AEDP and The Power of Naming and Experiencing Our Emotions
By Annabelle Parr, MA, AMFT
A big part of therapy often involves helping us to name and notice our emotions. Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) is a particular type of therapy in which a compassionate other (the therapist) helps the client to identify defenses and inhibitory emotions which block them from experiencing their core emotions.
As Hilary Jacobs Hendel (2018) describes in her book It’s Not Always Depression, core emotions are essentially clusters of physical sensations which contain within them an impulse, generally an impulse designed to promote our survival. Core emotions include fear, anger, sadness, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement.
Inhibitory emotions, including shame, guilt, and anxiety, are the first layer of defenses against our core emotions. Inhibitory emotions grab our attention, blocking our full experience of the underlying core emotion. Another function of anxiety, shame, and guilt is to temper our behavior to help us function cohesively in a group or society.
And finally, defenses are any kind of behavior or emotion that we engage in that helps us to avoid emotional discomfort.
Though defenses usually show up for good reason and were highly adaptive at the point in which they were created, in the long run they can get us stuck.
From an AEDP perspective, we tend to get stuck when we habitually inhibit our experience of our core emotions. It is this process of regularly cutting ourselves off from our emotions that gives rise to symptoms of anxiety and depression, and by which our behavior becomes governed by a need to avoid our painful feelings. AEDP suggests that when we allow ourselves to name and fully experience our core emotions we are then freed up to be more openhearted and authentic. We are freed up to make a choice about how to respond to our emotions instead of being driven by a need to maintain distance from those feelings.
How do we get unstuck from our defenses?
In learning to slow down, notice what sensations are showing up in our bodies, and name the emotion that is associated with these sensations, we are not only increasing awareness, but we are actually engaging in a process that helps regulate that emotion. Hendel (2018) states, “knowing what we are feeling helps calm the emotion(s) in the moment and mitigates any anxiety around that emotion. Knowing the specific emotion helps us know what to do next that is adaptive, helpful, alleviating, productive, and good for us” (p. 116).
Defenses do not develop in a vacuum; often they develop in a context where at the very least they offer us short term relief from our discomfort. On top of this, our culture does not typically teach us how to slow down and fully experience our feelings. So if this process sounds foreign or difficult to you, or if you have found yourself continually trying to “feel your feelings” while staying stuck, therapy can be a helpful space to get unstuck. An AEDP therapist can help guide the process of identifying defenses, particularly the subtle or sneaky defenses that are hard to catch. They can help you to slow down and be with you as you learn to make full contact with the range of core emotions. And they can help you clarify what meaningful, important, adaptive impulse your emotion might have to share with you.
If you or someone you love might benefit from therapy for codependency, anxiety, low-self esteem, trauma or depression, please contact Jodi Staszak, LMFT. Jodi offers Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) for individuals, and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, in addition to Overcoming Codependency groups for individuals struggling with codependence. Jodi can be reached at 619-818-0375 or JodiS.MFT@gmail.com.