Exploring Feelings

Many types of mental health treatment include some form of exploring feelings.  In Neurodynamic Couples Therapy, exploring feelings is the pathway to metabolizing and integrating them into a cohesive sense of self and relationships and creating a bond of empathy and understanding between partners.

The primary technique we use to explore feelings is what we call “following threads.”  When a partner in the midst of describing a conflict in their relationship speaks a particularly impactful word or phrase that resonates within the therapist as meaningful, that “thread” is then repeated and “followed” with interest and curiosity.  We are facilitating the outing of an expression of a past wound, loss or trauma that the speaker may not yet be conscious of being connected to important unmetabolized feelings.

Continuing the metaphor, we go so far as to think of this as a type of “reweaving” of the client’s past story into the “tapestry” of their lives.  Together with their partner in treatment, they are assisted in making the disconnected (or dissociated) “patches” of their lives come together into a beautiful “cloth” that makes sense to both.

Following threads contains the concept utilized by several methodologies of treatment of exploring in an experience near manner.  We would say that the right brains of partners have found a way to so perfectly spark an old feeling through a current experience that the exact words that are being relived carry the key to their healing.  We are using the clients’ words in a present moment to illuminate and reconnect the feelings from past experiences.

An example might be useful.  As I was talking with a couple, the wife was describing her experience of the problematic interactions she and her husband frequently had with his adult daughters.  At one point she said, “I always feel left by the wayside.”  Something about that phrase caught my attention and created a visceral reaction within me.  Following that thread, I repeated the statement and reinforced that it sounded like an important phrase that we needed to know more about.  I asked, “What was it like to feel left by the wayside?”; “What leads you to feel that way?”; “Who else has left you by the wayside?”, etc.

Going further in our understanding of the threads, they arise from the intersubjective system of a couple that has been consistently present in their relationship.  The repetitive conflicts of the couple described above were nonconsciously constructed to ensure that the wife would experience “I always feel left by the wayside.”  Their therapy facilitated turning this repetitive experience into a healing experience through persistent curiosity about the feelings from this particular old wound that could then be spoken and integrated into that beautiful “cloth.”

Following a thread with one partner frequently leads to the discovery by both partners that they have highly similar unmetabolized feelings–a powerful nonconscious piece of their initial attraction to each other and a source of natural empathy.

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