Our mind is constantly working. It has three basic functions of thinking, feeling, and desiring. We then respond consciously or unconsciously depending on how aware we are of our thoughts, feelings, and desires.
Many patients share stories claiming they don’t think. When I inquiry deeper, they discover they do think but deliberately distract themselves from paying attention.
The pain of their thoughts is too great to face. They rationalize, “if I’m not aware of my thoughts; they don’t occur.” It’s the old adage, “if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.”
It is not uncommon for a child to be conditioned to suppress their emotions. Cultural views or mishandling of a child’s natural reaction to pain, hurt, or not getting what they desire teaches the child not to show feelings.
Suppressing our emotions doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it makes it more difficult to manage imminent life distresses. Research shows when we deny our thoughts, feelings, and desires they become stronger.
Our emotions don’t go away, they build-up in the body. Neglected emotions cause inflammation in the body, which then increases stress on the body. Risk for hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety rises.
Unreleased emotions causes the immune system to weaken and then bones begin to fracture easily, joints become stiff, and illnesses become more frequent.
The effect of suppressing emotions continues to not only have detrimental effects on our mind, body, and overall health but also on our relationships.
Relationships start to deteriorate due to unfamiliarity of social cues and gestures propelled. Frequent misunderstandings cause resentment, anger, hurt, and sadness. As communication skills decline, consequently relationships begin to fail.
The Brain and Trauma
During a traumatic event such as an assault, a robbery, or a car accident our thinking part of the brain naturally shuts down to protect us. Our brain is then able to fully focus its attention on surviving. Our body responds immediately ready to fight, flight, or freeze.
The similar way our pain receptors block us from feeling intense pain at the time of physical harm, the mind functions to suppress intense, negative emotions during times of crisis to defend us.
The brains’ response to trauma protects us. However, when we consciously disconnect from our emotions during normal life’s tribulations such as a fight with our spouse, death of a family member, anxiety from work, or from the loss of a job; our mind, body, and relationships suffers.
Common signs of stored emotional pain:
- You overly distract yourself to maintain self-control.
- You keep yourself extremely busy and moving to avoid negative thoughts.
- You avoid talking about the incident because you don’t want to feel undesirable emotions.
- You avoid people, places, or objects that remind you of the incident or that bring up adverse emotions.
- You numb emotional or physical pain with alcohol or drugs.
It takes deep reflection, awareness, and efforts to uncover denied emotions let alone release them. Many of us, have a hard time even putting words to the sensations felt.
Nevertheless, it is important to find time to express your emotions in a healthy way.
Modified from Deepak Chopra teachings, here is a beneficial method to release emotions.
- Think of a specific event and write what happened. In your narrative, explain how you felt using feeling words such as:
As you are experiencing these emotions, feel them in your body. It may be a physical sensation of stiffness, discomfort, tightness, or pain in the stomach or around the heart. A headache or a tightening of the throat is also common.
- Next write what other people did and how you reacted afterward.
- Write another narrative but this time from the point of view of the person who hurt you. Pretend that you are that person. Write down what they are feeling, why they acted as they did, and how they responded afterward.
- Finally write a narrative using the same event but from the perspective of a reporter. In the third person, write how an objective observer would tell readers about the incident. Be as objective and even-handedly as you can.
- Share your experience. Tell your experience to a good friend, loving family member or a therapist. Keep from relaying your three stories to the person who hurt you. They will most likely not understand or be supportive. It is crucial to tell your tale to someone sympathetic and has your best interests at heart.
- Create a ritual to set free your three stories. Burn them, flush them down the toilet, make paper airplanes and release them to the wind. As you release your stories, visualize all your pain; sorrow, and frustration leave your body.
- Take yourself on a date. Go out to dinner, get a massage, buy yourself something nice. Choose an activity to cherish the work you did and the emotional release.