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The Power of Focusing

This is my third blog on the power of focusing –  first developed by Eugene Gendlin and then expanded by Anne Weiser Cornell (photo above) and Barbara McGavin into what they call Inner Relationship Focusing. I have personally found this process extremely helpful and have taught it to many of my clients. My previous two blogs looked at the first two key aspects of focusing, this blog looks at how focusing helps us to CHANGE. It also looks at the LANGUAGE of focusing and some examples of when we might use it:


How do we change? How do we stay stuck? We often assume that to have something change, we must make it change. We must do something to it. This they call the Doing/Fixing way. They say that our everyday lives are deeply permeated with the Doing/Fixing assump­tion. When we tell a friend about a problem, the friend will often do his or her best to tell us how to fix our problem. Many of our modern therapy meth­ods carry this assumption as well. Cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, asks us to change our self-talk. 


The other way, which they can call the Being/Allowing way, assumes that change and flow is the natural course of things, and when something seems not to change, what it needs is attention and awareness, with an attitude of allowing it to be as it is, yet open to its next steps.

So the Being/Allowing philosophy, is a RADICAL philosophy! It turns around our usual expectations and ways of viewing the world. This is huge. It really turns upside down what we’ve culturally been taught about change. 

Focusing theory shows us that first of all, there must be a radical acceptance that everything is OK the way it is. There is no sense of trying to change anything.  There is no doing something to anything (no fixing, no setting it straight).  We accept that this felt sense is here, just as it is, right now and we are interested in how it is, really getting to know it. This turns around our usual expectations and ways of viewing the world.  This is what we mean by “wisdom of the body”. The felt sense knows what it needs to become next.

A natural process

Like a gardener carefully tending seedlings with the light, soil and water they will need to emerge and grow, Focusers learn to provide the conditions and trust the process which allows our felt senses to change, evolve and circle ever closer toward the wholeness we can be.

“Something in me…”

The language we use to ourselves when we are focusing is very important: Rather than saying  “I’m angry”, we say “I’m sensing something in me is angry”. This allows us to begin to be able to feel it, without being overwhelmed by it. We can do the same with any emotion: “I’m sensing something in me is bored…tired…worried…sad”. 

So instead of being caught up in something and ready to act out of it, you turn toward it, and you start to get curious. This is a huge shift, one that enables us to access more of our available intelligence. It also enables us to meet others in a way that makes them more likely to be open to us.  Our relationships get better, plus, we’ve taken the first step toward a process of self-awareness. 

Emotions shift and evolve

Those first few words can evolve as follows: “Actually now that I’ve said it, it’s not so much angry, it’s more like as though I don’t have any voice right now…” Emotions evolve once we sit next to them, give them our attention and start sensing how we feel from a larger perspective. 

Some more examples of where focusing can help

  • “Let me check if that feels like something I can do”

Many of us tend towards people pleasing – agreeing to do something before we have really thought through whether we want to and are able to do it. Meaning that we then have to back out and say we are now unable to do what we said we would, or to do it and feel resentful! Focusing allows us to find a place inside us where we can check how we really feel about the request. “Something in me is worried that if I say “no”, this person won’t like me.” This may shift to “Something in me knows that I am extremely tired and had planned to take things easy this weekend. I have to honour this and mind myself, I know the person will be able to find someone to help out.”

  •  “I need some time”

Sometimes we can get caught in tricky emotional interactions, such as arguments with people we care about. Both people may become upset, and say things they wish they hadn’t said, partly out of a feeling of being trapped in the discussion. Focusing helps us to tell ourselves and the other person: “I need some time to take in what you’re saying and sort out how I feel.” This means we stay connected, we can both take some time out – whether that is for a brief few minutes or longer – taking this time out usually means arguments can later be resolved quickly and easily. 

  • “What feels right to do next?”

This sounds like a small thing but actually makes planning our day much easier. Even though we may believe it’s good to plan our day the night before or first thing in the morning, focusing in the midst of tasks, sensing what’s most important in that moment, can be even more effective. We get a sense in our body of how right it feels to do a particular task at that moment, then we can allow this sense to carry us along in a natural flow (rather than begrudgingly going down our To Do list!).

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!


See also: Managing Emotions Felt Sense Focusing