Updated: Jan 8
How Accepting Emotions Can Make Life Easier
Recently I’ve noticed two common, everyday phrases where something is described as “hard.”
“This is so hard!”
The first one, “This is so hard!” is sometimes used to describe some part of the Surrogate Partner Therapy experience. In this context, the client cannot be referring to anything physically strenuous, like “It’s hard to do 50 push-ups,” because nothing like that is ever part of the work. Instead, it is used to describe something that’s new or challenging emotionally.
As a surrogate partner, I am always paying attention to how communication impacts the relationship. Does it build closeness? Does it build intimacy? Does it give me a sense of what my client is going through? Does it help me relate with them?
When someone says, “This is hard,” it doesn’t say anything about their actual experience. I have no idea what’s actually going on for them. All I know is that whatever it is, they consider it to be “hard.” This illustrates the difference between descriptive words and judging words. Descriptive words communicate information about the actual experience. Judging words don’t say anything about the experience itself, but say only how it is evaluated, assessed, judged, or rated.
A way this shows up commonly in everyday communication is when I ask someone, “What are you feeling?” and they respond, “I feel good.” “Good” doesn’t say anything about what they are actually feeling; it only says that whatever they are feeling they assess positively. But since the intention of my question in the first place was to better know them and their experience, the purpose of the question has been left unfulfilled, and I remain curious about their actual experience. Ever persistent, I generally follow up with “And what are you actually feeling that you assess as ‘good’?”
Such assessment is subjective. Different people will assess similar experiences in different ways. Different people describe different experiences as “hard.” For example, one person may describe playing tennis as hard, yet another person may describe that same activity as easy. Some people may describe cooking, meditating, reading, public speaking, talking about themselves, feeling emotions, or paying attention as “hard,” yet other people assess the same activities very differently.
When someone describes an experience as “hard,” I’ve started to ask specifically what it is about that experience that causes them to describe it as “hard.” In other words, “What makes it hard?”
Over the years, I’ve heard many answers to this question, including the following.
● It’s hard because I’m uncomfortable with it.
● It’s hard because it shouldn’t be happening.
● It’s hard because it means there’s something wrong with me.
● It’s hard because I don’t like it.
● It’s hard because I’m afraid I can’t do it.
● It’s hard because it’s unfamiliar.
As in the above examples, most of the answers I’ve heard are not about the experience itself, but rather about how the experience is assessed. If you assess an experience in a way that prevents acceptance, you are more likely to perceive it as “hard.” On the other hand, if you can fully accept an experience, even if you don’t like it, then your assessment loses its power. Then the experience just is what it is. Judging an experience critically actually makes it more difficult. Judgment makes it harder.
For that reason, I’ve found it useful to distinguish between describing an experience and judging it. The table below lists descriptive words and judging words. There are 2 columns of descriptive words. The first column lists words that describe emotional experience and the second column lists words that describe experience in terms of physical sensations.
Emotions Angry Annoyed Irritated Afraid Anxious Happy Excited Confident
Physical Sensations Tired, Calm Cold, warm Constricted Relaxed Tingling Nauseous Sweaty Heavy, Hollow
Hard, Easy Overwhelming, Intense, Excessive, Crazy Extraordinary, Unusual Good, Bad, Better, Worse, Different, Awful Negative, Positive
Surrogate Partner Therapy helps people have more fulfilling and intimate relationships with themselves and others. A big part of intimacy is being seen and accepted for who we are. Expressing an opinion does not result in being seen and accepted, because a judgment/opinion doesn’t say anything about who I am or what I’m experiencing. Even if the other person is of the same opinion, being “agreed with” is not the same as being “seen and accepted.”
Feelings and sensations, on the other hand, come from a deeper, more embodied place. They give more insight into someone’s experience in that moment, and who they are in that experience. As Audre Lorde stated so eloquently, “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge. They are chaotic, sometimes painful, sometimes contradictory, but they come from deep within us.” A relationship based on expressing feelings and other aspects of moment-to-moment experience is more likely to result in “being seen and accepted” than a relationship based on opinions and judgments.