Using Everything We Have
In last week’s post, I introduced the idea that our culture discounts the emotional side of life in comparison to the intellectual, logical, or rational. This may be particularly true of people who have been educated in this way. My own education, for example, acted as if the emotional side of life did not have a place in the classroom, giving me the implicit message that it was not as “real” or “legitimate” as the intellectual side. It confused me, then, to realize that every meaningful experience in my life seemed much more saturated with emotions than thoughts.
Since my post a few weeks ago, I have been paying close attention to what I consider the difference between an intellectual versus emotional experience. What I have found is that the distinction is actually more difficult than I might have imagined. It seems impossible to determine whether I am primarily thinking or feeling at the moment; whichever one I focus on seems to take center stage. Also, it is rare that I am having a series of thoughts without an emotion attached to them, or an emotion without a corresponding set of thoughts. That is when I am paying attention, of course. At other times, it is quite easy to have an emotion without thinking about it, or a series of thoughts without considering what emotion attends them.
So, the emotional and intellectual slices of life seem to be layered on top of each other, rather than separated. All the more reason why it is strange that we seem to have so divided them. Think of our common phrases:
“Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.”
“You’re not looking at things logically.”
“Let’s just be rational about it.”
The converse of these phrases would be somewhat strange to hear, wouldn’t they?
Suffice it to say that therapy is a total experience, one where no aspect of your reality is going to be bypassed. Thoughts and emotions each evolved to serve a purpose. To favor one over the other, across the board, is to impose an arbitrary valuation that is not helpful in trying to figure out what the core of your issue is and how you can resolve it. Like a detective, a good therapist takes all the evidence at his or her disposal. Similarly, it might be said that a good life is one that tries to encapsulate all experience that comes its way. When dealing with a mental health problem, however, a person can feel like experience is only halfway reaching them. Which is why, to help things, we need to open the door to emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and other slices of internal experience, to see if we can understand what is going on.