There is so much avoidance of the very topic of emotions and yet the narrative of our world bespeaks a ceaseless outpouring of them. We lable them “good” or “bad”, consider them “unruly” or even “irrelevant”, some people even try, so hard, to get rid of them but, really, they are value neutral…it’s how we handle them in the moment that really counts. We are seldom taught this; ask most people what they are and they would struggle to tell you and yet their lives, in fact all of our lives, are driven by them, like it or not.
Emotions are simply feelings that your body is experiencing and it’s not so much a case of “I am” angry but that “I am experiencing anger”, (a common misperception that sets so many things off down the wrong path). When we stop equating ourselves with the emotion, we stop feeling like we “are” it, which is a vast improvement. When we think we “are” it, our mind works overtime to solve whatever it is, wanting to get the source of it, to conduct research, to fix something. We do a lot of apologising for emotion, we feel a lot of misplaced shame, all because of feeling as though we “are” it and it is “us”. However, when we cease identifying “as” it, we gain proper perspective, which is when we can really start to work with emotion…as an inner guidance system and a gift.
It’s much more like our emotion is something we hold in our hand; when we let go of it, the thing falls from our hand because it isn’t part of our hand but held by it. When we hold it, our hand becomes tired, tense and rigid after a time. Our bodies do that too, forming memory patterns around intense and long-lasting feelings until they distort our experiences, and our actual body tissue, because it has become tightly wrapped around that feeling (as happens so very often when our emotions are held long-term in the gut or the facia, or when we hold it as tension in the shoulders, neck or back). We can reach a point where we literally don’t know what it feels like to live without that feeling of heaviness, contortion or worry held “in” there and, now, the emotion quite literally feels like part of us, merged with us, though it wasn’t ever meant to be that way. Long term, it can dramatically affect who we think we are and the kind of experience of life we are having, also what we attract to us as new experiences (sending our life into repeated patterns of trauma that only seem to revalidate our distorted sense of self, because we now equate ourselves with feeling weak, angry, disappointed, betrayed, disliked, excluded or whatever).
Unwittingly, we cling onto old emotions, instead of hearing them out. Perhaps, at the time they first occurred, we weren’t in a great position to handle them, it may not have felt safe to have them, so we stored them up for “later”, which can turn into years later, like a messy cupboard we keep meaning to clear out. Crisis forces us to prioritise other things, so we shove emotion out of sight as a so-called temporary measure; only, unlike an animal (that will tremble and shake until all the emotion has left their body, following a life-or-death chase), we forget to do the tidy-up but, rather, train ourselves to pick ourselves straight back up again and get back on with our lives, stiff upper lip and all that. We rationalise that the thing that stirred our emotions is “over now” so we try to move on, though we may start to suspect that messy corner is still there, needing our attention, when things don’t run smoothly for us. If we do realise, we often fear the task of clearing it out, imagining all the heinous mess that will come pouring out, all the reminders of our past trauma, all the work it will take to sort through. So we avoid it until some health crisis or other situation makes it obvious we have to attend to whatever we have squirrelled away that there is simply no avoiding it anymore (though some people never do face up to it). But what if the process of letting go of our emotions go could be as easy as loosening the fingers on your hand and watching the emotion float away?
Lately, I have had such a lot of old emotions float to my surface that it occurred to me, one day last week, that they are only doing this now because it (finally) feels safe enough for them to do so. At an earlier point in my life, I may not have coped with all this, because of what I thought emotion was. I might have panicked at the very fact of having them there, assuming something to be terribly wrong but, instead, I feel calm, curious and steady; there is no repeat of old trauma left in me anymore.
In other words, this is good news and I take it as a great sign. Some part of me now knows, and is able to trust, that I won’t make a meal out of my old emotions if they choose to show themselves now, nor will my psyche try to rebuild other emotions on top of them, to snowball them, or spend hours revisiting all the old circumstances that surrounded them, trying to fix them, nor will I identify with them, or become bitter and resentful because of them. Rather, I will just see them there and allow them to have been there informing my earlier life experiences, without judgement, regret or the need to fix anything or indeed do anything with them at all. I am not sure I could have said this about myself just a couple of years ago, and certainly not a decade or more ago, so I have certainly come a long way!
The same applies to any current emotions that arise; I’ve noticed these come in quickly, almost furtively, like a sea fog, yet I am getting better at seeing them as they first start to build, then taking pause with them in order to accurately name them, which is so helpful, and then they can move along…before they get the chance to develop into something more dense and all-enveloping…which can sometimes include physical pain, which has become one of the ways my body has learned to shout for my attention. I’m not perfect at this by any stretch of the imagination, but am getting far far better at it, all the time, and it does have a positive knock-on effect for my health. I would therefore say, learning to work more effectively with your emotions is a prerequisite of aiming to recover from any chronic pain or other longterm health issue. If I get to the emotion soon enough, I can identify a feeling of discomfort as, say, feeling overwhelmed by having taken on too much, long before it turns into anything more disruptive, such as suppressed anger or full-blown emotional meltdown (which can lead me to the door of chronic fatigue or a proper “crash”), meaning I can defuse or avoid the trigger situation early in the proceedings.
Yesterday morning I noticed, at first, that there was some subtle sort of irritation building inside my body, for no apparent reason, as I began my qigong routine…so I got curious. Because of the unseasonably chilly morning, I had put on an old sweater that hadn’t been worn for a few months and a faint scent of perfume lingered around the sleeves from when I had last worn it. I can’t pinpoint which of my many perfumes this is (I have a passion for complex artisanal perfumes) because, in the intervening months, the scent had unpacked as certain top layers evaporated, leaving a base-note that I am probably quite unaware of when I wear whatever it is afresh. This singular scent was so evocative of a distinct time in my childhood that I was transported by it; a throw-back to a very specific time when I was at junior school, when I assume the scent belonged to my older sister, with whom I shared a room whenever she was home from college. I can recall coming across that same scent years later, worn by a room-mate at uni who had a taste for vintage 1970s perfume (today, I have suddenly remembered its name; called Blasé, it was launched in 1975…perhaps it is the combination of bergamot and sandalwood that connected with the scent on my sweater). I have an exacting sensory memory and have long explored, with great fascination, how even the most subtle sensory cues can open emotional memory boxes in the body. I have long known the potential for this to be as desturbing or unsettling as it can sometimes be pleasurable because, when a sensory trigger gives rise to a trauma memory, it feels as though the trauma is happening right now, not in the past!
When I allowed that prickling emotion to be there, given permission by my curiosity, it took me straight back to the time when I was being bullied most relentlessly at school; a few more breaths of it and I could be precise as to the very month and the fact that, like this day decades later, the weather was extremely wet for several weeks so we were kept indoors at school. It also took me back to flashes of a rainy Saturday; a time when I was quite contented, sat facing backwards to look out of the bay window of our house, watching rivulets of water on the panes and puddles forming on our driveway. Two sets of memories, all from one perfume but the first one had some real heat to it!
So the feeling I associated with this ghost of a scent, as it came up in me (to start with) as unnamed irritation, was not mostly nostalgia but, the more I allowed it to be there, I knew it was anger…anger that had not been dealt with at the time but shoved back deep inside of me, right back to where it had in arisen from (never a healthy thing to do!); this done apologetically, ashamedly and under the false belief that such fury was an “inappropriate” or “inconvenient” emotion to have.
At school (I have more recently come to recognise) I learned to disassociate from my emotions and some of the pretty harsh circumstances I faced on a daily basis for quite a long time, due to relentless bullying, as a means of getting through them, turning to my imagination and my private inner thoughts (which I used to create an impervious inner sanctum, one I still make thorough use of today). Yet that anger was there to protect me, to keep me intact when I was being assaulted by someone with an agenda to do me harm; it reminded me to stand up for myself, to do whatever it took to “get through” (creating that inner sanctum included) and to keep on moving forwards with the steady momentum that helped me to surround myself with better friends and happier circumstances in the months and years to come…I never allowed it to get as bad as it was that rainy month, in fact I seemed to become quite determined that I had had enough of such treatment, after that, and it was a turning point; one I only noticed years later, looking back.
The difficulty came from feeling I had to keep those BIG emotions hidden from sight; the fervent belief that that they would be disapproved of, make people disappointed with me or get me into further trouble, even make things much worse with my bully, so I buried them, just as I later went on to bury other big emotions in life that I felt far too polite or inhibited to let out at the time. I buried tons of them, literally tons and tons, an entire landfill of emotions, during my first marriage. How many years have those bottled-up emotions lurked inside my body tissues, creating such inner fire and distortion, a feeling of gross unfairness and undissipated energy, locked deep into my cells like a guilty secret?
I just want to add, as a child and (I finally admit) even as an adult, I have always been prone to huge, intense emotions, sometimes such monumental emotions they could easily knock me and everyone else off our feet if I let them out (or so I believed)…at some point, I started to believe they were dangerous or harmful. Perhaps because, in my family, emotions weren’t on the menu of acceptable topics of self-admission, being considered a sign of imbalance or weakness if they occurred. Rather, we talked about what we had done or were planning to do, rational things, not what we were feeling, so any variance from this drew some fairly undesirable kinds of attention. Combined with my high sensitivity traits and the ability to empath other people’s emotions, which I used constantly as a means of assessing the emotional environment at home (just because emotions weren’t talked about doesn’t mean that they weren’t there and, often, left unregulated so I would try to preempt them or take on other people’s problems to make the peace) home life could be an emotional rollercoaster when everyone was at home.
Yet, pretty quickly, I learned not to talk about my own emotions, the same as everyone else in my family, though they were undeniably there, like a storm and a carnival and everything in between, just beneath the surface of my terribly-well-behaved childhood (what it must have taken to keep them all so tightly under wraps!), as they still are. From years of practice, I can still seem as stoic as the day is long, on the outside; partly due to my own deep discomfort at the thought of “making a scene”.
In fact, I have become someone prone to “overcontrol”, a personality trait where you fear losing control (which can lead you to being perfectionist, rigid, driven, unemotive) and which can arise out of a traumatic or emotionally chaotic childhood (read all about it in this article Overcontrol and the Fear of Losing Control) because you tend to develop it as a survival mechanism. For me, there was also a long period of emotional instability in my first marriage, plus other truama, that reinforced my perceived need of the trait even further, since it felt “safer” to seem not to care or to be in more control of circumstances than I was really in at the time. This means I am often that paradox of being deeply sensitive on the inside yet can seem tough or even impassive on the outside; people tend to assume I am coping, or calm, or that I don’t need their input or help while, meanwhile, I only isolate myself further and make things much harder for myself by seeming to be this way.
Its all part of a lifetime’s pattern for me to be this way; not dealing with my emotions, averting my attention from them. For as long as I can remember, I have always far preferred to stay under the wire, out of sight, not making a fuss, so those intense inner emotions I experienced as a child could feel like a wild pony trapped in a very small stable, at times; kicking at the door, and not getting an easier as I matured, even though I had my control mechanisms off pat. In my early adult life, I experimented with letting them out from time to time but that only led to an even more abhorrent phase (…than when I was busily suppressing them) of what Karla McLaren, in her book mentioned below, refers to as “flinging our strong emotions around” in a sequence of repeated “attacks and retreats” intermingled with shame, apologies and copious amounts of self-loathing (encourage by my ex, who took particular pleasure in humiliating and shaming me over my exposed emotions). I was as yet to find any kind of middle ground with my supposedly unwieldy emotions (how to allow them without dire consequences) not least because I was now dealing with a backlog of them stored up in the body, so I rapidly put them back under lock and key again where, I am quite sure, they have led straight to the door of chronic health issues. It feels as though I have spent an entire lifetime being ashamed of them, apologising for them, keeping them in line and under wraps!
I can only imagine that having strong anger come up inside me, as that young child at school, seemed like having one wild pony too many in my stable at the time, being as I was that terribly shy plus hugely sensitive and deeply introverted kid, desperate to blend with everyone else, trying so hard to deal with a grossly unfair and uninvited set of circumstances whilst also struggling to navigate complicated social rules and pack behaviours that left me utterly baffled and out in the cold. Neurodiversity, however mild, can certainly play a big part in how well, or otherwise, emotions are handled as they arise during childhood, or whether they are in fact forced underground as the endless source of what feel like quite abhorrent levels embarrassment and overwhelm (not helped by the faulty societal view of most emotions as being signs of weakness or pathology). Even so much as a somewhat slower processing speed can make a person feel desperately disadvantaged when it comes to processing strong emotions as they come up for attention; “easier” not even to try, when you have so much else that feels so alien to deal with everyday. There was certainly nothing encouraging me to let my emotions out, when I was growing up, as it felt distinctly unsafe to do so!
In fact, high intensity of experience has been a lifelong experience for me and is a topic I have talked about quite recently, in the context of twice-exceptionality and Dabrowski’s five categories of overexcitability. These five types are emotional, intellectual, sensory, psychomotor and imaginal and are especially prevalent amongst gifted children, including those that are also neurodiverse, which can be a lot to handle during childhood, resulting in a hugely exacerbated experience of almost relentless intensity, as I can vouch for as someone who experiences all five of those overexcitabilities plus the very mixed bundle of “2E” deficits and gifts! For more on this important topic, see my post Highly Intelligent, Highly Intense, Highly Sensitive Person.
The fierceness and enormity of my emotions around the time I am speaking of likely scared me to death at the time, given my young age and, combined with my high sensitivity and empathy, the strong desire to cultivate invisibility, to blend in and be accepted. However, looking back, I can also appreciate how many times in my life, and in far more dangerous situations than the one I describe, the fierceness and vehemence of my emotions has truly saved me from the brink of destruction at the hands of unfair, untenable or even quite dangerous circumstances that I might otherwise have gone along with; and I speak not only of anger but also feelings of overwhelm, disappointment, grief, frustration, shame, sadness…all of which have launched me into far deeper understanding of how far I have gone off track, or was about to take a very wrong turning, at different points in my life. In line with my growing preparedness to listen to them, these emotions have all ejected me onto higher ground, more times than I can count!
I glean that anger comes up in me at times when I feel cornered, when life seems bitterly unfair or to want to “clip my wings”, when I feel unfairly treated, even bullied or excluded for my differences, when actual abuse is present or when I am in urgent need of learning how to reset my boundaries…as was all the case back then…but, like then, I won’t let these things do their worst with me for very long, once I hear what my emotions have to say about that. Anger was, and is, a call for action or a reminder to myself to step up on my own behalf, to speak out for myself and to claim back some space, to protect my integrity, so I really need to hear it sometimes; as I did then, so I do now…only, now I listen more willingly and without apology. I no longer push those feelings back inside!
However, I don’t need to revive the feelings the emotion gives rise to, I don’t need to “go there” or relive all those old circumstances it reminds me of. I don’t even need to identify the emotion as being who I am, either then or now. I can see the emotion as it arises, can look it straight in the eye, have compassion for it, and even marvel at how all that fury, the sense of unfairness, simply felt way too big for me to handle at the time, as was my situation given how small I was, how ineffectual I felt in the horrible circumstances I was trying to cope with daily, with no adults I felt I could turn to, so I shoved it all down deep inside.
Yet the second set of emotions the perfume brought up for me, the feeling of deep calm and contentment on a rainy Saturday in my childhood home, helped to remind me that it wasn’t all bad; I could forget what was going on and be more than contented some, if not most, of the time, because I had that sort of resilience built into me. I also felt so intact in my own company from a very early age, in fact these were all skills I developed around that age, including the ability to cope when things get really tough and to rely on myself above all others (I have never looked to anyone else to fix or rescue me, always prepared to do my own “work” to get out of a situation); skills which still serve me so well today. In short, I had some pretty sturdy resources, even at that young age, and took great enjoyment out of simple things, as I continue to do, so I tended to bounce back pretty well from the situations that most upset me, once I was distanced from them, and I can now be self-honouring over that. The harsh circumstances of life never defeated me because my other rich emotions served as my constant and unwavering companions (and still do, through thick and thin). When you learn to notice that joy can be found in simple, everyday things, you discover that life is always, potentially, full of joy!
This is something we can learn from our younger selves, if we can but allow ourselves to rewind (more accurately) to the way we once used to be; children don’t tend to allow emotions, even the big ones, to spoil their entire experience of life, having a much more functional “out of sight, out of mind” mechanism than we adults do. When I allow myself to go into that knowing, I notice many years of retrospective worry about how I coped “in the past” fall away because I was always far more resilient than I knew or have since allowed myself to believe. It’s all too easy to believe “I ought” to feel traumatised by something that happen because that is what other people tell us is the case; when, really, the only thing that matters is how we respond to our own experiences and a good therapist will work with only that, not their own expectations.
I remember that paradox coming up for me so starkly when I was raped 30 years ago; yes, it was so awful, I had way too much to process, it felt as though the sky had suddenly turned black and like I might never recover myself from the emotional devastation. However, as soon as I told one or two other people, for me, it got much worse because I took on their reactions as well as my own (which is not to say don’t tell anyone…you certainly need to find the right people to tell…but to point out, please don’t let anyone else tell you how you feel and consider who it is you turn to; seek professional help if you can). Perhaps this reaction was because of my neurodiversity; my way of processing was not the same as theirs and, suddenly, they swept me along on what they were feeling, to the point I felt only more confused and entrenched in dark emotions and bitterly regretted telling them…so I didn’t tell anyone else, for the best part of two decades (again, not recommended…but I had no professional help to hand, compared to which the heated or consolatory remarks of well-meaning friends were a very poor substitute).
Trauma is trauma; it’s certainly not to be played down and could often use some professional assistance to ensure it is handled sensitively. Having had my fair share of it (and no professional help to speak of), I am certainly not playing it down or making light of it. Yet its true that it tends to be afterwards that we build up a trauma-muscle, like distorted scar tissue forms around an old injury, as a result of how we tend to “empath” (as in to try to re-experience something, as though it is happening to us again now) our earlier selves, imagining how overwhelmed or indignant we would feel if that same thing were to happen again now. Conveniently forgetting, of course, that we would have quite different coping strategies now, that we are simply not the same person as we were back then, not to mention how we have a quite different level of understanding and viewpoint of the world; trauma is contextual and cannot be fully understood outside of that precise context. When we do this retrospective snowballing thing, we build up layers of new trauma, on top of the old one, because we repeatedly dive right back into the same old pool of emotions that the remembered circumstance gives rise to, and because the nervous system does not know the difference between present trauma or imagined/remembered trauma (this is a tested hypothesis) it will respond in the exact same way to both!
In short, we put ourselves through repeated traumas of our own making when we avoid dealing with the emotions we experience as they arise. By which I mean, not taking them on “as” who we are, crystallising them as part of our identity, but sitting with them as a passing visitor, hearing them out, allowing them to be there so that they can do what they are here to do, convey what they have to say, and then release.
Its the same when we jump into other people’s problems, assuming we know what it feels like to be them, yet we are dead wrong in this as we can never know exactly how they feel as we are not living in their shoes, and now we are adding their problems onto everything else we have to deal with in our own lives. If we are “an empath” (we all have mirror neurones; but some people feel other people’s emotions much more readily than others, due to the genetics of being a Highly Sensitive Person or early life trauma that made it important for us to be able to assess all the emotions going on in people around us in order to stay safe) doing this can make life feel hellish, as though we have no defined emotions of our own, so swept along are we on a sea of everyone else’s, unless we can learn to regulate this better.
We think we are helping by joining others in their emotions but, really, we can do so much more if we can manage to remain far more detached, clear thinking and objective as to what we can do to help, which may be less a case of acting in a certain way to help them than one of holding onto the belief, for them, that they are able to help themselves or get through this thing on the back of their own resilience and ingenuity (the kind of unwavering faith in their abilities that they will surely feel emanating from us as a powerhouse of encouragement; which is of far more use than us joining them in all their upset). In other words, we hold space for them to come through, “seeing” them do this on their own merits and perhaps learning something in the process, rather than jumping onboard with all their high emotions. Besides, if there is some practical action we can take to help, we will surely identify this the sooner and perform it the better if we are not swept into the same brain fog of emotion as they are currently in!
This just happened to me, earlier in the week, when a neighbour came round in a terribly emotional state about losing her keys, being locked out of her house and all kinds of problems spiralling off from that. She came round this morning with a gift to thank me; she told me I was so calm and kind, that everything about my house and my attitude felt so “zen” that it really helped her, not just to solve the immediate problem, but to get a handle on the fact she realises she needs to tweak some of her priorities and habits. I’ve given her food for thought and we both got something out of the interaction, even though (or because) I didn’t get drawn into her emotion.
This kind of detachment can be especially hard to pull off when that person is a loved one, particularly a child, but we can work at it and start to notice better results as we do. Often, as a parent, we will start to witness how the child seems to be “over” the big earth-shattering emotion far more quickly than we are, after we have jumped with both feet into their crisis with them, which can teach us some stout lessons about where to (or where not to…) put our emotional energy, if we are only prepared to learn from our own error of judgement!
In particular, we can’t afford to take on others’ grief, their lost opportunities, their disappointments. We can have immense compassion for them, yes, but to take them on is a whole different ballgame. The time comes when we have to know that each of us is on our own path and we are not here to live the lives of others in our midst. Karla McLaren talks about this in the preface to her book “The Language of Emotions: What Your Emotions Are Trying to Tell You” as she recounts how she felt all her mother’s desperate sadness, regret and grief as she sat by her bedside when she was dying yet Karla knew these emotions weren’t her own, they felt quite alien to her, so she put a stop to them (and her book is about how to work much more skilfully with all the emotions that come our way, including those we unwittingly take on for others). Some of us do this so subtly (often, but not always, on behalf of our parents and children…though it could equally be “for” people half way across the world that we have never even met) that we walk around as though stooped beneath heavy sacks filled with rocks, yet we hardly notice this or how we ceaselessly collect more rocks for our collection. If we do notice, we say we do this “for” people but, really, it is of little to no help to join others in their emotional strife and we do far better when we put our attention towards doing our own emotional housework.
We each have quite enough to have to deal with, coping with our own emotions as they arise hour after hour, trying to use them as a guidance system…and not see them as a cancerous blight that robs us of all our joy, hope and energy…without jumping into other people’s pools of emotion. We have enough work to do, simply learning not to hold onto our own emotions for far longer than is absolutely necessary, without multiplying the effect by adding more.
When we were children ourselves, we knew far better than to hold onto emotions for very long. As above, young children can be incredibly upset about something one minute, then drop it and move on, like it was nothing at all. They will sometimes look at others’ reactions to see if they are “supposed”to be upset but its not a given for them to do this but, rather, a learned behaviour to perpetuate what was really meant to be far more fleeting. They also, often, refer to themselves in the third person, not equating themselves with what happens to them in the same way as adults do. In recent years, I have found myself doing this (again), in private, which can really help to set a new mindset around who I truly am and what is just passing through; by the same token, I often talk out loud to myself and this really helps me to process. When emotions arise, I prefer to deal with them as they come up and will state to anyone near me, quite bluntly if necessary, “I am feeling x right now and I simply need to allow this to be there until it has run its course” (or words to that effect). I have had to unlearn my shame-response if I am, quite frankly, in a bad mood today; there should be no need for apology. I do my best not to rope others into my emotional states and to have good “emotional etiquette” around others, to remove myself or go quiet if necessary, but I don’t back the emotion into some tight little corner of denial inside my body any more, not even to be polite.
I then do the work it calls for, be it taking some time to be alone with myself, by journalling (so helpful!!), dancing and other somatic methods (hugely effective for processing emotion!), going for that solo walk, using Havening (another invaluable tool for processing and releasing emotions as they happen) and there are other methods out there that I haven’t yet tried; another I’ve heard good things about is the Sedona Method. McLaren’s book “The Language of Emotions” is full of techniques, including much on learning how to name your emotions. For more on how even the most intense, historic, traumatic emotions can be processed using somatic and other body-based interventions, watch this powerful short video from Juliet Arnott recounting her own experiences processing deep body-held trauma.
If we can relearn how to do these things, we have a super-power at the ready. Imagine the emotion you have is right there in your hand; do you want it, are you prepared to let it go? We’ve been entrained to assume this is a hard thing to do, taking years of therapy and so on. Really, it’s as simple as making the choice to release. That’s not to say its easy; we have years of unlearning to do (when it comes to how we think emotions should be handled), but it means that it isn’t as hard, or impossible, as we think!
When emotional memories come up, the temptation is often to think back into them and wonder what we could have done differently, struggling with the undulating course our life took (which, after all, got us here). Inherent in the acceptance of the emotion, however old it happens to be, is the acceptance of all the twists and turns our life took to get us to this particular version of ourselves, with all the wisdom and maturity we have amassed. Move one piece, and the whole story would be quite different….we would be different…so to accept the emotion is to fully accept, and love, ourselves as we stand here today. There is no more healing thing we can do for ourselves than to do than that very thing since it is the non-acceptance of ourselves and our circumstances that creates the root problem.
If we focus on an emotion, or if we resist it, it is bound to persist…the most basic laws of the universe at work; so, either of these is the same as saying “bring it on” and waiting for the ceaseless repeats of whatever we don’t want to continue happening to us anymore to keep on coming along. If we truly want to let go, we are already ready to do just that, starting from the very moment that the body feels it is safe enough to allow the emotion to resurface into the spotlight of our attention (in other words, as soon as we are aware of it being there). Here is our opportunity to hold it in our metaphorical hands, without any judgement or blame (and if those happen to come up, we get to sit with those emotions too). One emotion at a time, we hold court with them all, from a place of loving neutrality, giving them a name, seeing them as they are, allowing them to just be there, to speak their part…and so, one emotion at a time, things start to shift. It’s amazing how fluent emotions can be, once they feel fully accepted and allowed!
Taking this approach, we don’t fight our emotions or resist them, we don’t bury them away, anesthesise them with our addictions or distractions (including spirituality…I’ve been there!) nor do we over-simplify them with labels such as “good” or “bad”, “uncomfortable” or “socially inappropriate” (as per our childhood training), we don’t medicate them away either, but we sit with them and we dialogue with them (Karla McLaren tells you how in her book) and so a new, and transformative, level of self-awareness and understanding is reached via the emotions; thank you very much. This means that every emotion that arises is an opportunity – to listen, to recognise why they are here, to allow and then let go. Emotions are not the enemy they are made out to be in our culture (…unless they are those rare and accepted favourites, “happiness” or “joy”…), rather they are messengers of our own innate intelligence; a deeper source of intelligence than something equated with “intellect” or “study”. As I mentioned before, their very presence is a sign the psyche is ready to heal. They start to appear en masse when they feel safe to do so, once they know we feel safe enough to confront them again, this time without fleeing the body (as per the dissociative trait that can often arise out of trauma, as I have mentioned before). The reappearance of emotions can be a sign that the moment of trauma has passed, meaning it is time to reintegrate with the body, to become more grounded and healthy, and our emotions can help us to do that. Once they feel listened to, they can drop their constant fear that we will keep on placing ourselves back in the line of fire, right back into the same situations that traumatised us before, and so they learn to speak much more softly, less insistently yet still filled with pearls of wisdom.
Once they arise, and if we are prepared to welcome them, they can help inform us (in equal partnership with our rational intelligence, which helps us to name them), can keep us company, protect us, keep us attached to our bodies, in touch with our physicality in the healthiest way, fuel our highest intentions, inspire us into action, make us uncannily brilliant at evaluating a situation or laser-precise at making the right decisions, in fact they can perform all sorts of useful roles…but they are not meant to be preserved, intact (in some sort of storage vault in our bodies) for far longer than the purpose they are here to serve; this is the all important small-print and it needs to be heeded or we will fall back into the trap of becoming our emotions again. Nor, as McLaren points out, are we meant to swing to either extreme of vilification or glorification of them, nor repression or wholesale expression, but to find some sort of middle ground. Rather, each emotion has something distinct to teach us (I do recommend her book as a guide to what they each have to say and for methods of working with them) and, according to her, they work in family groups, as a sort of language; learning this can be a powerful aide.
In short, they are just passing through, like many colours flowing through a sunset sky; those colours appearing quite different in every moment and no two sunsets ever quite the same, yet we can start to see the beauty in all of them, even when the sky is too dark or cloudy for very much colour to shine through at all. We learn to accept the whole of the sky, in all weathers.
Instead of avoiding emotions any more, we turn them into the guidance system they were always meant to be for us, via which we begin to navigate our way back home towards our most intrinsic, well-balanced and healthy selves (and get to reside inside ourselves, as that, most of the time) which is how our emotions get to be transformed from being in a state of festering or turning in on themselves, or being cut-off in their prime, blunted off and dialled down, or even becoming downright toxic in our lives, to shining brightly as colourful expression of all that it means to be human; a rich and fluid tapestry of texture and colour – imagine such a world!
Disclaimer: This blog, it’s content and any material linked to it are presented for autobiographical, general interest and anecdotal purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. This article does not constitute a recommendation or lifestyle advice. Opinions are my own based on personal experience.Any links and information shared are for your own assessment and research purposes, I have no affiliation with any of the attached information sources and share them as point of interest, with no recommendation implied. You should check all health-related supplement and other protocols with your medical doctor before proceeding. Please seek medical advice from a trained professional if you are experiencing any symptoms or have experienced abuse, trauma or similar.