How to Argue With Feelings (Don't)

Have you ever tried to rationally argue with a person who believes something based purely on their strong feelings? I bet it didn't go so well. Maybe it was about hot topics like gun reform or immigration, issues that have dire consequences if we don't all agree on what's important.

You tried to educate them. Used hard facts to prove your point, with logical questioning, threw in information from an article you found on the internet from a reputable news source. Still, no change in the outcome. Finally, you asked them, why do you believe something is true without any evidence or proof? 

"Because it feels true," they will say.

How do you argue with that? The answer is simple: You don't. 

Almost every single client I've had has told me in some way or another that they feel like something’s true, even if they "rationally" know it is not. They are aware it doesn't make sense to others, but they can't help but think it. This sentiment is ubiquitous, regardless of your age, gender, race or education level. I recommend learning how to recognize it in yourself first.

I have listened as people tell me all kinds of things they cannot help but believe about themselves or others, often guilty or fearful thoughts that enable them to sabotage themselves through avoidance and shame. This is not caused by a chemical brain imbalance, but a part of the human condition. 

Arguing against feelings will in fact make them stronger. Even if we're momentarily talked out of it, the thoughts always come back to gain the upper hand- usually in secret when no one's watching. We tend to go back to our old habits fairly quickly.

It is necessary then, to pursue a completely different tactic when dealing with feelings, whether in ourselves or other people.  Let go of reason and ask questions instead.  Ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What is the story behind this feeling? Does it serve a function in my life? How does this feeling make sense in a way I haven't thought of before? What is being communicated that can't be put into words? 

When you ask questions instead of argue, you open up a space for actually getting to the heart of the matter, and more importantly a chance to understand and connect with a loved one. 

While it's easy to assume that there is a right or wrong answer, the truth is only found in searching for it.


What Free Speech Means to a Therapist

An all-important question of our times, is what does free speech mean to you?

Depending on who you are, your answer to this question will differ from one another in a drastic way.  I would like to consider now, what free speech means from the perspective of a psychotherapist.

I think of myself as a professional listener of free speech. My hours are spent using creative methods to encourage my clients to share and express themselves as honestly as possible. I help people be able to voice their thoughts and feelings that they have never before put into words. I remind them frequently that they are free to say anything, and I mean it: anything

Yet even in the confidential, compassionate, unbiased space that I do my best to provide, I find that many people still struggle to speak about the things they are the most afraid to say. They confront all kinds of inner demons in the process: the fear of being judged, the fear of retaliation, the fear of being boring, the fear of sounding narcissistic, the fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear of being bad, the fear of not making sense. The list of fears go on and on. Many sessions are devoted to talking about the fear itself. 

I'm not describing everybody, but definitely more people than you think are helpless against the oppressive regime of self-censorship. This is normal human behavior designed to help us get along with each other, although we pay for it with symptoms of psychological pain- hence the need for "talk therapy."

For therapists, helping someone with speaking about what's important to them feels less like giving them a microphone and soapbox, and more like a dentist pulling teeth.  It's no fun when words are all you have to express unspeakable suffering. There’s guilt and embarrassment involved. There's a letting go of how you wish to see yourself. There’s a responsibility to explain yourself. There’s fragmentation and incoherence. Again, all of these feelings about speaking are completely typical and expected. And being able to speak in spite of it is precisely what helps. 

In today's society, we usually value the loud and extroverted types as our leaders, the ones who dominate conversations in groups. Inside my office, I see and value the ones most afraid to speak. The shy, timid middle school girl who works hard each week to find the words to describe her deepest desires. The anxious "nice guy" who can finally admit that he gets angry sometimes. The couple who finally stop their battle over who is right in order to simply want to listen to one another. 

Free speech can take on many different interpretations, but to me, the people who exemplify it are the ones who use speech to free themselves.