In AEDP the focus is less on what is “wrong” with you, and more on gaining access to your own innate natural capacities for healing, transformation and thriving.
Emotional Capacity and Emotional Processing
Under optimal conditions we experience emotions as waves of feeling that have a beginning, that increase, reach a peak then decrease and end. The feelings do not go on forever. As children we develop the ability to process emotions through ongoing experiences of being in a safe relationship with a loving person who holds and accepts us, emotions and all. We learn through repeated experience that we do survive emotional upheavals. With the help of a supportive person we learn that we can have our feelings and not be overwhelmed by them. We may feel anxious and we still go to school; we feel discouraged and we persevere; we are excited and we make good choices. When we are in the throes of a strong emotion, instead of giving in to impulse or doing something that may be harmful, we gradually learn how to cope and express our feelings in beneficial ways when we are sad, hurt, angry, excited or otherwise filled with emotion.
Parents and other caregivers play a critical role in our emotional development by helping us build this emotional capacity (called emotional regulation). Think of a mother who soothes her child when he is upset, a father perking up his daughter when she feels low, or a loved one allowing us to have our feelings and helping us put our experience into words. In allowing us to have our feelings, to experience the waves as they crest and subside, in putting words to what is happening, these important people help us with our emotions, and we in turn learn the natural rhythm of our feelings.
Trauma: Emotional Overwhelm
Many emotional difficulties start with intense experiences that we are not able to process. This may happen because of an event that is so intense that it overwhelms us – an external event that is life threatening or that overturns our sense of safety in the world. Violence, war, accident, being mugged or raped are examples. Or the event may not seem that terrible when viewed from the outside, but as experienced by the person involved, the event is emotionally overwhelming. The event will be traumatic if the person does not have enough emotional capacity. This may happen to a child who is on their own because caregivers are physically or emotionally absent, or parents may not know how to help their child with intense feelings. Smaller events may be emotionally overwhelming when repeated over years. Whether the events are large or small, we get the message that the world is not safe; it is not safe to have feelings; we are on our own to deal with them.
All alone, with no one to help us, we do whatever is needed to survive the unbearable experience – numb ourselves, escape out of our body into our mind, go into a fantasy world, focus on something else. Later on we pay a price for this way of coping. Years later the emotions that have been lurking emerge and pop up unexpectedly, and we automatically react to them in the customary way we have adapted to survive. We do our best to stop the wave of feelings that arise in us. Often we are not even aware of what we do to ward off these feelings. We are shaped by deep currents in ways we don’t understand.
Here’s a video that illustrates the power of our emotions:
Video by Anne Hilde Vassbø Hagen, used with permission.
Safety, Attachment and Emotional Regulation
In AEDP, we work together to create a safe place for you. As your therapist I attune to your experience from moment to moment as best as I can. I track your words, your body language, the sounds you may make, and whatever you may share with me. I respond to your verbal and silent communications with the aim of making you feel safe, heard and seen. When you feel safe and secure enough you can be fully present to your experience: body, emotions, images, sounds, imagination. This safety creates conditions where unfinished emotional processes can emerge. In this condition, in this safe place, when the emotional processes emerge you will be able to experience their natural wave instead of falling back to confining survival mechanisms. Because you are with caring person who can help you with your emotions you can have a new, healing experience.
Healing and Transformation
When there is enough safety, acceptance and attunement, intense emotions that were previously feared can be experienced safely and fully. Time after time, I have seen that when the emotional experience is allowed to unfold fully in the presence of another person who is attuned to you, powerful energies of transformation and healing are unleashed. You emerge stronger and changed. These moments are sacred healing moments that lead to opportunities for further healing and give you momentum to go further about the work of living fully.
It is a privilege and honor for me as a therapist to witness this transformation and to be part of it. I wish this for all my clients.
Questions? Want to know more? Ready to take the next step and explore the possibility of working together? Give me a call at (650) 327-3003. I look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more about AEDP and the work of Diana Fosha, Ph.D., the founder of AEDP, see: