The biggest obstacle to most of my clients’ healing and recovery is their inability to understand and accept their feelings, and the emotional and behavioral clues that indicate where the problems lie. Most of us learn early that being too open with our feelings and thoughts is dangerous. It can lead to punishment, censure, ridicule, or hurt feelings. In some families, being open and honest about your feelings is like giving other family members ammunition to use against you. Often in school settings, being emotionally open can be seen as being weak, and can get you teased, your feelings hurt, or even get you physically hurt. Therefore, you learn to repress and conceal your feelings and thoughts. Added to this, painful memories are also repressed, because you don’t know what to do about them, and it’s too painful to allow them to be in your awareness. Years of such suppression of feelings makes it very difficult to open them up later on.

If you’re overeating, overspending, over-reacting, having anxiety attacks, temper tantrums, or otherwise out of control, the best way to get back in charge of your own behavior is to find out what feelings and thoughts you’ve repressed. To accomplish this, you need to develop the sleuthing skills of an Inner Detective.

Developing detective skills
Uncovering your inner secrets requires developing a set of detective skills, similar to those a detective would use to uncover clues after a crime is committed. The difference is that the clues you are looking for are emotional and historical. You’re part detective, part anthropologist, and the research site is your own mind. If you can uncover the hidden memories, thoughts and feelings that are at the root of your problem, you can resolve the struggle between your emotional reactions and your rational intentions.

Detectives are not only skilled at their craft, they also have specific character traits, or attitudes that make them successful at deciphering clues. You can adapt these talents, skills and traits to your own use, to search out the hidden thoughts and emotions behind your reactive and impulsive behavior.

These Inner Detective traits are: curiosity, persistence, observation, attentiveness, truthfulness, evidence-seeking, reliability, consistency, and a questing nature. Each of these traits can be learned, or are attributes you already possess, but have not used internally before. Imagine any detective, fictional or real, and see how these traits would be expressed by that detective.

Curiosity: Without curiosity, no detective could be very successful. Curiosity is the quality of wanting to know, to ask all the questions. If you apply it to your emotional secrets, you’ll want to know what’s going on. There is nothing more interesting than what is going on in your own mind and emotions. Being curious about your emotions and thoughts will lead you to understanding and to explanations of things that, until now, have been mystifying. What’s underneath your depression, your anxiety, your impulsive behaviors, your out-of-control emotions? Getting interested in what you think and feel, as you would be in what is going on with your friend, your spouse or your children, is the key to finding the information that will help you improve your relationship with yourself, and with others.

Persistence: Persistence is the quality of not giving up, hanging in there, keeping on keeping on until you find out what you want to know. If someone asks you what you feel or think, the instant answer is often “I don’t know.” But to a detective, it’s not an acceptable answer. Only you know your own thoughts and feelings. “I don’t know” is the equivalent of “I give up,” and a detective doesn’t quit. Persistence means not giving up on yourself. Not caring what you feel means not caring that you are alive. You wouldn’t do that to a friend, so don’t treat yourself as if you’re not important. The self-awareness exercise in chapter two is designed to help you understand your feelings—but only if you use it persistently.

It’s common for a client to do an exercise in therapy, get excellent results, but then fail to practice it regularly, because new behavior is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. But a detective doesn’t give up easily. Persist in doing the exercises and ask others to help remind you. Striving to understand yourself will result in success, just as persisting in the search for all the evidence helps a detective solve a case.

Observation: Extraordinary powers of observation are a hallmark of the effective detective. Observation is the key to noticing important clues: the detective who sees the tiny details (as exemplified by Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Nancy Drew or the TV detectives Columbo and Monk) is the most successful. Becoming observant about your own patterns, reactions and feelings will also help you be successful at unearthing the hidden clues. Pay attention to patterns: for example, what happens just before you become anxious or upset? These patterns contain clues about your “triggers” or what brings up the hidden emotions and memories. Observe your physical body sensations—where do you feel the emotion in your body? That spot in your body will be a great resource for uncovering many important clues. Detectives often go undercover, where they become “participant/observers” in a situation where they need to get information. That means, they infiltrate the gang, the drug dealers group, or the terrorist group to observe their actions and find out their plans. Psychologists and anthropologists also use this “participant/observer” technique to do research. You can use this tool in your own life, by consciously “stepping aside” and observing what’s happening in you and around you as objectively as you can. The more you can observe yourself objectively, the more you will learn to be aware of what you’re doing.

Attentiveness: The attentive detective is not only observant and persistent, but also alert and aware. Attentiveness, being fully present, means you’re observant and thinking clearly. Being attentive all the time is impossible, and not even necessary. However, when emotional clues are present, it can make a big difference. If you learn what triggers your emotional reactions, and to recognize the clues that your emotions are taking over, your attentiveness will help you learn what you need to know to take control. If you have a tendency to avoid your feelings, you’ve learned to be somewhat numb and inattentive. Paying attention whenever your feelings are involved will increase your ability to understand those feelings, and what triggers them, and to uncover the hidden beliefs and leftover issues of the past.

Truthfulness: At times, a great detective may mislead other people (particularly the villain) to get information. But in solving a case, the only thing that works for a great sleuth is the truth. In the words of Dragnet’s Joe Friday, they focus on “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Successful detectives are always truthful with themselves and about the facts. It might be quicker and easier to solve a case by interpreting the facts in the light of how you want them to be—fudging the truth so it fits the desired outcome. Lazy, incompetent or dishonest detectives can do this, and reach the wrong result. A top-notch detective, however, is scrupulous in looking for the truth about the evidence. It is just as important to seek the truth when you’re an inner detective. Rather than settling for an easy answer to why you’re afraid or angry, keep looking until you know the truth. Christians learn that the truth is quite easily recognized because it “will set you free.” It is a very useful idea whether you’re religious or not. Emotional truth does set you free: a type of freedom we psychologists call “release.” Clients often say “So that’s what it was! I never saw it that way before!” when they uncover the truth. Uncovering the truth about why you’re afraid, angry, hurt or sad, produces various types of release:

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.