Emotional Learning

This post gets a bit lengthy because my tired brain (when writing it last night) surprised me by turning it from a uni-focused post to something a bit deeper. Firstly though – you know how on Saturday I talked about MIV? Well, the first of the 11 bullsheets has dropped. Go over here to check it out: http://us15.campaign-archive2.com/?u=76fbc0d21b849c256d862b386&id=afde62249d&e=460cb7de0c and subscribe to MIV2018‘s mailing list to keep up-to-date! (You can follow on Facebook and Twitter too!)

Now, onwards…

In class the other day, our facilitator talked about how we use ourselves as therapists to help our clients/ patients.

She talked about how an OT’s enthusiasm can provide hope by being a spark of light in someone else’s darkness – their confusion and hurt at being unable to quite get to where they want to go. We’re not doing this in a patronising way, but in a way that guides the client to see their own way. We do not enforce or coerce but empathise, collaborate with, encourage, instruct, advocate for and problem-solve with the client to instill hope and achieve our joint goals. We are not “doing to” but “working with” them. In occupational therapy, the client is the centre, after all. We enable the client to move forwards towards a future of their choosing, or one that is as close to that as possible.

The facilitator reminded us that all that we’re all different personalities, with different life experiences, and so we’ll all be different therapists, even though the class is studying the same theory. The person with a naturally bright/bubbly personality might approach a client and their situation from a slightly different angle than the approach adopted by someone who is naturally a calm, softly-spoken listener.  The best way we can practice occupational therapy is to always strive to be the best we can be.

We’d just done some role-plays of different client-therapist situations and I could see what our facilitator meant. During the role-plays, there were plenty of moments when I thought, as an observer, “Oh, I would’ve done that differently”. The facilitator’s words brought home to me the fact that I don’t have to be any sort of OT except who I am and want to be.

I’m naturally someone who empathises easily with others (even when I’m annoyed at them, depending on the person 😛 ). I also happen to be a bit of a talker. One skill I’m working on honing is learning when to “shut up and listen” and be guided by my intuition/ gut feeling. The times I’ve done that – listened to hear and not just respond, then reacted with empathy to the person’s situation – have resulted in really powerful moments for me. Moments of human connection at its best. That’s just with friends and not in the role of therapist yet, but it’s something I know I can bring into practice.

I first realised this properly last year, but I’d had insight into the feeling before then, from high school onwards, or even before that maybe? I seem to be one of those people who gets told personal things. Learning how to respond to those things is where I’ve learnt the “shut up and listen, then follow your gut” response. I like being able to have words to comfort – but when someone’s just told you something that’s visibly upsetting or frustrating, words can wait. Often words fail in those times. They need a listening ear (to get it off their chest) and then physical support, like the offer of a hug and the understanding that emotional expression is acceptable.

That brings me to another point. Human society is weird about emotions. Expressing them in public can be seen as a bit shameful – especially if it’s expressions like tears of sadness, or loud joyous laughter – except in tightly regulated situations, like at a sporting match, public performance or public memorial. I think one reason why outbursts of public mourning have become so prevalent relatively recently (though it’s been “a thing” for a few years now), aside from social media connecting people, is that it’s an acknowledgement of public emotion. It’s an acknowledgement that emotions are okay.

This is a really important thing, because there’s still so much stigma around the visibly of public – and even private – emotional expression. Like the outdated idea that men aren’t supposed to be emotional – it’s being challenged but I still see the shadow of the idea manifest in how some people, particularly men, are uncomfortable if someone starts crying in front of them. They want to “fix the problem”, a.k.a. the tears and the tears’ cause, but they sometimes don’t get that the tears have to be expressed in order for the situation to resolve. Then there’s the other end of the stereotype – the idea that women are “over-emotional”. This is, I believe, where some of the whole “special snowflake SJWs” stems from. When women become passionate, frustrated, angry, upset – others can’t deal with that. They tell us to calm down, say that we don’t make sense because we’re using our emotions, and so on. *shakes head* Not cool, people. Stop it.

Sometimes, we can’t help but get emotional, including tears. We don’t want to be told to just “calm down” – acknowledge our emotions and the reasons behind them first, please. Or you can piss off.

Some people – women AND men – are more emotionally sensitive than others. I call it being more “attuned to the emotional quality of a room”. We’re the sort of people who might get a little agitated by conflict – and therefore find it a little tricky when we have to stand up for ourselves and others. But stand up, we do, because our emotions tell us when something smells of bulls**t. We probably cry more easily than others too. We’re also the sort of people who get “over-excited” by things and accidentally embarrass other less-emotionally sensitive people by reacting just a bit too obviously to something. When that happens, we may well be told to bottle up those feelings because others can’t deal with the pure expression of ourselves. It’s a bit much for people. That can cause us/me to feel guilty about things. Is it our fault for being a bit different – or is it really the fault of society, shaping others to see our differences as abnormal? (Rhetorical question.)

I used to call myself an extrovert, though it didn’t sit quite right with me. While I do like to talk and enjoy the social environment, I also find it easy to spend hours at a time engrossed in a good book. A couple of years ago, I took one of those online quizzes about personality. I’d had to do some for a psychology subject I was taking, the Five-Factor Theorem ones. They’re interesting, but not as easy perhaps to understand as one I took for fun around the same time, a Myers-Briggs personality test. The one that splits people into Extroversion/Introversion; Intuition/Sensing; Feeling/Thinking; Judging/Perceiving groups. It’s just one test of course, which can be influenced by different factors (including your mood on the day of the test, wishful thinking/self-selection bias and things like that).

But the test showed me a few things. While I was definitely an Extrovert, it said that was a moderate preference. Of the four groups, the only one that had a distinct difference was Feeling over Thinking. That got me thinking and I realised that it did make sense in a lot of ways. Now, it’s a skill I want to cultivate further as I think it will be helpful in my future practice – I just have make sure my Extraversion takes a step back.

Just the awareness of this is helping, I think.

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One thought on “Emotional Learning

  1. Pingback: Thinking, Judging, Feeling | myzania

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