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Reflecting Feelings: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Reflecting feelings is the act of identifying and acknowledging someone's feeling and repeating it back to them. Learn about the definition and examples of reflection of feelings and understand its purpose in counseling. Updated: 01/11/2022

What Is a Reflection of Feelings?

Myra visited a therapist to discuss her depression and dissatisfaction with her marriage. The therapist often labeled Myra's feelings of anger and sadness, which assured Myra that she was being listened to and understood. Every time the therapist labeled Myra's emotions or feelings correctly, Myra felt like she could continue talking and discussing her troubled marriage.

Counselors and social workers are often reflecting the feelings of their clients. This is a basic, yet important, therapeutic technique. Reflecting feelings is determining the feelings and emotions in a person's verbal and body language and stating (or reflecting) those feelings back to the person or client. When a counselor reflects their client's feelings, it is almost as if the counselor is acting as a mirror, or reflection, of the client's emotional state.

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Purpose of Reflecting Feelings

There's a reason that counselors and social workers utilize this simple, yet effective technique in their sessions with clients. Just reflecting feelings alone can make a client feel validated, understood, and listened to, and it can even bring awareness to hidden secondary emotions. Let's look at these purposes in more detail.

Reflecting feelings validates a person's feelings. Validating, or 'okaying,' someone's feelings through reflecting their feelings is a way to tell that person that you are accepting of their feelings. This can be a relief to a person or client who is struggling with some difficult feelings. Imagine a man in a Catholic confessional exposing some of his deepest and darkest secrets to a priest:

Joe tells his priest, ''I'm married but I have been seeing another woman intimately, and I haven't been able to sleep or eat because keeping this secret is eating me up inside.''

The priest replies, ''You are feeling guilty.''

Joe says, ''Exactly, tremendously guilty.''

In this case, the priest is reflecting Joe's gut-wrenching feeling of guilt, and in effect, this validates and supports Joe's feeling this way.

Additionally, reflecting feelings makes a person feel understood and listened to. In a world with so many distractions, good listeners are hard to come by. Thus, when someone not only listens to us, but also reflects our feelings back to us, we feel like we are truly being listened to and understood. Imagine Emily, a financial advisor who's feeling frustrated because she has had one too many superficial conversations with people at a networking event. Emily finally meets Gus, who is skilled at active listening and reflection of feelings:

Emily tells Gus, ''It seems that no matter how hard I try or how much I do it, I cannot get comfortable with cold calling. It just seems so icky to me, but I know that I have to do it to acquire more clients.''

Gus replies,''And that's frustrating for you because it's a big part of your job right now, so you wish you could feel more at ease doing it.''

''Wow, yes.'' says Emily.

Finally, reflecting feelings brings a person awareness of their own concealed or unnoticeable feelings. Primary emotions like sadness, anger, and happiness are easy for people to discern because they are often the first emotions that are felt. A person may feel angry or mad, but they may be experiencing an underlying, or secondary emotion of resentment, like in the following example:

Grace says, ''So, I allowed my brother-in-law to stay with us for a month, but he's been living at our home for six months now. He doesn't work, eats our food, and just lounges on the couch all day watching television. It's making me crazy angry.''

Rick responds, ''You're livid with your brother-in-law and perhaps feeling resentful?''

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