Following is the full text of psychotherapist Artūrs Miksons’ talk titled “Don’t Neglect Your Emotions. Express Them, Constructively!” at TEDxRiga conference.
It’s a Friday afternoon. I have finally finished my workday.
And there is just one thing on my mind: I can finally go to the supermarket and get those cookies I’ve been dreaming about my whole day.
I get to the local store which is near my flat. I get near the aisle where there’s bunch of cookies. And I’m standing there with a gaze, and I notice there’s a little girl next to me. She’s about four or five, let’s call her Lucy.
And Lucy has that same smile on her face like, “All of these are going to be mine!” At that moment, I just take one or two packs for myself. She sees how I do this, she’s like, “Aha, this is how it works.”
She takes ten of them, puts them in her armpits and victoriously goes to the cashier’s office. And you have that sensation there’s like ponies and rainbows and the sun is shining and she’s going to have a blasty Friday.
I gather my stuff, get to the cashier’s, and I notice we are in the same queue. Lucy is there with her mom, she’s thrown all the cookies there in the basket. And unfortunately, as life is, mom takes all the cookies out, just leaves one pack.
And when she takes them out, you notice that the sunshine and rainbows slowly start to fade. And that’s when Lucy starts to become a bit grim, she becomes a bit angry and starts to say, “Wait, wait, hold on there Sparky, what’s going on?”
And then she realizes this is not going to end well. And those rainbows and sunshine turn into rainy clouds and a thunderstorm. And that small sweet Lucy isn’t sweet Lucy anymore.
She becomes angry and shouts, and yells, “Why? Why are you doing this to me? Why? I want those cookies!” and so on and starts to cry suddenly.
And then there’s kind of a fuss around the situation. Everybody looks at how the mom is going to react. And at this magical moment, all of you probably know, a magical thing happens. Somewhere from the store, the granny appears.
She appears and starts to have an opinion, of course, on the matter. “Oh, in my time, things were different.” Yada yada yada.
Let’s pause for a brief moment here. What you’ve just heard is basically a part of my daily life. Being a medical doctor and a psychotherapist, I hear a lot of stories which people go through.
And there is this myth that you have to, as a doctor, distance yourself a bit from patients in order to not get too involved, too attached and so on, which is not quite true.
When you are a psychotherapist, you need to actually let yourself feel to some degree, to some extent what the patient feels. How that works is not magic, it’s simple biology.
You have a part of your brain that is called the limbic system, which is responsible for how you feel, where your emotions, yours and mine, reside. And when you have an emotional reaction, it’s never logical, it’s neurophysiological, it’s biology, it could be completely illogical.
And when somebody feels something, you can start to feel in a similar manner. To give you an example, few years ago, me and my girlfriend were asked to babysit our friend’s infant. Let’s call him David.
David is about eight — yeah, eight months old. We arrive at their place, we go in, and you have like a déjà vu feeling, like sunshine and rainbows and ponies. Everything is great, you go in, it’s going to be a blasty evening. The parents leave; we have a very nice time with David.
But the infant who is eight-month old is at a very special age. Everything’s kind of nice up until one point David notices something. “You’re not my real parents, now, are you?” At which point, David starts to cry, as babies do. For five minutes.
“Oh, David, it’s going to be fine.”
“We just have to caress him, maybe put him to bed.”
Fifteen. OK, then.
“Let’s change the diaper.”
“Yeah, sure, let’s change the diaper.”
We change the diaper. Twenty five for Christ’s sake.
“Let’s feed him?”
“Yes, let’s feed him!”
We feed him. Forty. At this point, you start to have various ideas in your head, like, for example, “David! Shut up, David! Please shut up!” or that you would just leave him somewhere, or you could just ignore him for the rest of the evening.
But you realize you can’t do that. An hour. An hour and ten. And I remember so vividly, my girlfriend was holding David in her hands, and he’s still crying. We’re standing in the doorway, we look at each other, and we realize we’re screwed.
At that moment, what basically happens on a neurobiological level, you can’t act out in this instance when you want to shake David, you want to put him away, you want to do something else.
But it’s interesting to notice in yourself how you actually feel. And how I actually felt at that moment was completely helpless, angry, in despair, scared at the same time, I don’t know what to do.
If you think about it, it’s the same way how David feels. He’s been abandoned by his parents: bastards left him all alone with these two strangers at home. God knows what they’re doing.
So he’s abandoned, all alone, helpless, hopeless and scared. And the only thing you can do in this instance is to just be there with him and to feel him and to help him in his feelings what he’s feeling.