I attended a year long training program in 1995-1996 to learn Virginia Satir’s Growth Model of family therapy in more depth. I had started learning about it in graduate school and I was both excited and comforted by its simplicity and strength-based approach. I learned a tool, among many others, called “Ingredients of An Interaction” that I have taught to countless individuals, couples and families.
In this tool, the therapist guides a person through specific steps, often as one or more people watch before their turn. It is a slow-motion, magnified look at what happens when we react to something someone else has done or said. We may be angry in a split second, for instance, but don’t know much about how we got there, focusing only on another person’s actions as the impetus. Then we may repeat the interaction through obsessive review or speech, (see previous blog post: “We Strengthen What We Practice,”) thereby strengthening our defensive reactivity, which is just a layering of feelings, rules and habit patterns piled on top of the primary feeling.
One of the steps in this tool is called “Feelings About Feelings.” We start out getting sensory input, make meaning(s) of that input, have feelings about those meanings, then have feelings about the feelings, then family rules come in, etc. before we respond. It is worth mentioning that the response after close examination is quite often organically altered by this focus of attention without judgment.
Try it on next time you have a strong reaction. Or maybe just ask yourself: What feelings do I have about feelings I experience? Suppose the feeling is fear – is it okay to feel fear, to admit feeling something that is universally experienced in all of life? How about anger? Sadness? Sometimes people have rules that equate kindness or gratitude, for example, with weakness or vulnerability, even stupidity. What are the layers of conditioning: familial, cultural, educational, spiritual….. that can and do weigh in outside of our everyday awareness?
What do we add on to the bare experience of feelings, especially those we would like to banish to another planet? Shame, for example- UGH! How do we relate to feelings that seem to be the most well practiced, intentionally or not? Ever worry about worry? Been angry about anger – yours or others – or afraid of it? Been in love with love? What are the rules you may have been following that categorize feelings into good or bad, simply based on how pleasant or unpleasant they are to experience?
How would it be if we could learn to experience feelings in their fullness without adding on judgment, allowing them to naturally come and go? Is it the feelings that are problematic or what we do with them? If we slow down reactivity with awareness, can we open to our choices about how to respond with skillful action?
Let me know how it goes!