As humans we possess a natural curiosity to find solutions for problems, and to look for reasons why things don’t work. When dealing with emotional issues, this can have real benefit, but it isn’t always the most helpful thing we can do, particularly in the beginning.
A colleague on my counselling course recently used the term “analysis paralysis” with regards to healing; the need to analyse, intellectualise, make sense of and understand what has happened can hold us back from actually feeling what we need to. We then become stuck and unable to move forward.
When dealing with the aftermath of an emotional crisis, analysis paralysis can take hold with a vengeance. It can hold you back when you attend therapy or embark on any kind of personal growth work, if you focus too much on what you think and not enough on what you feel. Over analysis can put our minds in a kind of prison, where we believe we will only be free when we understand what’s happened.
The problem with over analysing is that it stops you from feeling. But it is only through full expression of the emotions that healing happens. For a long time after my marriage break-up I tried to make sense of my emotions, instead of actually feeling them (it’s still a bad habit I have!). Then I spent a long time working to change the emotions which felt horrible (the anger, sadness, resentment), again at the expense of fully feeling them.
In many ways this worked for me; I did it purposefully, with intention, and my life really changed for the better. I concentrated on the positive; my children; my future; a new relationship; a new career path. My whole focus for change became about finding the purpose in what happened and learning the lessons from the pain, so that my life would be different. In fact this has been at the heart of Break Up and Shine.
But for the last 6 months, as part of my training, I have been having my own personal therapy, and I have realised that there is more to healing than looking for understanding. Somehow an unexplainable, subtle shift happens simply by allowing yourself to fully feel and express emotions in a way you may not have done before. I’ve talked with my counsellor about my former marriage and also other painful experiences in my life. I have found myself sobbing, raw and drained during some sessions. I have been able to express deep emotions, but not through analysing the “whys” or “hows”, or by using any mental strategies; it’s happened by feeling the pain, right there in that room. After an emotionally tough session I feel different in a way I often I can’t explain, because it’s not something I’ve arrived at cognitively; something has simply changed.
I occasionally wryly question why I’m doing this; handing over good money to feel like a wreck! I have a happy fulfilling life, so why do I want to drag up the past once a fortnight and submerge myself in sorrow? I realise the answer is that for every painful hour I spend, I get back a whole part of myself that doesn’t need to suffer anymore because I’ve finally released it. And in its place is always a gift; I come away with some new awareness about myself, some different belief or feeling about myself, some vulnerability or some courage to do something I couldn’t do before. Therapy is not just about getting to the tears, it’s about who you can be, and what you can do, after you’ve released the pain.
Making sense of life is what we innately try to do as humans and is a wonderful part of who we are. But sometimes it’s vital to let ourselves simply feel. I am more than five years post-divorce and am finally starting to accept that I will never fully understand what happened, because half of it was not even about me. The wonderful thing is that as time goes on and old emotions get released, my need to understand it all becomes less and less, and that’s something I never believed would happen.
* If this post has encouraged you to get help with your feelings, here’s a good starting place for anyone looking for a counsellor