Hold Me Tight

Hold Me Tight

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Hold Me Tight

“Anger tells us to approach and fight. Shame tells us to withdraw and hide. Fear tells us to flee or freeze, or in real extremes to turn and attack back. Sadness primes us to grieve and let go” -Dr. Sue Johnson 

Emotions, what a vital part of our existence as humans. What does emotional intelligence or emotional wellness even mean? You may have heard these term before, but was it ever modeled or explained to you. As Sue Johnson might say, we seek human connection to feel emotionally bonded to our loved ones, if that is at risk, we lose our sense of safety and security. 

As a therapist, one of the most common questions we ask which I bet you can guess is; “How does that make you feel?” Time and time again people will respond by saying “well I didn’t like it” or “I’m not sure”. Practicing finding words to describe our emotions is one of the first steps to be able to express how we feel. Most people are familiar with sad, happy, excited, or upset and that is mostly where it stops. People will respond to the question “how does that make you feel”, with almost any response other than an actual emotion. 

Let’s look at some emotion words that can be used. Based off of the six primary emotions; anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise there are secondary emotions. Some would include confused, shameful, enthusiastic, peaceful, scared, distressed, and many more. One tool to use to find language of your emotions is called the emotion wheel.

Finding words to describe how we feel creates language for us to express ourselves to others or even identify how we are feelings. Self-awareness, the ability to understand our feelings, moods, and thoughts. Increasing your self-awareness is another important step to working on your emotional intelligence. This can be done by checking in with yourself. When working with clients using a color coded thermometer can be a way to check in with them about how they may be feeling. If they are verbal they can say what color they think they are and if they are nonverbal it is a great visual for the client to point at. 

How does this all relate back to therapy might you ask. From the quote above by Dr. Sue Johnson, each emotion is typically paired with a response. Some of these responses may be automatic or routine behaviors. By beginning to recognize what these responses are informs us of what we may be feeling.

Emotions provide us with information about ourselves, others, and how we can communicate, respond, and interact. When working with clients by verbalizing an emotion “wow you look really frustrated right now” this can help the child to name what emotion they are displaying. It will also help them increase their awareness around their affect, actions, words and it can even create a space for the child to agree, to correct, or to find another word or way to express themselves. As a therapist, when working with children we can also model and share our own emotions for example, “I am so excited to see you”. This helps the client to connect the word excited with the affect that your face is showing. 

Let’s practice identify, sharing, and expressing your emotions to others in order to strengthen your emotional intelligence as a parent, individual, child, or therapist.


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