How many of us are truly connected to our emotions? Since emotions can be uncomfortable, we can all probably admit to dealing with them in an unhealthy manner at some point. Maybe we cope through our addiction to technology, through comfort eating, or other things. In It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self, Hilary Jacobs Hendel talks about techniques we can use to stay connected to our emotions rather than the traditional therapy model of discussing thoughts and personal histories.
“Everyone of us can benefit from understanding how our emotions work and how to work with them to feel better,” writes Hendel.
It’s hard to argue with this statement. Denying emotions will result in them coming out in some capacity and generally not in a good way. When we see detrimental behaviors, such as road rage, it’s likely we’re dealing with a very angry person. We can stuff things down for only so long.
The change triangle, as presented in the book, is not a difficult concept to understand; an education in psychology is not needed for readers to apply this content in their own lives. People who have an interest in self-help or who are highly introspective may choose to go through this book on their own. There are sections with what the author calls “experiments” in which readers are challenged to put these concepts into practice so it is not just more head knowledge.
“When core feelings…get pushed down by inhibitory emotions…we develop defensive behaviors, from changing the subject to avoiding intimacy, as a way to avert emotional discomfort and emotional conflicts,” writes Hendel. Just like what one practices with mindfulness, clients are encouraged to notice things about themselves without judging. Awareness without self-judgment comes first before any change can be made. Emotions cannot be managed until they are first recognized.
Hendel shares stories of patients from her practice and how they learned to become aware of their defenses before being able to reconnect with core emotions. For example, by changing the subject when uncomfortable, one of her clients was blocking her ability to drill into her core emotions. She was using her inhibitory emotions rather than experiencing the core emotions, which is what she was really feeling underneath the exterior. Eventually, this client was able to recognize her avoidance and make progress in changing her response.
Hendel briefly covers trauma and attachment in the book. Although we may not have experienced what people traditionally think of as trauma, many of us have at least some traumatic things from our backgrounds, or traumas with a “t” versus a “T.” A word of caution here when it comes to using this book as resource for treating trauma: People who are highly traumatized should not, and would not, be able to use this book as a self-help tool. They should instead get connected with a professional and preferably one who has trauma training.
“Emotions just are! That’s the mantra I repeat to my patients who think they shouldn’t have emotions,” writes Hendel.
And that’s a great way to summarize the core of her work. If stoic readers can walk away from this book simply recognizing this truth, it is a great start towards healing. For people who deny how they feel and choose instead to repress it, it will catch up with them in their physical or mental wellbeing. And like most things in life, this is not a one-time activity where you “fix it and forget it.” Rather, awareness is something people can practice through their whole lives to stay emotionally healthy.
Therapists who may be frustrated at the lack of progress with clients may want to learn more about this technique, or adopt some of the exercises for use during sessions. Both therapists and clients will walk away with a new way of thinking about how to manage the most difficult emotions.
Also, please see our previous review of this book on Psych Central.
It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self
Hilary Jacobs Hendel
Spiegel & Grau
Hardcover, 320 pages