Sit and Simmer: Learning to Be Still with Emotions

Person in pajamas resting on couchAs a food lover, I tend to create food metaphors for life situations. It comes quite naturally to me and inadvertently has become part of my style as a therapist. “Sit and simmer” is one of my favorite life/food connections for helping people to accept whatever is happening in their lives.

The other day Mr. L said to his therapist, “Man, I just can’t shake this thing. I feel like I’m in some stagnant water. I try getting myself to do stuff, but I’m not enjoying anything. I’m in a rut and I don’t know what to do.”

Therapist: “It seems like doing things isn’t really working.”

Mr. L: “No, it’s not.”

Therapist: “Then, what’s with all this ‘doing’ business?”

Mr. L: “Well, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”

Therapist:
“According to who?”

Mr. L: “Well, uh… I don’t know.”

Therapist: “What would happen if you just sit and simmer in it?”

Mr. L: “What?! Sit and simmer?” (laughs)

Therapist: “Sure, what do you think of that?”

Mr. L: “Well…I don’t know.”

Mr. L was dumbfounded. In the next session, he came in really stuck on the idea of “sit and simmer.” He had tried it during the week by trying not to be so productive, but he didn’t like it very much. “It’s too uncomfortable! I feel so useless,” he said. Yet being productive wasn’t feeling very good either. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place: if he did something, he felt discomfort. If he didn’t do anything, he felt discomfort as well.

For Mr. L, being productive or useful meant doing things. So, he did lots of things—lots of things filled his day, everyday. However, together we learned that doing lots of things was Mr. L’s way of avoiding what was going on internally, such as feelings that were too overwhelming to deal with.

“Sit and simmer.” Like onions in a pan with a little olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper, you sit and simmer over medium-to-low heat (ideally, but hey, life throws high-heat every so often). In life, you sit and simmer in the issue. You find support through your inner circle—like your therapist, friends, family, etc. They are your seasonings, olive oil, and butter. You talk about your thoughts and feelings—you sweat it out. And before you know it, you are transparent, sweaty and completely delicious—you have transformed and grown, ready for the next step.

Mr. L initially laughed at me, but he really challenged himself to sit and simmer. He allowed himself to confront and sit with those uncomfortable underlying feelings rather than be “productive” all the time. Over time, he learned a lot about himself and why he couldn’t be content with life. He learned, for instance, that his parents tended to give him praise for being a good, “productive” child. When he was not productive, he was “not good.” In sitting and simmering, Mr. L gave himself the chance to work through those difficult feelings and eventually came to his own conclusions about himself, his relationship with his parents, and his relationships in general. (And yes, with time Mr. L “un-stuck” himself and moved on to other recipes in life.)

If you need, sit and simmer with your olive oil, butter, and seasonings. It’s uncomfortable for a while, but you will transform and develop into something quite delicious.

© Copyright 2010 by Laura Hahn-Segundo Collins, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Stewart L.

    Stewart L.

    May 27th, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    I have been through this…working or getting myself involved in something to escape the inner conflicts.

    My first marriage was on the rocks about two years ago and I just did not feel like going home. I would reach my work-place early and over-stay there in the evening, after which I would find excuses to stay away from home. It seemed like the right thing to do then, but when I reflect back on the same now I know what I did and how I could have done better in the situation.

  • kel

    kel

    May 27th, 2010 at 4:41 AM

    sitting and simmering is not somehting that I do well either. . . I am much more of a doer even when there are times that I know I would be better off sitting and letting things ride for a while.

  • Laura HS Collins, LCSW

    Laura HS Collins, LCSW

    May 27th, 2010 at 8:13 AM

    I hear you. When I need to sit and simmer, I admit that it’s not easy for me either. We are taught to go go go – just keep your head up and move on. Deal with it. Now, if this works then it’s fine. It’s when it’s not working that we have to ask ourselves just that, “Is this really working?” That’s when I learned that in-action is sometimes the best action.

  • nicholas

    nicholas

    May 27th, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Whenever there is something bad happening in my life,whether personally or professionally,I always try and get away from the daily humdrum and think about what has happened and the ways to make it better or to even fix it.I am then in a much better position to face the situation and possibly improve up on it.

  • dB

    dB

    May 27th, 2010 at 6:57 PM

    @nicholas:its just great that you can do this quite effortlessly.I am just not able to relax when there is an issue that is bothering me…I keep fretting about it and in the process not only do the tension levels go up but so do the temper levels!

  • SUSAN

    SUSAN

    May 28th, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    I don’t know what category I fit into actually because when the issue is professional,I can get myself away from it effortlessly.But when the problem is related to my personal life,I just cannot emulate the same and I just have to dig myself into other things to get over it and am not able to sit,think about it and find the solution.

  • kel

    kel

    May 29th, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    Yeah I jump the gun a little too much sometime, but I act before I even think it through.

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