In a recent family therapy session, the parents of one of the clients with whom I work commented on how quickly their son was able to recognize and express the emotions that he was feeling while working on his therapy assignment. This may not appear to be much of an accomplishment to some, but for this client and his family it means something wonderful. Looking back several months ago to the beginning of this young man’s treatment at Oxbow he was not able to recognize his emotions, and believed that he did not ‘feel’. There are several things that can attribute to this inability: lack of insight, unwillingness, disability, and lack of emotional training. None of these appear to be preventing him now. His resistance is lowered, he is gaining insight into the ways in which his disability affects him, and he has had some much needed emotional training.
It is not uncommon for the young men with whom we work to begin their treatment at Oxbow with little emotional insight and few healthy coping mechanisms to help them deal with their emotions. Many young men are initially opposed to getting in touch with their emotions. Throughout their stay they learn of the necessity and strength that comes through being honest with their feelings and overcoming the thinking errors they have used in order to avoid them. This work is essential in order for them to feel empathy toward anyone. Empathy is essential in order to prevent damaging relationships. Students must develop empathy in order to heal themselves emotionally and assist in the healing of others.
Masking or avoiding one’s feelings through the use of thinking errors takes its toll on the lives of these young men and their families. The student I referred to is now taking the time that he needs in order to label his emotions and use healthy coping mechanisms to avoid shutting off his “difficult” emotions -the ones he would prefer to ignore. He recently stated that it is due to moving beyond his thinking errors that he has been able to be true to his feelings and gain insight into the feelings of others. He is well on his way to being able to express empathy. Coming from a young man who originally thought that he could not feel this is quite an accomplishment!
-Rachelle Gallup, CSW