How Are YOU Feeling? (A 21 Day Challenge)
by Julie Matheson
When I was barely an adult, I attended a 6-week intensive co-dependency* program that met every week-night for 3 hours. At the time I was a student at Ohio State and had a great job in a doctor’s office. I had goals and I was working hard. Life was mostly good. However, I had just left a rocky relationship and wanted to make sure to never repeat the roller coaster ride I had experienced. This small-group co-dependency program was exactly what I needed.
(*In this context I’m defining co-dependency as being overly focused on someone else’s behavior, more than your own.)
Eve, our lead counselor, would start the meeting. We would do a check-in, going around the circle opening with one or two honest feeling words - mad, sad, glad, afraid, embarrassed, shocked, ashamed, etc. We each had a print out of a long list of possible feeling words we could scan to find the right fit. If the ‘feeling word’ someone offered up didn’t match the overall look of that person’s disposition, the focus stayed on that person until an honest feeling was identified and shared. No one was off the hook.
We read aloud a list of ‘agreements’ at every meeting. Something like, one person speaks at a time, I agree to keep the focus entirely on myself using “I” statements, I will be aware of projections, I will avoid making assumptions, I will own my own feelings and not say, “You made me feel ____”, I agree to be a present-listener, I agree to offer honest feedback, I won’t blame, I won’t make excuses, and I won’t rescue someone who is experiencing an intense feeling.
If we violated any of these rules, Eve would gently say, for example, “Hey, that was a ‘rescue,’ please let them have their own experience.”
That last one was crucial in our group dynamics. That meant, if someone was having an intense feeling or getting upset, we weren’t permitted to distract them. No hand on their back, no excusing their feelings or taking responsibility for their feelings or any such offering that might either distract, or stop them, from having the experience they were having. It was called a rescue and wasn’t permitted.
Eve made sure the group environment was safe for having, and completing, a full-feeling experience. It was the most consistently organized, safe, simple, on-topic, no-nonsense and insightful group experience I, still to date, have ever had. We were there to do one thing – talk about ourselves as authentically and responsibly as we possibly could using feeling words.
To this day if someone is crying in a group experience, I hesitate to do anything that will interrupt it. That was the training. I understood it and it stuck with me.
However, it’s a fair point, isn’t it, how frequently many of these communication habits occur? It’s a culturally common notion to think one’s feelings are caused by outside circumstances, or by someone else. Blame, projections, assumptions and focus on outside influences (not where true power resides) are common mental habits.
In truth, everything we feel is generated by what we think and how we perceive in-coming information. Each feeling is our own. Even if we are overly-empathic by nature, it’s our boundary to make.
Although it wasn’t easy fitting 3 hours of intense group communication work into my already full days, this group experience offered a doorway to breaking unproductive communication habits: not listening well, blaming, making assumptions, not being honest with one’s true feelings, and not even knowing what one feels in the first place. It was a true sanctuary for self-discovery and reflection.
If ever you find a gentle therapeutic group that confronts your communication habits, take it. In the meantime, here’s a challenge for you: For 21 days set your phone timer to go off every hour on the hour from 7am – 9pm, for example, and ask yourself these questions each time the alarm sounds –
1. What am I feeling?
2. What am thinking?
3. Where is my focus?
Then choose to bring the focus back to yourself, where the power and volition lives.
This is an awareness experiment. No judgment here. Sometimes focusing on someone else is exactly what we need to do for the moment. However, for the major portion of the day, keeping the focus on you, knowing what you think and how you feel and being honest about it will help elevate your co-dependency IQ and potentially help make every group you are in a safer, more productive place to be.
Julie Matheson is a holistic mental health counselor and author. Her new book is now
on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, Audible and in bookstores near you –
Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and
Lasting Peace: Untangle Your Mind and Heart Once and For All.
You may listen to the Introduction at LotusFlowerLiving.com/book.