Many people wonder why it’s a good thing to talk about problems, feelings, memories, and more, instead of just pushing them away and forgetting about them. This is especially true when the act of talking seems to dredge up stuff that hurts to think about. A common complaint early in therapy is: Talking about everything is only making me feel bad. Suddenly I’m aware of all kinds of feelings that I was able to push away before. What’s the point of all this talking anyway??
So here’s why it’s important to speak!
For one, talking about things dissolves some of the tension and feelings bound up in our words and thoughts. Although you may initially feel worse for a short time, there should be a payoff in terms of feeling less tension overall and finding yourself able to start resolving blocks. Whether it’s being more assertive, being able to do things you have been avoiding until now, spending less time running away from your feelings through various distraction strategies, or just feeling more energetic and alive in general, expressing yourself in words is somewhat like having a good cry: it feels bad in the moment but things feel much better afterwards. (I want to also point out that although many of my clients are afraid they will start crying in their sessions if they talk about their struggles, crying can be a great release and is not a sign of weakness!)
When we put things into words, we also define them. Words limit and this is a good thing. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by things we know but haven’t been able to say out loud to ourselves (like a general anxiety that festers but doesn’t seem to have a concrete beginning or end, or focus), putting words to experience makes the experience seem more manageable. The proverbial elephant in the room is so stressful because everyone knows it’s there but what it is that’s there is undefined, nebulous, and unbounded. Many times, what we’re most afraid of admitting to ourselves in words is something we already know on some level but want to pretend we don’t know. Pretending or denying a truth that we already sense does not relieve us of the anxiety associated with the truth. The unconscious knows and signals us again and again until we attend to the issue. Talking with a safe and trusted other can bring us to a knew perspective and relief from compulsive repetition.
Words reveal our inner lives in ways that often surprise us. It’s not just what we mean that matters but also the words we use, the phrases we associate with our feelings and memories, and when we say what. Learning to listen to the connections in what we say can help us decode the mysteries of our struggles in a way that ordinary social listening cannot.
And most of all, words are all we have. We all long to be understood by the other, but what’s in our minds and hearts is invisible, never known directly, and always changing. Discovering the inner world in ourselves and in the other is an always changing process of intrigue and deeper intimacy. Being intimate with ourselves allows us to generate the language we need to speak of ourselves to those we love. And once we feel that we have spoken and been heard, we understand that there is so much more we might want to say.
If you haven’t found your voice, or you find it difficult to open up to others, or even if you just want to experience the hidden knowledge embedded in the unconscious, speaking freely is the way to go. Not sure how to do this? A psychoanalyst can help.