How we process our feelings and emotions is often learned early in childhood. Some families are good at getting everything out, speaking their minds and telling others about how they feel. Others find it more appealing to stay quiet about feelings, stuffing them down and never speaking of them again. We can often be lured into believing that because we don’t speak about our feelings and keep them hidden they are gone and we no longer need to confront feelings of hurt, sadness, rejection or anger. Although it would be nice for that to be the case, often it is not. We still own those feelings, we still hold on to those feelings, we just behave as if they are no longer real because they are hidden.
Let’s pretend you have just moved into a house with a basement. When you first move in the basement looks like the largest space you’ve ever seen. It’s wide open, there are no walls, the space is free of any clutter. There is only one way in and one way out of the basement. When you are upstairs, it is easy to shut the door to the basement and forget it even exists.
The basement becomes a wonderful place to store the things you just don’t know what to do with. You clean the house, find some stuff you don’t want to throw away so you box it up, label it and then take that box down to the basement. There is plenty of room at first for all of your things. Year after year, the basement stores more and more boxes and starts to fill up. Soon, you can see the boxes from the top of the stairs. The problem is, you still have more stuff so you keep piling them in until one day you open the door and the boxes have filled every inch of your basement and you can’t close the door any longer.
OUR EMOTIONAL BASEMENT
When we stuff our feelings, don’t talk about them and don’t process them it is like we are taking boxes and putting them into a basement. It works for a while. It might even seem like a brilliant plan but eventually it catches up with us. A stuffed emotional basement, just like a packed real basement will leave you with two choices.
CLEAN IT UP OR MOVE
There are two ways to deal a basement that is overflowing, clean it up or move. Neither of them is particularly easy or fun. The reason many of us box up our feelings is because we never learned how to process them. We never learned the skills needed to face our feelings, our past hurts and trauma. Moving means that you will need to leave this place that you know and start all over again and cleaning it up requires hours of work, sorting and decision making. If you chose to move, you will probably experience broken relationships and loneliness. If you choose to clean up your emotional basement, you may have to face long forgotten history and get overwhelmed. You don’t have the tools you need to heal from the experiences you have endured in life. You can’t do this alone.
Counseling gives you the opportunity to clean up your emotional basement with help, and who doesn’t want help? Finding a counselor and making the commitment to attend regularly is the surest way to help unpack your emotional basement. Counseling can teach you the skills you need to process your past and your present. And the best part is you don’t have to do it alone. A trusted counselor will be your guide and encourager, helping you with the difficult task of unpacking. A counselor will also teach you the skills needed to make sure your emotional basement doesn’t fill up again.
Written By: Christine B., Masters Level Intern