What We Might Miss in the Search for Meaning
Making sense of our experiences is an important aspect of life, and one of the main reasons why people seek therapeutic support. As I work with individuals I often find myself feeling for them in their sense of hurry. Their first response to their difficulty is to try to understand the reasons that have led to it and to feel different, as quickly as possible. Drawing from my own experience and working with clients it seems as though we believe that our rational brain can rush in and solve the difficulty without having to engage with the emotional impact we’re left with.
When there seems to be an emerging sense of loss, anger, sadness, exhaustion or whatever it may be, our default response often is to explain it away. What gets lost in this compulsion for meaning is the process of experiencing. You might find yourself wanting to step ahead and manage a difficulty before getting to know it. It is then easy for feelings to remain unclear, and the more abstract they are the more unbearable it might seem to be with them. One of the implications of this process is that you may end up with an intellectual explanation that carries you forward for the time being and yet a sense of dissatisfaction remains.
There are societal and cultural, as well as personal and historic, experiences that may have led you to rely solely on your thinking as a means to come to terms with difficulty. There is no struggle that involves only thoughts; there’s an emotional layer to everything. It might not be apparent, but it is there. This emotional layer needs space to be felt, it needs to be engaged with. The search for meaning consumes a vast amount of energy, as does tolerating feelings before we can make sense of them. Working with people in therapy it becomes clear that once there is space given to feelings to emerge, thoughts do catch up and meaning is created in a way that feels more powerful. This way meaning evolves from experience rather than expecting an experience to come about from reasoning.
As challenging as this process may be, it is as rewarding. Clients share a sense of feeling less isolated, more accepting with what comes up for them and often tap into their own sense of direction. We need to support one another to have the patience and resilience to engage with often unclear feelings first and trust that meaning will emerge in time, without force.