Reflection of Feelings

I saw my first client in 2017, toward the beginning of my time in graduate school. Before my cohort and I saw our cases, we practiced therapeutic basics with one another, such asking open-ended questions instead of closed-ended questions to encourage deeper exploration, or reflecting and paraphrasing statements to get to the gist and the heart of the matter. Though these techniques feel automatic to me now, I still remember how much my listening skills – and my self-awareness – improved when I started using them on a consistent basis.

“You don’t really go toward sadness,” my first therapy supervisor told me, way back in 2017. We had been talking about my use of the skill reflection of feelings. In essence, this skill involves simply reflecting a feeling back to a client. So, as an example (which I’m making up, not what a client or anyone has said to me, though it may be hard to believe), if someone says “My friend keeps reading this blog by this highly self-disclosing, rather weird, yet overall relatable blonde Gaysian named Thomas instead of listening to me. I’m really angry with him,” you might reflect “You’re angry with him,” or, more tentatively, “I’m hearing that you’re angry with him?” The goal: to get the client, or whoever, to open up more about their core feeling(s) about the situation and to show your attempt to understand their feelings.

When my supervisor told me that I tended not to reflect sadness, I first felt surprised because I hadn’t even noticed that pattern. Then, when I recognized the truth in what he said, I thought something like, well, whatever, I’d rather reflect anger anyway. At the time, I felt more comfortable focusing on anger because I perceived that as the most socially just emotion, the feminist emotion, the emotion that gets you out onto the streets protesting injustices of all kinds. I viewed sadness as the emotion you marinate in when you want to lie down in your bedroom and cry to a song with 0 BPM over a man who didn’t deserve you anyway.

Quite quickly though, I grew more comfortable with sadness, both in my clinical work and in my own life. I’ve reflected on sadness more recently because of how this upcoming Friday, I’ll receive the news about if I match for my final year of my PhD program, and if I match, where I’ll move to. There’s a pretty high chance I’ll move based on where I interviewed at. I’ve paused to let myself sit in the sadness of moving on several occasions over the past few weeks, such as when: roasting white women who weaponized their tears to perpetuate white supremacy around a bonfire with fellow Asian American friends and acquaintances, watching the Insecure: The End documentary with a good friend and processing our feelings about the show, and playing tennis and jogging around the nature near my apartment. Oh wow, I’ve thought to myself in these moments, I’m actually going to miss this.

Peep at the fantastic nature trail within walking distance of my apartment! I took this picture on January 1, 2022 while walking with one of my best friends who was visiting me at the time. I’ve reflected on so many mediocre men life events while jogging and walking along this trail. I’m gonna miss it a lot.

At their best and their worst, emotions convey information. In this case, I think my sadness tells me that despite some of the ups and downs over the past five years, I’ve managed to make a home for myself in this little city somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This sadness reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about grief, from Nami Mun’s Miles from Nowhere: “He had no idea that grief was a reward. That it only came to those who were loyal, to those who loved more than they were capable of.” In my own life, I’ve felt privileged to have several goodbyes that have felt sad and difficult, yet healthy as well: the passing of my grandmother in late 2017, when I parted with my first long-term therapist in undergrad, and now, as I’m about to maybe, probably move onward from a city with good friends, a beautiful nature trail less than a 10-minute walk from my apartment, and at least a few Asian restaurants that recognize my name and face and order pretty instantly.

During my childhood I didn’t have too much space to name or reflect on my feelings in a consistently safe way. I noticed a lot of unregulated anger from certain family members, especially my mom. Even though anger scares me at times, I also see its power to drive change and resistance and growth. Sadness, though, can tell us a lot about ourselves too: what or who has hurt us, what or who we’re missing or grieving. At one of my residency interviews, I got asked the question: “if you were a genre of music, what genre would you be?” Without blinking an eye, I said pop music, because I’m high-energy and generally a bubbly person. Then I added, “I like pop music, especially songs that start out kinda sad and then develop into a more fast-paced, upbeat, and hopeful feeling, because they remind me of our human potential to grow and heal from even the worst forms of suffering.” I named “Feel Special” by Twice aloud, though I also thought of “Lovesick Girls” by Blackpink and “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande. Because the melodies and instrumentals of these songs start off a little slower and sadder, their eventual beat drops and climaxes feel even brighter.

I took this picture on November 6, 2021, in the Jeni’s on U St of DC! My two favorite flavors: Rainbow Buttermilk Frozen (because I’m gay, duh) and Brown Butter Almond Brittle (because I’m sweet, except when someone crosses me with white supremacist patriarchal bs). I had just started reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. This memory feels so long ago even though it wasn’t!

How do you feel about sadness or other emotions? Has your relationship with your emotions changed over time? Omfg I’m screaming tomorrow I’m flying to Seattle to visit one of my best friends until Sunday and Friday is Match Day and I’m gonna get the email with my result literally sometime from 5am to 6am Seattle time SCREAMING! I’m actually feeling pretty calm about it I just like being dramatic sometimes. I may or may not write a post updating everyone on Friday or Saturday but if not then I definitely will sometime next week! Until next post.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Reflection of Feelings

  1. priya

    “SCREAMING! I’m actually feeling pretty calm about it I just like being dramatic sometimes.” absolute mood hahahha

    wishing you all the best for your results!!

    tbh i’m not sure what you mean by “reflecting sadness” (i barely know anything about giving therapy), but i think i understand why you would gravitate towards anger, rather than sadness. sadness is often associated with a sense of weakness and maybe pity, while anger is a powerful emotion, which feels more self-determined?

    i think ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ is the perfect pop song to use as an example for going from slow and a bit sad, to upbeat and energetic. that’s such a cool interview question and ofc, you being you, had a solid and honest answer ready!

    • omg thank you so much for resonating with my mood! and appreciate the well wishes for the results I am super happy with how it played out (: yes, I think you articulate it well with how anger like, can derive a sense of agency whereas sadness I feel like makes you sit and pause and reflect more, though those attributes aren’t exclusive to those emotions. they both have their uses! and yesss haha I felt it fortunate that I already listen to music a lot so I had that question on lock (:

  2. ahhh!!! good luck!!! end of an era and beginning something exciting!! i’m sooo excited for you! i cannot wait to read your next post!

    And SEATTLE?? omg, i LOVE seattle (lived there for a year).

    The emotions I gravitate towards is anger and sadness. Those are really easy for me to feel and get to (which is probably easily leading to depression??) and i have to work really hard to get myself to the happy state or neutral state. I’m not sure why it is. But motivation, goals, snuggling definitely helps me get out of the anger and sadness state??

    • omg thank you so much for your enthusiasm, I so appreciate it! I’m sitting in Seattle now as I write this comment haha (: glad you enjoyed living your time living here! and that makes sense, I think sometimes feeling and experiencing emotions can be a lot so trying to find ways to cope with, regulate, and maybe even switch up emotions such as anger and sadness can be adaptive too

  3. That’s so exciting!! Wishing you the best with match day and sending all the good vibes. This was such an interesting post to read because it got me thinking about transitions and fond memories. The bittersweet moments often stick out to me the most. Switching roommates, graduating college, moving into my own space-they all have specific emotions I can recall now. Also, your thoughts on anger and sadness is interesting to read because I am the opposite I think. I have a hard time reflecting anger, because I think I often read sadness as being a core emotion behind anger even when I don’t mean to. When someone close to me is angry my brain goes, “well they say they are angry at their spouse, but there is sadness behind it because they’re disappointed he didn’t think to celebrate her achievement.” Your words got me thinking, though I don’t know if that was at all the direction you were going. As always I love hearing about your life and wish you all the love in the world Thomas!

    • Awwwwww this is so sweet and thank you for this vulnerable and honest self-reflection. I’m glad the post could bring up some specific memories and emotions for you, I feel like “All to Well” by Taylor Swift except make it gay and Asian! I totally hear you out re: sadness being the core emotion underneath anger and think that’s an astute emotionally aware point. It’s intriguing also about how gender socialization plays into it and how oftentimes in western contexts men are taught to be angry whereas women are taught to be sad. Wishing you much love too and your continued support over the years means a lot. (:

      • Okay wait “All too Well”, but made gay and Asian sounds like an amazing song… but I feel like Holland may have just the thing… I must investigate this. Anyway, I think you picked up such an amazing point! Based on a lot of my experiences with friends I think that men are more likely to tap into anger as a core emotion. Angry women often get called crazy, so sadness feels like a more acceptable emotion to have. Hopefully that can change with the times, and that I can contribute by allowing myself a little room to be angry when it’s called for. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to teach my kids emotional regulation the same way regardless of gender, and help end the cycle. Also, of course! I’ve enjoyed getting to follow your page for so long! You’ve inspired me to continue to write and led me to many books I’ve loved! All the best 💜

  4. Another thoughtful post, Thomas. I can certainly feel your emotions in this one. Exciting times ahead for you!

    You are so right in saying that emotions convey emotion. Sadness and anger are two emotions we usually don’t want to feel within us or feel from others, but that’s very hard to avoid. Over time I’ve learnt to embrace both sadness and anger, trying to stop or take it slow when I feel worked up. Retreating helps me question why am I feeling that way, especially finding reasons that my mind may have unconsciously covered.

    I also enjoyed hearing you explain the genre of pop songs in one of your residency interviews. Many pop songs are catchy and bubbly, but the ones that start sad and build up can also be very memorable.

    Good luck with your matching. Screaming along with you 😀

    • Awww thanks for this kind and thoughtful comment Mabel! Yes love that you take time to sit with your emotions and try to understand them and where they come from, that’s so important. So appreciate your words of support re: the pop songs and your fellow screaming!

  5. Hope you’ve been having a lovely time in Seattle! I have real trouble with anger, it scares me, especially husband getting angry with something he’s doing and muttering and growling, as it gives me flashbacks to my very angry and bitter father. He does at least know that and I will say or move away if he does it (I mean, he’s allowed to be angry with something, after all!). I like the practice of reflecting but used to get really annoyed with one therapist who would ask me to explain stuff, not because I needed to explain it but because she literally didn’t understand. Bad, snobbish Liz. But my last therapist did understand and made me face up to things – fine.

    Oh and also, again: Eeeeeeeee!

  6. So was it last Friday, for matching, or is it this Friday: I need to know when EXACTLY to scream!! And it looks like you have a lot of co-screamers ready to celebrate with you, so, we should probably coordinate. Heheh

    As an unexpected stepmother, after having decided to not have my own children, I learned the habit of open-ended questions to try to facilitate conversation with kids who were struggling to find their place in rapidly shifting environs. It was really useful..In the beginning, though, I remember having to consciously rearrange the sentences to encourage sharing and reflection, testing what was and wasn’t open-ended in my mind before I spoke; now I sometimes catch myself doing the opposite, IRL, thinking “you don’t really need to KNOW ALL THAT”. Even though I am curious enough to want to know more pretty much all the time.

    That genre-of-music question is pretty cool. I’m going to think about that!

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