Today’s blog is a tool that will show you how to take responsibility and stop carelessly following your feelings into whatever may come. We’re not operating with a Mandalorian code so this is not “the way,” but it is a way and I’m curious about how it works for you. Let me know in the comments or drop a line!
What would life be like if instead of following today’s feelings, you could take responsibility and use those feelings to create relationships that serve you?
A lot of people pride themselves on living a life based on feelings or what feels right and I’m not disparaging that approach. In fact, I think this tool will actually empower folks who live this way to do more of it.
Last month I wrote a blog entitled “No One Owes You Listening to Your Feelings” and today is something of a follow-up. That blog struck chords. Half the people I spoke with felt seen and validated. A large contingent felt I had distilled relationships to cold mechanics and discarded the role of relationships as a whole. My intention with this blog is to tie it all together a little tighter with a tool so I’ll start where the last blog wrapped up.
If No One Owes Me Space For Feelings, What Do I Do?
This is a great question. I closed the last entry with the line:
“Feelings point us to our own needs.”
A ha! So people owe us meeting our needs? No, it’s not that either. Some unsolicited advice is to be wary of folks who talk about relationships existing to meet needs and that’ll show up in future blogs.
Not only do feelings point us to our needs, they remind us to take responsibility and stop carelessly following them into whatever may come. One thing we can do with them is turn them into requests like this.
Dealing With The Dragon and 6 Chairs
In 2018, I attended a course through a local men’s centre called “Dealing With the Dragon.” You can rightly infer that Dealing with a Dragon with a bunch of men implies dealing with power and with volatility. It’s also about dealing with thick armour and nearly impenetrable scales. The course is aptly named and I recommend it.
In that course, we were introduced to a tool called The 6 Chair Exercise that I’ve since adopted and modified to help me and my clients take responsibility, have healthy relationships, and reduce codependency.
Important: This tool, and coaching in general, is not a substitute for therapy. If this is triggering or has the prospect to be, but you want to give it a go, consider putting it away until you’re resourced and ready.
The 6 Chair Exercise: How to Take Responsibility and Stop Carelessly Following Feelings
This is a tool I teach in 1-hour sessions with individuals. For a follow-up on this or an introductory session, you can contact me and we can go through it in some detail.
In this blog, I’m going to describe the process of the exercise and then the parts. In a follow-up, I will provide an example.
What will be revealed is that feelings are just one part of our experiences. Since they are just one part of our experiences, we need take responsibility and stop carelessly following feelings to wherever they may go.
The 6 Chair Process
A thing about chairs, in general, is that you can only sit on one at a time and that is true here. Options for setting the 6 Chair Exercise up include:
- Use 6 real chairs in your room. I prefer 6 of the same chair, but 6 places to sit, so long as you can label them, works.
- Use a pen to draw 6 rectangles and grab a coin or token to move from one chair to the other.
- Perhaps more advanced: Imagine a room with 6 chairs in it and you can freely move from one chair to the next in your head. Note: If you spend a lot of time in your head, use one of the other methods to change up your pattern.
However you set this up, the most important thing is to know where you are at at any given time. Label the chairs.
The 6 labels are: Event; Primary Emotions; Secondary Emotions; Judgements; Needs; Requests. We will explain these below, but for now those are the labels to apply.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s start at an event. In writing or perhaps verbally in recording your voice, describe the event that has triggered some emotional response. Your description must be only what a camera would record. It does not include interpretations, judgements, or beliefs. This description is just the facts. Cement the facts in your mind.
If you go beyond the facts, should likely be sitting in a different chair. Watch for this, get yourself back on track, and note the facts. Most of the time, there aren’t as many facts as we might think.
Once you have the event recorded, how you’re feeling & what you’re thinking will dictate the next chair you go to. For now, let’s go sequentially, but it’s not required. You can change chairs as often, as you like, including adding more details to the event, until the exercise is complete. Try not to get caught up in changing chairs, though, and do your best to stay on track.
2. Primary Emotions
Primary emotions are the emotions you initially feel. They are the ones that come up as a direct result from an event. These emotions tend to arise very quickly inside the body. These emotions are important because they help us understand what’s happened and support us in responding.
Capture your primary emotions in response to the event. Focus on your primary emotions. There’s no consensus on how many primary emotions there are, but most sources cite between 5 and 8. I like to go with 8: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust.
Again, if you find yourself revising your facts about the event or going beyond the primary emotions, you’re no longer in the correct chair. It’s time to re-focus or change chairs.
Aim for 1-2 primary emotions.
3. Secondary Emotions
Secondary emotions are the emotions that create some complexity for us. If we felt anger as a primary emotion, we may feel rage at ourselves for being angry or disappointment for being triggered. Secondary emotions are very important because they act as pointers to what we need to support ourselves or address. These emotions are the key to how to take responsibility and stop carelessly following feelings.
This list of emotions is my favourite. It includes a review of primary emotions depending on the theorist and then breaks down a deeper list or Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary emotions. Take a look and see how you feel when you need to dig deep and identify those emotions that arise after the event.
Effectively copying and pasting from above: if you find yourself revising your facts about the event or going beyond the secondary emotions, you’re no longer in the correct chair. It’s time to re-focus or change chairs.
Aim for 5-10 secondary/tertiary emotions.
This is a free-for-all place to release your judgements. It’s not an excuse to get off track from the event, emotions, needs, and requests, but it’s the place to give voice to conflicts, dabble with gossip, and let your self-talk go. This is the only chair where your conscious self-talk can wander.
Keep yourself on track and get out of this chair when you are ready.
I’ve written about emotions pointing to needs and this really is often something that those secondary (and tertiary) emotions do. Humans typically have the same needs, but our histories give us radically different relationships with needs and emotions. An unmet need at a young age can be an underlying trigger for secondary emotions and since we all have different foundational experiences, emotion and need combinations may vary.
When it comes to identifying needs, I use this list from the Center for Non-Violent Communication. Having no more than 3-5 needs is very helpful for the final chair.
6. Requests of Self, Others, and The Universe
Requests are the relationship linchpins and how you exercise your responsibility! Reasonable people in healthy relationships listen to requests quite readily. They approach them with curiosity and care.
Others are not the only ones we issue requests to as we can also make requests to ourselves and to the universe as a whole (call that “prayer” or whatever you like).
We aren’t built to compromise. If you compromise on your needs, you may be seeding resentment inside of yourself or otherwise making yourself unsafe. It is, however, reasonable to compromise on your specific requests so long as your needs are met (Maybe someone you’ve asked as a better request that also serves them and you grow together?). Collaborating around requests can be fun and a huge relationship-builder.
Requests are made up of the things you ask for in order to get your needs met. For everyone’s sake, they should be easy, doable, and very specific.
If you have your requests listed or issued and don’t feel your needs are met, circle back through the exercise and dig into those unmet needs. As a coach, supporting people in getting their needs met is a big part of what we do.
Live From Intentional Requests and Not Solely By Your Feelings
In relationships, be they professional, personal, or intimate, we may not always have full permission to let our feelings & emotions run rampant or it may just be inappropriate to do so. If we’re well enough to do so, we need to be responsible for our own emotions.
In relationships where we are valued, our requests carry weight.
Many people who use this exercise, or ones like it, find that they often have more requests of themselves than they thought they would. They also find that deeply considering their needs leads to considering people outside of their primary partner to support them. This has been a major discovery for my monogamous clients who used to rely on their partners with much more frequency than they did before this exercise.