On the couchEva Breda (24) is a journalist, podcast maker and client. In her latest podcast A girl comes to the psych she tries to lower the threshold to psychological help by going to therapy herself. She discusses her therapy in a column. This week: the third session.
I can’t live without my noise canceling headphones. Fantastic, that thing. Whether I’m in a noisy train, standing under a blowing extractor hood or cycling through Amsterdam honking, thanks to the white noise that blows into my ears always and everywhere shutting off the world. And I like to do that too: I listen to podcasts all day long. You can call it an obsession. I never saw that as a problem. All around me I saw friends binging entire Netflix series at the expense of sleep and work. That I listened to podcasts while my life just went on was pretty innocent, wasn’t it?
No, according to the fourth therapy session. “Those podcasts distract you from your feelings,” says my psychologist Dorianne Hoek. “I think you’re actually afraid to feel.” She’s absolutely right. All day long I keep myself busy so as not to have to feel one thing: disappointment. And when I first let it into the session, I’m overcome by a tidal wave of sadness and I can’t stop crying.
You can only feel emotions
Always a busy schedule, always worrying, always meeting friends: they seem like harmless habits, but often they are a way to distract ourselves from something we don’t want to feel. We Dutch are practical, we prefer to be in our heads than in our feelings. Are we angry? We’ll talk it out. Dissatisfied? We’ll handle it. But when it comes to difficult emotions such as loss, mourning, regret and envy, there is often little to solve. We can only feel it, with all the impotence that entails. And we prefer to avoid that.
For me, disappointment is the ball that I try to keep under the water. As the child of an addicted father, I have often felt disappointed. At a certain age, I subconsciously decided that that emotion brought me nothing but pain and that I should avoid it.
The disadvantage of keeping such a ball under water is that it shoots up very hard at an unguarded moment. Scary, because what if it engulfs you so much that it drags you into a very dark place? And there’s the paradox of bottling it up. Because we often end up a lot worse if we suppress emotions. If we don’t let it out, our body will give it a shape to come out: depression, an eating disorder, panic attacks.
Don’t push emotions away
That’s why it’s helpful to learn to let your emotions in in a controlled way. But how? According to Dorianne, this consists of three steps. ,,First of all, plan a moment alone, without distraction,’ is her advice. Once a week, sit in nature for half an hour and see what happens. Do you feel emotions? “Then comes step two: expression. Don’t push the emotions away, but push them out. Cry, or – if it’s easier – write them off.”
Are you afraid that the emotion will overwhelm you? Focus on your breathing and you will see the heaviness decrease. Then comes the last step: self-care. “Go for a walk, shower, cook: do something that relaxes you, you have earned it.” By repeating this step-by-step plan weekly, you become familiar with difficult emotions. You dose that tidal wave and find out that every wave ebbs away again.
I am also instructed to practice this more often in this therapy session. “I wish you became familiar with your own silence”, Dorianne tells me. My real silence. And not the feigned silence of those damn headphones.
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