Updated: Oct 21, 2018
Carl Rogers, founder of person-centered therapy, is largely known for his practice of "reflective listening."
"It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been buried,” says Rogers (back in 1961).
This past week at school, studying counseling psychology as a master's student, what we practiced as a class was the how to on reflecting listening.
This is where I got a reflection... of myself.
In sharing with me her story, the client I was practicing with began to cry. I sensed and saw a strong urge - in me - to squirm. I jumped into my brain to make sense of the situation.
"So it sounds like..."
"Stop," Dr. Shapiro, my professor, places her hand on my arm.
"She's crying. She's no longer going to hear whatever [rationale] you have to say. She is sad. Say she is sad."
"So you're feeling sad," I say back, having another go at reflecting the emotion of my client.
After class, I reflected on my own emotions throughout the entirety the process. What I discovered in me was also sadness.
Deeply rooted sadness.
What made me sad was realizing how powerful emotions are. They are like the tentacles or antenna of guidence into our own inner world. And yet, we suppress them. We tell ourselves they are wrong. As a result, this brings shame.
"We are trained to be 'other directed' rather than be in contact with ourselves," says Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, adding, "We learn to be 'up in our head' wondering, 'What is it that others think is right for me to say or do?'"
Bringing us all back down - emphasizing the level of "humanness" emotions really hold - Dr. Rosenberg goes on to share a methodology for "taking responsibility of our feelings." In terms of our ability to respond to ourself and others, we essentially have four options:
1. Blame ourselves
2. Blame others
3. Sense our own feelings and needs
4. Sense others' feelings and needs
Like emotions, needs are also something we as humans tend to suppress and shame. And yet, we all have them! Every moment of every day...
Unless you are not human?
"The more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately," says Dr. Rosenberg, adding, "Unfortunately, most of us have never been taught to think in terms of needs."
I need to think about that! ...How about you?
To further, Dr. Rosenberg places our ability to respond to others in three distinct stages:
1. "Emotional Slavery" - believing ourselves responsible for the feelings of others.
2. "The Obnoxious Stage" - refusing to admit to caring what anyone else feels or needs.
3. "Emotional Liberation" - accepting full responsibility for our own feelings but not the feelings of others, while being aware that we can ever meet our own needs at the expense of others.
Of course, from acknowledging our emotions and needs, to reflecting and responding to the emotions and needs of others, all of this is certainly a lifelong process. Especially in that for a lot of us, we will have to undo a lot of training or automatic patterns of labelling emotions as wrong, as opposed to receiving them as indictions of personal needs or the needs of others.
In the words of the late Carl Rogers...
"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It's a direction not a destination."
Roger that, Mr. Rogers! I think I am hearing you.