The Scoop: Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who studies the science of emotion and teaches people to identify, manage, and resolve their emotions in a constructive way. Hilary designed the Change Triangle to illustrate how inhibitory emotions and defenses can mask deeper feelings at the core of interpersonal issues. Couples can use Hilary’s methods to gain insight into themselves and build a stronger foundation for their relationship.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel enrolled in Wesleyan University and Columbia University with the intention of becoming a dentist. However, as she learned about the chemistry of the human body, she discovered a passion for more emotionally attuned work.
After some soul-searching, Hilary decided to change careers and pursue a master’s degree in social work. She dove into studies on attachment theory and trauma-informed therapy, and she learned how to identify and resolve the core emotions that cause harmful behavior and relationship conflicts.
Hilary realized this information was a crucial part of leading a happy, healthy life, and she embarked on a mission to share emotional knowledge with the general public. Hilary is now an author and certified psychoanalyst specializing in Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP).
Throughout her career, Hilary has taken a compassionate approach to therapy and provided resources to clarify what’s going on beneath the surface of relationships. She developed the Change Triangle tool to help people name their emotions and work through potential conflicts.
Couples can deepen and strengthen their relationships by using Hilary’s strategies to acknowledge and express their emotions in a healthy way.
“If you want an emotionally intimate relationship, it’s good to learn about emotions, preferably with your partner,” Hilary said. “Learning a few simple things about how emotions work in the mind and body fosters lifelong well-being and can be a game changer for how we feel and function in relationships.”
The Change Triangle is a Blueprint for Personal Growth
The Change Triangle is a therapy tool that helps people identify their emotional state. The three sides of the triangle are defense, inhibitory, and core emotions. A person or a couple’s goal should be to work past their defenses and inhibitory emotions to address the core emotions of fear, anger, joy, excitement, disgust, or sexual excitement.
Hilary wrote the self-help book “It’s Not Always Depression” to explain how a person’s emotional defenses (avoidance, sarcasm, aggression) and inhibitory emotions (shame, anxiety, guilt) can halt personal growth and mask the core emotions that drive personal growth.
By giving couples the language to discuss their emotions, the Change Triangle can help resolve relationship conflicts and foster greater understanding and empathy between partners.
“The Change Triangle is a map to understand how emotions work in the mind and body,” Hilary explained. “It’s a daily tool to help identify and work with emotions for greater well-being.”
Hilary told us she uses the Change Triangle on a daily basis to assess where she’s at and how she can better communicate with the people in her life. It takes a conscious effort to get to the root of some arguments or frustrations, but doing so is the first step toward a healthy resolution.
The Change Triangle can start teenagers and adults on a path to greater emotional awareness, and Hilary firmly believes it should be considered need-to-know information for anyone entering a serious relationship.
“The Change Triangle offers a practical understanding of emotions and human connection,” Hilary said. “It’s not just about insight. It’s about healing. It’s changing your brain to increase your access to calm, confident, and clear thinking.”
Raising Awareness About How to Balance the Heart & Mind
Hilary makes a clear distinction between healthy and unhealthy emotion. Her approach to therapy is about listening to the body and using constructive language to assess what’s going on. She teaches people to express their emotions without rage, blame, or despair.
“It’s about recognition and putting language on a body-based experience,” she said. “Once we can identify it, we can deal with feeling in the body and help the core emotion move through us.”
When faced with anxiety, guilt, or shame, some people may want to shut down or lash out. However, if they can learn to lower their defenses and talk about the why behind those feelings, they can create a more positive experience working through their emotions.
Hilary’s blog offers a lot of examples about how to address negative emotions, resolve conflict, and strengthen interpersonal relationships. She often draws from her own life experiences as a wife, mother, ex-wife, and daughter to illustrate how emotion work can impact every aspect of life.
Every month, Hilary publishes a new article addressing a question or problem she has seen come up often in society. She uses affirming and gentle language to encourage readers to repair their relationships by digging deeper into how they feel.
Hilary said her goal is to give her clients and readers the emotion education they don’t receive in school and help them become better equipped to address issues in their relationships.
“We need a language to talk about and understand each others’ emotions and behaviors,” she said. “When we share our deep and rich emotional words with someone who can listen without reacting or getting defensive, the connection deepens and strengthens — and we feel better, more loved, and more secure in the world.”
Couples Reinforce Their Bond by Listening Empathetically
Hilary has spent years studying how emotions can influence behavior, and she can offer concrete solutions for people facing emotional challenges. She promotes empathy in the face of potential conflict and urges people to be receptive when a partner, friend, or loved one voices a negative feeling.
“You need to actively look for someone who’s interested in leaning into discomfort and awkwardness to get to a greater goal,” she told us. “You need to understand emotions so you can reach beyond what you see and have the strength to be the bigger person.”
She said romantic partners have to be particularly attuned to each other’s emotional needs and willing to communicate openly when conflicts arise. Sometimes resolving an issue can be as simple as saying “I understand” or providing reassurance through a hug.
“Oxytocin is released from a soothing touch. You feel a visceral sense of release,” Hilary said. “You may have to hug for a good long time. The person who needs the hug should decide when the hug is over.”
Hilary said she is currently writing a book about therapeutic hugs and also working on new articles to publish on the blog and other authoritative sites.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel Offers Strategies for Mental Health
Hilary Jacobs Hendel offers caring and authentic guidance for singles and couples facing interpersonal issues. Her books, blog posts, and online resources provide practical strategies for resolving conflicts and creating stronger emotional connections.
Couples can use the Change Triangle to assess where they’re at emotionally and work toward a happier and healthier state of being. By naming their fears and insecurities, couples can grow together and create an open-hearted dialogue about the issues that really matter to them.
“Nothing feels as good as being able to help people and share education that I know is life-changing for the better,” Hilary said. “I hope emotion education will be commonplace one day. But until that happens, I’ll be trying to move the needle in that direction.”