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  • Charles West

I don't have time for this

This is a complaint I’ve commonly heard from clients as they delve deeper into their experience in therapy - and I think it’s a valid one. Our lives are often so busy. We have to meet deadlines, show up on time and keep up with responsibilities. We’re called on to be present at work, at home and in our relationships. It can all feel like too much sometimes. We get overloaded and fall behind, having to work harder just to keep up, often wishing we just had more time. In the midst of life’s demands spending time in therapy can feel counterproductive. With so much pressure to perform, getting in touch with sad, angry or disappointed parts of our experience can feel like going the wrong direction, more like a waste of time. Though as I’ve worked with clients to understand this complaint, I’ve found it is often just the surface of something deeper and more critical, and begins to appear more in the form of a concern than a complaint. The concern here is centered around “holding it together.” Therapy can be like an unraveling, a disruption to our automatic ways of being or a pulling-apart of our experience. This often means acknowledging our own pain, the ways we’re hurting or barely hanging on - admitting our loneliness, our irritability, uncertainty and fear. Feeling the depths of our sadness or peaks of our rage seems to threaten our efforts to keep up and keep it together outside of session. If we’re needing to “suck it up” and “push through it” in order to make it through our busy, stressful week then slowing down to notice our bodily experience or revisit past traumas can feel dangerous. Really feeling our feelings may just make things worse, draining our motivation, leaving us raw and vulnerable rather than strong and in motion. Worse yet, we may be swallowed up by our sadness and negativity, unable to go forward and left off with failed responsibilities and more stress. Why would anyone want to do that, let alone pay for it? Interestingly enough, slowing down to really feel our feelings often has the opposite effect. As we process our emotions in a safe way with an attuning other, we become more free, more regulated, and more able to fully dedicate ourselves to our work and relationships. Pushing down unprocessed emotional states takes a lot of work. It makes us reactive, stressed and anxious over time. Avoiding our feelings makes them more intense and more overwhelming, fueling our avoidance and creating a cycle of disconnection. Slowing down to face the wave of our emotions is scary and takes courage. When we are left alone with them it can feel like drowning. Therapy offers a safe, containing context to find grounding, to feel more connected and in control of our experience. As we become more integrated with our emotions we often feel more creative and more energized, less distracted and glued our coping mechanisms. We find that we can survive big waves of feeling and develop a new, deeper relationship with ourselves and others. We find that naming and coming to terms our emotions makes our internal world more manageable - it allows us to be more present and put more energy into the world around us. Our productivity increases. Finding time to really feel how we feel in the midst of life's demands can be one of the scariest but most rewarding and productive decisions we make.

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