NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, July 27, 2023

Are You Able to Express Your Vulnerable Feelings to Your Partner?

Being able to talk about your vulnerable feelings to a loved one is an essential part of being in a healthy relationship (see my article: Improve Communication in Your Relationship By Eliminating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).

Communication Problems in a Relationship

People, who struggle to communicate with their partner, often seek help in individual or couples therapy, but many more people never seek help because they're overwhelmed by shame. This often leads to anxiety and depression as well as a series of unhappy relationships.

How Does Trauma Affect a Person's Ability to Talk About Their Feelings?
An inability to communicate feelings is often linked to unresolved early trauma.

Children learn to identify and express their feelings when their parents name, frame and help the children to contain these feelings.

If you've ever watched a child having a tantrum in public, you probably observed their loving caregiver try to help them to calm down by making eye contact with a loving glaze, speaking softly and telling them that they understand the child is upset, identifying the feelings, framing it and comforting the child with a hug.

By identifying and framing the experience for the child, the caregiver helps the child to understand what they're feeling.  In effect, the caregiver becomes an emotional container for the child's emotions until the child gets older and they internalize the ability to do it on their own.

At first glance, this might not seem particularly important, but that loving caregiver is helping the child to understand what's happening to them emotionally and helping the child to manage their emotions (see my article: Developing Skills to Manage Your Emotions).

Contrast that with a caretaker who is outwardly angry and scolds the child by saying, "Stop being a baby!" or "Boys don't cry" or some other derogatory remark.

The disapproving caretaker isn't helping the child to identify, frame and contain their feelings. Instead they're communicating to the child that the child's feelings are wrong or bad, which is a form of emotional abuse. This creates guilt and shame (see my article: What is the Difference Between Guilt and Shame?).

So, what does a child do when faced with this situation over and over again?  To deal with this overwhelming experience, they suppress (or numb) their feelings to appease their caregiver at a great emotional cost to themselves.

Emotional numbing is often a survival strategy for young children who must choose between experiencing and expressing their feelings versus being overwhelmed by an angry caregiver.  

When children numb their feelings, they're trying to keep their caregiver from becoming even more angry or frustrated so, in that sense, it helps the child to survive in an unhealthy environment by keeping the caregiver from being even more emotionally abusive. 

If children experience ongoing disapproval of their feelings, this leads to developmental trauma (see my article: Overcoming Developmental Trauma: Developing the Capacity to Put Words to Feelings).

Developmental trauma doesn't just go away when a child becomes an adult. It becomes a way of life and it interferes with the individual's personal well-being as well as their relationships (see my article: How Trauma Affects Intimate Relationships).

So, what started as a childhood survival strategy to avoid further emotional pain is no longer a viable strategy in adulthood.  It creates confusion and doubt for the individual and for their loved ones.

Suppressed feelings can also cause health problems because the feelings don't go away just because the person isn't in touch with them. 

Due to the mind-body connection, suppressed feelings can create ever increasing stress and tension which can lead to headaches, backaches, autoimmune problems and other stress-related medical problems (see my article: Suppressed Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems).

How Can Experiential Therapy Help an Adult Who Doesn't Know How to Talk About Their Feelings?
Experiential therapy includes the following types of mind-body oriented therapy:
  • Other Mind-Body Oriented Therapies
An Experiential Therapist helps clients to develop a felt sense of their feelings in their body to overcome emotional numbing and begin to identify their feelings (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Instead of relying on their intellectual insight to identify feelings, these clients learn to tap into their feelings in their body (see my article: How to Manage Your Emotions Without Suppressing Them).

This is usually a gradual process because it can take a while for clients to trust the therapist enough overcome their fear, shame and guilt (see my article: Mind-Body Oriented Therapy Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

These adults, who were ridiculed for their feelings as children, also have to learn to overcome the negative feedback they received as a child that their feelings were a burden to others, including their parents or primary caregivers.

Along the way, the Experiential Therapist also helps the client to work through unresolved trauma related to childhood experiences.

Becoming More Emotionally Available to Your Partner

When the client overcomes emotional numbing, they're able to experience a wide array of feelings, including joy and pleasure and they usually become more emotionally available to their loved ones.

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
Emotional numbing robs you of joy and pleasure.  

Emotional numbing is also an obstacle to knowing yourself and being intimately known by your loved ones.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help in Experiential Therapy so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.