Life is not all roses and cucumber sandwiches. We experience conflict with our friends, loved ones, our co-workers and anyone in between. But we can’t just – in the words of Marge Simpson, “take our bad feelings and push them down all the way past our knees” and pretend they don’t exist. When used in an appropriate, healthy way, fear and anger help us make sense of a difficult situation and determine the best course of action. For our ancestors, they often meant the difference between life and death. A venomous snake or menacing enemy suddenly in our path would quickly elicit a fear response in many of us; the rest of us would likely get angry and try to fight the danger. Fight-or-flight reactions to truly threatening situations are hard-wired into us to keep us safe.
Experiencing personal trauma or repeatedly facing very conflictual situations (parents constantly arguing, harrowing interpersonal relationships, or distressing workplace) can trigger these core negative emotions to the point that they overwhelm your core primary emotions in even lesser situations. If your parents argued all the time, you may have really felt sad but the stress when being in that situation would make you feel angry or frightened first. You didn’t have the chance to just feel sad, or you may not have had the capacity or emotional maturity to make a positive change to move forward from the sadness. So, instead, over time, these situations can unintentionally cause us to learn to immediately use these base emotional responses first rather than feeling the real, deep-down feeling. Then, in our day-to-day lives, any conflict causes us to run away, push people away, or bare our teeth. This can be very damaging to us, our careers, our relationships and those around us.
Given that we learn how to “protect ourselves” with fear or anger, we can also learn how to change our emotional responses to more often get to the deep-down emotion, even if that emotion is painful at first, and respond in a healthier manner. Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) is a validated psychological framework used by the staff at The Therapy Centre to help clients do just that.
EFT, Emotion Focused Therapy, trained professionals can help you explore the source of the secondary emotional response, identify the underlying primary emotion, and determine how to accept that primary emotion and use it healthily to get what you need to move forward. A safe, therapeutic environment such as The Therapy Centre is crucial for exploring and challenging your emotions, and to allow yourself to begin the journey of learning and accepting the real, underlying emotions.
This video is a very helpful introduction to how Emotion-Focused Therapy can be used to explore and understand negative emotional responses, and in turn the benefit of learning how to accept what you are really feeling deep-down in a difficult situation.