Are you old enough to remember Green Shield stamps or Coop stamps? Each time we made a purchase in a certain shop, we were given a sticky stamp to stick in a savings book. When the book was full of stamps we could hand-in the full book to get a discount off our next purchase. They were a ‘loyalty’ idea before today’s electronic loyalty cards, where we save points instead.
The ‘savings stamps’ model can also be applied to our feelings. What we may do is save a stamp for a particular feeling, instead of expressing it.
So, someone may save ‘anger’ stamps rather than expressing their anger. Someone else may save ‘not heard’ stamps rather than feeling and expressing their sense of not being heard with e.g. “It’s like you couldn’t hear what I was saying in the meeting… what was happening for you when I was talking about…”
The difficulty comes when we have built up a collection of our familiar stamps. What to do with them? How to ‘cash them in’ to get rid of them?
Suppose I had a run-in with my manger today which invited feelings of anger. The feelings of anger indicate there is a problem here between us that needs to be fixed. Yet, instead of expressing that anger and negotiating a solution, I saved an ‘anger stamp’.
The ‘benefit’ of saving the stamp is that I coped, and didn’t fall out with my manager. This keeps things as they are between us rather than ‘upsetting the applecart’.
But now I have a stamp in my book. What I may do is ‘cash-in’ the stamp when I get home, getting cross with the cat for running in front of me, or taking it out on my partner for some minor ‘fault’. This gets rid of the ‘anger stamp’. But note the following two problems with this process;
- I’ve damaged my relationship with my partner who may now feel confused or upset by my behaviour
- I didn’t solve the initial problem that has arisen with my line-manager
Instead of ‘cashing in’ the anger stamp when I got home I could have kept it in my collection for later. This is a way to build quite a big collection. And I may be able to keep hold of this collection for years before ‘cashing it in’ in a spectacular rage with someone or something who, again, may well not be involved.
Remaining aware of our feelings, becoming aware of the information they are offering then expressing them is the effective way through. It moves us on in relationships where there is a problem, and maintains relationships which are not related to the problem.
Getting support with feelings
Remember that everyone is different and any self-help process can only offer ideas in general terms. It may be that expressing feelings, rather than saving them up, means working with someone who is qualified to support you.
Why not book an initial assessment session with a counsellor/therapist who is registered with a nationally recognised professional body (such as BACP or UKCP in the UK)?