Quite early on in my counselling it was suggested that I make a chart with four columns. These were headed ‘Glad’, ‘Sad’, ‘Mad’, and ‘Bad’. The idea was that over the course of the week I would list under these titles the things that happened that caused me to have those feelings. So I did this task diligently. I was sure people were supposed to feel ‘glad’. So at the end of the week I had a bulging ‘glad’ list and pretty much nothing else. This was what I thought the counsellor wanted. This was definitely going to please her.
I do remember trying to clarify if the ‘mad’ was ‘angry mad’ or ‘crazy mad’, but was advised that it was any ‘mad’ that I wanted it to mean. That answer put a hurdle in the way of my mission to please my counsellor because I didn’t know what sort of ‘mad’ she wanted it to mean. But anyway, surely one was supposed to feel ‘glad’ all the time, so perhaps it didn’t matter too much that I didn’t know what sort of ‘mad’ I was looking out for.You may have worked out that I had not the slightest idea what ‘glad’ felt like; but I didn’t know that at the time. Similarly I had no clue what ‘sad’, ‘bad’, or ‘mad’ felt like either. Of course I must have experienced these emotions, but I didn’t know how to recognise them.Later on in our work I was invited to make another list. Down the left side was a number representing each year of my life. It was a long list. Beside those numbers I needed to record something about my life at that age: something that happened, somewhere I was, someone I knew – that type of thing. Some were easier to fill in than others. Some had difficult things that made my tummy go tight, and some had things that made me smile.

We used this list for Lifespan Integration work, following the LI model. My insiders, who had been moved out of play and got stuck, were introduced to the rest of their life-story. We needed to do this over and over and sometimes continue with that work in our sessions. Often something different happens as we go through the list. My tummy would go tight or I might cry. Sometimes in our sessions my respiratory rate would change and my voice would go weak and feeble.

All the signs were there that I did in fact have feelings, but initially I could not link these physical events with having an emotion, and I certainly could not put a name to them. Frequently my counsellor would gently remind me to notice what was happening in my body.

Recently we have started looking again at one of the difficult things on my LI list. I asked what sort of thing someone might feel if this happened to them, and what they might feel about the other people involved. In a way it gave me permission to have feelings, and gave me some ideas about what a tight tummy might be about. Emotions were not voiced so they went inside. I think it would be helpful to do this reflection for more of my list.

The question I asked last week was whether people usually had an emotion connected to an event that they remembered in their chronological memory. That’s the area in our brain where we remember neatly-filed things that have the ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘What’, ‘Who’ information connected to them. I wanted to know if people also have the ‘How’ connected … the “How do you feel?”

Many people who employ the dissociative survival technique have some amnesia relating to difficult events. I knew some information about what my insiders had experienced, but I have ‘feelings amnesia’. I gather it is possible for people to feel more than one thing at the same time. So now I have permission to have mixed feelings!

Perhaps it is time to make a ‘Sad’, ‘Bad’, ‘Glad’, ‘Mad’ list again, and this time try and record what I feel rather than what I think the counsellor wants me to feel. I smile then, and feel slightly mischievous, mixed with excited, and a tinge of nervous.

[For more information about Lifespan Integration go to www.lifespanintegration.com.]