Infuriated. Enthused. Nonplussed. Serene. Trapped. Overwhelmed.
Feelings and words—simple, right?
I was talking with my fiancée last night about the relationship between feelings and words. She’s been talking about starting a blog for a while now, partly to offer other people some insight into her life, and partly to provide herself with an emotional outlet for the ups and downs she anticipates as she starts a new journey into nursing school. One of the things holding her back, she said, was the difficulty of putting emotional material into words that did justice to the lived experience, while also coming off as eloquent and genuine.
Suddenly, I thought to myself, “Wait a second—isn’t that all that good writing really is? And isn’t that a significant portion of what a professional helping encounter is too?” And the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make. It’s incredibly therapeutic to be able to give voice to one’s inner life, to translate one’s emotions into understandable words. The way I see it, language is an inherently limiting approximation of life; while it can be beautiful, evocative and emotionally laden, most of the time we struggle to communicate exactly the same things we’re feeling inside. Some linguists would argue that once we learn a language, it begins to precede our lived experience—that our lives are in a way shaped by the language we use to describe them. However, it’s the trouble people have with talking or writing about emotions that gives me slight pause when considering the above theory.
Have you ever just had a feeling that you wanted to tell someone about, and no matter how hard you tried, no matter how many analogies or metaphors you used, you couldn’t quite make that other person understand what you were going through? Similarly, have you ever tried to describe what a particularly meaningful piece of art—a painting or a poem or a song—means to you, and been utterly unable to do so?
Conversely, have you ever been in a similar situation, struggled for a while, but finally found the perfect way to describe what you meant? These sorts of epiphanies are rare, but incredibly satisfying and revealing. Think of the last time you had a word or a name on the “tip of your tongue” in a conversation— the frustration of not being able to recall it—and suddenly it comes to you. It’s that kind of feeling I’m talking about, only drastically magnified because it’s about something deeply meaningful to you.
Although I’ve been outside of a “personal counselling” role for the last year or so, I’m still moved by the number of students I see in a career advising context who leave my office saying something like “wow—it best online casino just feels so great to have talked to someone about this.” It sounds so simple, but the very act of giving language to something you’ve been trying to deal with internally has a strange kind of power.
I used to be surprised when students would say that at the end of an appointment. I would feel that I hadn’t really done anything—that it was some kind of luck or accident they felt that way, and that I was supposed to have done more to help them solve their problem. What I neglected to acknowledge was that I was doing plenty, just not in the way I thought I should be. It was my own insecurities as a helper behind the feelings of not having done enough. My job was not to dole out solutions; it was to be their translator.
I think everyone needs an outlet for their inner life. Some create visual art, some write or play music, some use physical outlets like running or sport, and when things get bad enough some go to therapy or another helping relationship. I won’t make any claims about one outlet being better or worse than another, but I will go on record as saying that letting that dark inner stuff go unheeded is an incredibly efficient path to becoming unwell. Having an outlet may not be sufficient to solve your problems or help you move on from a difficult life event, but it sure is necessary.
So become better friends with your inner self. Try to learn new ways of listening to that part of you, and hopefully the words will eventually come easily.