December 2, 2012
Last week, I had a very scary conversation. The topic wasn’t serious. It wasn’t about ill health, bad finances or dividing family issues. Rather, my conversation was simply honest — more specifically, it was emotionally honest. I was aware of my feelings, I let myself actually feel them and then I acted and spoke accordingly. The person to whom I was talking did exactly the same, and by the end of it, there was a radical sense of trust in each other as people and renewed confidence in ourselves and each other. When we have emotionally honest conversations like this, we give and receive in two ways. First, we are giving of ourselves, and we are willing to receive everything that the person to whom we are talking has to say.
The second way we give and receive in these conversations is that, even though they are difficult and require us to be vulnerable, it is safe to say that they always work out better than ones where we stifle ourselves. The more I have these conversations in my everyday life, the more I realize that what I do as a psychotherapist is much of the above. There are tens of thousands of books written on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, and there are dozens if not hundreds of modalities. However, somewhere at the front and centre of each of them is the same formula: the therapist and then eventually the patient will become aware of their feelings, let themselves feel them and then act accordingly, but not reactively.
What is interesting is that in this simple formula, there are various “rules” that are incumbent on the therapist in having these emotionally honest conversations with patients. I bring this up because those rules similarly apply to the emotionally honest conversations that you have in your own lives. For example, it is one thing to feel an emotion and speak from it, as opposed to “acting” on it. When I feel angry with a patient, I cannot act on that emotion — how many of you have ever heard of a therapist throwing a client out of their office? However, what I can do is explore the emotion in me and feel it. I can even ask myself, “Why am I feeling anger right now, and how can I incorporate that into this conversation with this person in front of me?” When you can come close to perfecting this art, you will notice two amazing things. First, your conversations become less reactive, and second, you feel more at peace with what you have said in the conversation.
When being emotionally honest, even confrontation is made easy. In fact, it is viewed as an efficient way of dealing with things. In another emotional conversation I had, I said, “I feel as if you are not interested in what we are doing.” The reply was simple and direct: “That’s your issue and not mine, because I can tell you that I am.” That curt reply sat just fine with me — logically, we were having an honest conversation, so why not believe the response to my inquiry?
In closing, as we give and receive during these holidays, keep in mind that it is entirely possible to give and receive emotionally. It may be both the hardest and most valuable gift you can give to yourself and others close to you.