The process of doing psychotherapy offers clients a variety of tools to create a more balanced and healthy way of living. One of these tools is learning the process of tuning into yourself and being able to listen to your inner voice. This may sound strange at first but when you learn how to do it and incorporate it into daily life you begin to see just how essential it is.
At first, when I ask clients if they hear their inner voice, they sometimes look at me somewhat surprised. They wonder if I am asking them if they hear voices but this is not what I mean. If you sit quietly, do some gently breathing and become aware of your body and breath, you can begin to be aware of an inner knowledge. I call this your inner voice and it can help you to become more authentic in your responses to your life.
For example, if you are facing a difficult choice - try settling down and quietly ask yourself if a certain choice is right one for you? You might find there is a tightening up in your body or a sense of anxiety that arises, or you might even hear a little voice in your head that says “no”. This is your inner voice speaking to you, trying to let you know which is the right choice for you. Of course I am not suggesting that you always follow this voice but rather you begin a dialogue with it. If for example the voice says, “no don’t take that new job” it may mean you need to become aware of fears you might have about choosing the job. Once you are aware of your feelings you can use your mind and emotions to help you make the right choice for you.
The more you use this method, the stronger this voice can become like a muscle that gets stronger by using it. When our inner voice is coupled with our intellect they become powerful tools we can use as we navigate through the complexity of our life.
The power of positive emotions and thinking
As a psychotherapist I work everyday with clients who struggle with issues from anxiety, to depression to low self-esteem. While I do not think we can heal these issues just by thinking differently, I do believe that the way we think about things affects how we experience the world, our emotional states, and our relationships. The therapeutic process requires an emotional understanding of ourselves on an experiential level which must be connected with an analytic understanding of ourselves in order for change to occur. As part of this process focusing on our thoughts and how they impact on our emotions is central to a healing process.
I first experienced this when working with eating disordered clients who live with an internal dialogue that is oppressively negative. For example, they might say to themselves, “I am so stupid” or “I am so fat” and while they are saying this they may begin to feel as if they have a heavy boulder sitting on top of them. If however, I suggest they try to change their internal dialogue and say “ I am enough” or “all is well” they often have a different experience of themselves, even if it is only temporary. To begin, their body posture changes and they sit up straight. They also report that they feel more positive and calm inside. If you try this as an experiment you will see how your thoughts can change your mood and even your physical experience of yourself.
This idea that our thoughts shape us has been explored and extensively written about by well-known author and health guru Louise Hay. She explores the relationships between our thoughts, our emotions and the impact they have on our health. In her book Heal Your Body, she makes direct correlations between illnesses, their probable causes and how we can affect them with positive affirmations. To some this may seem trite or even improbable but research continues to support the fact that the way we think impacts on our lives which ultimately impacts our quality of life and mental wellbeing.
In 2011, American researcher B. L. Frederickson’s published a study showing that positive and negative emotions impact on the physical, social, and creative dimensions of human development. She created a study whereby subjects would either experience a positive type of emotion or a negative one. Once these emotions had been aroused in the subjects she measured their ability to solve problems. The subjects who had positive emotions were more able to solve problems showing that the positive emotional experience opened up their thinking. The opposite occurred for those who had a negative emotion aroused because their ability to solve problems became limited since their mind had become more focused and narrow.
At the end of her study she offers several methods one can use to move through negative emotional states in order to access the power of positive emotions and thinking. She suggests that through meditation, writing and play, you can transform a negative emotional state into something positive in order to gain access to the power of your positive ways of thinking and being. This is good news for all of us since these are tools that are readily available. As I begin the New Year 2016, I will be looking for ways to help my clients access the power of their emotion and thoughts by using some of these tools: positive affirmations, meditation, writing and play, as part of their healing process.
As an artist, educator and therapist I have to honour of being with people when they are vulnerable and open. I love the process of "being with them" especially when they make a discovery. This happens in therapy, as they make art and even when we're just sitting around sharing the everyday details of our lives.