The following are questions and answers from the Ask Steve column at the Emoclear Forums. For more questions and answers, you might visit the Emoclear Forums for discussions, Learn-ins (which are community-generated manuals on various emotional topics and processes), and threads on processing. Click here to visit the Emoclear Forums.
Ask Steve Mensing: Steve’s daily column in the forums is a convenient option for getting information you need, as well as reading Steve’s take on a wide variety of subjects regarding well-being and emotional growth. Most of the answers you’ll see below are from Ask Steve questions during the last seven years. Click here to visit Ask Steve.
1. Can most people profit from emotional processing self-help?
Answer: Most folks can benefit from learning to do emotional processing. It greatly helps if someone is self-motivated, can feel their feelings, can commit to a block of time, and has some level of patience. Emotional processing self-help is not for everyone. Some folks, suffering from severe mood disorders, personality disorders, severe traumas, and psychosis would be well served by learning and applying emotional processing with a therapist.
2. Is there a beginner’s process I can start with? How do I know I'm doing processing or integrating right?
Answer: An integrator like the Emotional Integrator (found in Your Emotional Power) or the Emo Integrator is a good place to start. You will know you are doing it right when the emotion is no longer attention grabbing, uncomfortable, intense and enduring, or it no longer registers on the SUD scale.
3. Why would I want to get in touch with something that hurts? Isn't it better to let sleeping dogs lie? How can getting in touch with so-called bad feelings be good? Shouldn't I reject them?
Answer: You might only want to get in touch with an emotion or memory that hurt if it is constricting your life in some way. Like an emotion that keeps grabbing your attention, or an emotion that is causing you to avoid others, situations, taking care of your health, going within, and allowing your emotions to naturally integrate. Emotional avoidance can lead to addictions, panic attacks, depression, poor immunity, and higher stress. Folks let sleeping dogs alone for years in the form of PTSD and suffer the highly stressful consequences.
Rejecting so-called bad feelings causes them to become attention grabbing, long-enduring, and painful. Getting in touch with them allows us to integrate or desensitize them if they are arousal-based. This allows them just to become more comfortable and leads to emotional insight. They no longer constrict our lives.
4. How does emotional self-help stack up to professional help in the areas of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems?
Answer: In limited head-to-head studies self-help has performed equally as well professional help in the areas of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.
If someone has more than moderate depression, is considering suicide, suffers from panic, psychosis, or personality disorders they should seek professional guidance. Emotional self-help has its limits.
5. What if I get in touch with a feeling I can't handle or I get scared?
Answer: If you feel you can't handle it, you might work with a trusted friend or therapist. You can also learn to slice their overwhelm down with the Shrunken Head or relaxation methods. Emoclear integrators have inbuilt overwhelm reducers. If you haven't faced scary stuff before you will soon learn it reduces after you feel it a bit.
6. Is it true that research has only verified exposure and belief change as only engines of emotional change? That if you desired to change your emotional response you would use either exposure based methods or belief change based methods?
Answer: At this time research supports only exposure, belief change, and alterations in behavior as techniques of emotional change.
7. What’s the difference between a process and an integrator?
Answer: An integrator process and an exposure/desensitization process get the same result in the end. The emotional target no longer has emotional charge on it, meaning the emotional target is no longer intense, enduring, or painful. It does not draw our attention. We have a sense of acceptance and will feel upbeat as an end result.
Exposure/desensitization is involved in integrator processes. It is the style of processes that make integrators and exposure/desensitization methods different. Integrators differ by using disidentification and "felt knowing" steps to achieve closure.
8. What are the most avoided emotions?
Answer: The most avoided emotions are those with high arousal like fear, anxiety, anger, rage, overwhelm, and embarrassment. Any emotion with high arousal and Low Frustration Tolerance (I can't stand it-itis) connected to it, is a strong candidate for avoidance.
9. What do you consider the most difficult emotional problems to change?
Answer: I'd say anger difficulties because of their complexities that may involve assumptions, rules, underlying physiology, habits, emotional responsibility, and assertiveness. Emotional eating is another complex issue that is difficult for many because it's a compulsive defense, often goes unnoticed, and is frequently enabled. Addictions are tough nuts to crack because they too are defenses and are associated with camaraderie and pleasure.
10. How can you get someone else interested in his or her growth?
Answer: Talk about how others (or you yourself) have enjoyed the adventure of emotional growth and have made changes in their intense and enduring emotions, their beliefs, and their behaviors. You might mention the fun of inner exploration and the freedom from emotional stress it's created. Point them to books, online materials, and magazine articles on the subject. Have them drop by Emoclear.com. The inner world of emotions and thoughts can be every bit as exciting as mountain climbing, white water rafting, and skydiving. It can be more rewarding than loading up a shopping cart with gold bars at Fort Knox.
11.What exactly is exposure, and what makes it work?
Answer: You expose yourself to or you confront intense or painful arousal emotions. The rule of thumb is that the more you feel arousal-based emotions like anxiety, fear, embarrassment, or anger the more they begin to extinguish or desensitize. It’s a lot like people becoming desensitized to watching violence on TV and it not bothering them after a while, or people who have public speaking anxiety becoming desensitized to it the longer they do it. The anxiety extinguishes.
12. Are there any recognizable differences between the end result of an exposure process (desensitization) and an integrator process (integration)?
Answer: None really. The emotional charge is no longer intense or enduring. Your attention is no longer pulled there. You accept your emotion. In reality an integrator process is a form of exposure-desensitization except it's done from the "observer" position and may have some other comfort making and resistance breaking bells and whistles.
13. Besides exposure what can cause more permanent emotional change?
Answer: Besides exposure and desensitization, a more permanent emotional change can be brought about by changing our beliefs to the point we strongly believe our new beliefs and they become habitual beliefs.
14. Why are emotions and feelings valuable? What exactly do our emotions do?
Answer: Let's examine why emotions and feelings are valuable. What exactly do our emotions do?
Are Biological Messengers. Y'all know about this very important function if you've been grazing Emoclear.com and the forums here. Emotions carry very important intuitive messages about: (1) What's going on inside us. (2) The world around us. (3) What we we're believing at that moment in time. (4) What we better do. (5) Whether there may be physical danger. (6) Whether we're feeling ill. (7) Whether we're feeling up, down, aroused, off balance, jovial, like laughing, or like arguing with someone about the importance of emotions. Failure to pay attention to these simple intuitive messages can create havoc in someone's life. It can put them in danger, turn their personal and family relationships upside down, put them out of touch with themselves, lead to intense emotional stuckness, and stress related disorders. Without getting our messages we'll be at a loss about when to adjust our behavior. A human being would be very ineffective without being privy to these messages.
Organize & Alert Us to Take Action. The instant some emotions turn on, our body is alerted for action. Anxiety and fear trigger adrenaline, anxiety/fear related thoughts, set the stage for us to fight like a tiger or charge backwards (flee). Security and safety are the focus. Anger raises our heart rate and makes us alert and primed for aggression.
Are Conduits to Deeper Intuition & Our Unconscious Processes. Emotions, besides being our biological information service, are stepping stones into intuition and our creative and unconscious processes. Getting an overall felt sense of a feeling can open a telephone line into our biocomputor and its neural networks. Deeper level intuition is a very important computational and wisdom system. The quality of our lives depends on this open telephone line.
Stimulate Bodily Communication & Gestures. Human beings communicate with more than words. We communicate with gestures, body language, facial expressions, and vocal intonation. Anyone who's seen a mime or a silent film actor knows what I'm talking about. Emotion helps create and shape these elements. The use of bodily communications and gestures makes us more effective speakers. We touch the emotions of others this way. When we speak from the heart our bodies come alive. We know the effects of seeing tears in another's eyes. A voice thundering across a massed throng.
Provide Emotional Intelligence. The idea of emotional intelligence is becoming more widely known. The quality of our lives and our ability to meet our goals depends very much on our being able to read and understand our and other folks' emotions. We need to know how to communicate, manage, and harness our emotions.
Motivate Us. Emotions arouse us to action. Love moves us to form a bond with another. Empathy will draw us to listen to and come to bat for someone else. Powerful emotions can carry us past formidable obstacles.
Provide a Sense of Meaning. Without emotions and feelings there can be no meaning. Meaning and importance can only exist if we feel them.
Combine with Reason to Provide Balance in Our Decision Making Process. We require that both our houses, emotion and reason, are operating if we are to make sound decisions. Emotion lets us know how we feel about something while reason provides a set of logical evaluations and tests.
Set Boundaries with Others. Our emotions alert us when we feel disturbed by another's behavior. When we trust our emotional responses and intuition and can assert ourselves, we can tell someone we don't like what they're doing. Having emotional boundaries protects us.
Help Record Emotional Memories. Various kinds of memory systems exist in our brain. One kind of memory records events and facts while another records emotional experiences. The emotionally based one is often unconscious. We may feel a certain way in a given circumstance and may recall having felt this way previously, yet we may not readily recall events where this emotion showed up in the past unless we probe.
Form a Part of Our Guidance System. Consider all the previous mentioned values and you will notice, that put together, they all form part of our human guidance system.
Help with Survival. Emotions warn of us danger and set off bodily responses that put us on alert. They also affect our health which in turn effects our survival.
Stimulate Our Hormonal Systems, Heart Rate, Blood Flow, Our Parasympathetic Response (Relaxation), and Widens Our Visual Field. Our emotions physiologically turn on and off various biological systems throughout our body. These affect our health and survival.
Build Bridges Between People. Without our emotions there can be no emotional bonds or connections between people. Parents couldn't emotionally bond with their children. Couples couldn't emotionally bond without emotions. Without emotions there would be no empathy.
Make Our Beliefs Believable. Without our feelings and emotions supporting our beliefs, our beliefs would not feel believable.
15. Why the 30 minutes rule for emotional processing?
Answer: Let's take a look at why we recommend no more than thirty to forty minutes daily (Save for some longer sessions once a week or when we're on the verge of completing a target).
Keep in mind that our processes are exposure and are aimed at arousal targets such as anxiety, fear, anger, rage, Low Frustration tolerance, and embarrassment. This means the person processing is going to be contacting painful emotions and staying with that contact. In this contact they will be stimulating endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. After about 30 to 40 minutes (depending on the individual) of intensive aroused feelings many folks will start to lose some contact with their feelings through endorphin numbing. This makes it more difficult to feel feelings. It also makes it more difficult to complete a target because you have a challenging time discerning your actual distress level. Endorphins can corrupt SUD Scales and other measures of distress.
A second challenge with endorphin stimulation after 30 to 40 minutes is that endorphin stimulation naturally elevates our mood. While this is a good thing, it's problematic with locating and feeling feelings that may occur in down or neutral moods. Some feelings and emotions are state dependent meaning they can only be accessed in a certain state. An elevated mood can make this challenging.
There seems to be a point of diminishing returns after long periods of processing.
Many folks struggling with emotions and overwhelm in their lives, may be predisposed to developing compulsions to cover overwhelm and uncomfortable feelings. Long bouts of processing, which stimulate endorphins, are solid candidates for being turned into compulsive activities like distance running, bodybuilding, workaholism, and emotional eating.
Very important traumas, areas of anxiety, phobias, overwhelm, Low Frustration Tolerance, and anger and resentment were being skipped over with more than thirty minutes. In some instances folks reported lying around in bed processing for hours when what they needed to do was to get out and directly expose themselves to anxiety provoking circumstances.
Another reason we chose the 30 minutes or so limit is that substantial change can be affected in that time. Sometimes it's okay to go past that time limit in completing important targets. Once a week someone can go up to 90 minutes.
Our defenses required to hold off overwhelm and overstress can become overwhelmed by excessive processing.
Folks report feeling spacey and ungrounded from too much processing. They may have challenges with attention and memory.
Thinking can be affected by staying too long in feelings. The ability to think critically can be locked down for long periods.
Overdoing processing can be tiring and can lead to a loss of interest in it. Some folks can burnout from it
Over thirty to forty minutes may appear like a mountain of work to a newbie.
If someone knows how to do processes correctly and applies them to important targets, he or she can make some major progress in overcoming intense and enduring emotions.
16. How long do we use emotional processing in our lives?
Answer: Emotional integrators and emotional written exposure methods will only be used for a short time or long enough to desensitize our more pressing emotional issues. Emotional processes are meant to be like training wheels used only long enough before we find arousal emotions like anxiety, fear, and anger acceptable and we return to our natural ability to feel and integrate (desensitizing) emotions. We may go through a brief period of learning to utilize an integrator which may last up to a few sessions. Learning an integrator may take a day or two or up to two weeks depending on the individual and how much experience they have feeling their feelings.
After this brief learning period we use our integrator or emotional written exposure processes on more intense arousal targets or emotionally charged events. Our period of processing arousal targets may go on for a few weeks or to up to several months. After we reach a point where our arousal emotions feel acceptable and comfortable the training wheels come off. We will naturally integrate and won't have much in the way of strong, painful, and enduring emotions on our plate. Occasionally, through the course of a lifetime, we may need to do some touching up.
When our need to process comes to end emotions will generally be no longer stuck and painful because our newly ingrained the habit of accepting them and allowing them to be there. We do this whenever an arousal emotion appears. The need for emotional processing is over. We intuitively know what to do. Our body naturally integrates. The job of our training wheels is finished. Life is far less tense and stress filled when we no longer avoid our emotions and instead feel them with a sense of allowing. When we reach this point strong emotions are accepted by just feeling them.