Leaning Into Our Emotions

Recently, a national conversation has focused on the idea of “Lean In” as put forth by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in her book of the same name. Idea, business, media, academic, and other leaders have weighed in on her ideas of how women can “lean in” to the uncomfortable realities faced in the professional realm in order to better achieve the careers they might want. The debate about how and what her book may or may not do for women is a topic for another time. However, as the sound bite of “lean in” becomes a cultural norm, I just want to yell, “It’s not a new idea!!!”

Many people struggle with experiencing emotion. And paradoxically, the more we fight against having a specific emotion, the more it will plague us. What therapists, specifically contextually based therapists in traditions like DBT and ACT, know is that the more we are willing to experience or “lean in” to an emotion, the less control that emotion will have over us.

As discussed in my previous post, practicing mindfulness allows individuals to become aware of the thoughts and emotions they experience throughout each and every day. The act of just noticing that in fact they are experiencing an emotion and have thoughts and urges around that experience is a huge step forward in recovery.

Once individuals develop the ability to notice emotions, the next step is beginning to sit with those emotions instead of using ineffective methods to get rid of them. Many TK residents have had the experience of being guided to “lean in” when having emotions. Asking questions about how the emotion feels in the body, being encouraged to sit still and breath while focusing on the emotional experience, and focusing attention on the emotional experience repeatedly can be a difficult task, one that many people actively dislike. In fact, “I hate this!” is something I hear all the time when sitting with residents steeped in emotion.

The satisfaction those same residents feel as they prove themselves able to tolerate those difficult emotions is an amazing transition to witness. By leaning into emotion, residents are able to take back their meaningful lives. I’m still unsure where Sheryl Sandberg will lead women in the workplace; however I know that embracing emotions by leaning in is an invaluable experience, one of the most important on the journey to a meaningful life.