Emotional Exposure Exercise: Emotional Surfing in Action
As promised, from time to time I will post examples of Integrative Mindful Exposure in practice. The principle technique of helping my clients to understand and acquire skills in Mindful Emotional Exposure that I employ is something I call Emotional Surfing. For those not yet familiar, please refer to a previous post for a review: https://blackturtlebooks.com/integrative-mindful-exposure-emotional-surfing/ .
A middle age woman was sitting across from me, weeping, visibly shaken and panicked. She knew of course how I was going to proceed since we have been working together for some time. She almost instinctively closed her eyes, sat back on her sofa and unbraced her arms as she knew I would request. I asked her to provide a label for what she was feeling. She said, “I am extremely” panicky and anxious”. I responded, “Now you know Cathy, that’s not how this goes in a laughing manner. What emotions are you presently aware of?” Almost without hesitation, she exclaimed, “I feel angry!” I led her deeper into the anger by asking her to focus on the physical sensations associated with it and to pay attention to any other thoughts, feelings, memories, or images that arise.
As she focused on the anger, she expressed that she felt hurt and angry that her ex-husband couldn’t love her (due to his own depression and lack of emotional development). She quickly expressed a feeling of being unloveable. This feeling appeared to eminate from her chest/heart area. She then reported a feeling of emptiness in her chest. “I am afraid to feel it”, she exclaimed. I gave her permission to experience the fear of feeling empty. She then stated, “It keeps coming back to the feeling that I am unloveable.” I asked her to label that feeling. “SHAME!”, she exclaimed loudly. “And guilt”. I asked her to focus intently in those feelings which she described as centered in her arms. Suddenly she exclaimed, “It’s not my fault! I am a good person!” She then indicating the feeling of rage coursing through her limbs. Focusing on that she blurted out “They shouldn’t have been parent’s! They shouldn’t have had me if they didn’t want me!” She cried intensely for about 2 minutes. Suddenly, she appeared calm and tranquil. I asked her describe her sensations. She began to describe the sensation of calm emanating from an indigo blue field growing within her. She stated, “It is getting lighter. It is so beautiful”. At this point we ended the exercise.
This whole experience, which lasted perhaps around 8 minutes, is a fair representation of how this often proceeds. By embracing pain, opening up to the experience with mindful intent, one can observe that even the most intense varieties of pain simply wash through and then trails away of itself. Often times, individuals are met, not only by a diminution of emotional distress, but deep and abiding feelings of peace and acceptance. Does this feeling last? Certainly not. Nothing endures, neither happiness, nor pain. But what does tend to occur over time, is a deepening sense of equanimity and trust, such that the next time emotional pain or any one of the “dark emotions” pays a visit, one can be more assured that they can open to the pain, without the cataclysmic consequences they may have previously expected. And in fact, over time, many discover that they can experience deep peace, even in the heart of pain.
Please feel free to post comments, questions, and personal experiences related to this topic.