thing. There is no pressure on the clients to allow their story to be told. Finally, note that these stories are always told at a certain point in time.
When they are told, it is unknown how the future will unfold. Feelings are powerful, thoughts are powerful, and the past is powerful. New and old issues might emerge after progress is made. If that happens, though, we know how to deal with it. In these cases, I’ll write up the rest of the story if and when appropriate. As said before, it’s all about helping more and more people find peace.
NOTE: The story continued over several months, and I wrote part 2 here.