It’s human nature to not want to feel pain (emotional or physical pain) and this is why we often prefer to ‘bottle up’ negative emotions rather than feeling them and expressing them. Another aspect of this is that many of us have grown up without being shown how to express our emotions in a healthy way and so we can become afraid of them. We’re scared of a bad reaction or confrontation when we do say how we feel. We may also have learnt to believe certain emotions are ‘wrong’, such as anger, fear, dissapointment, sadness or jelousy. The truth is these emotions are natural and normal and they just need acknowledging (even just to yourself) to become ‘unstuck’, allowing you to release them and feel better.
What happens to suppressed emotions?
We push our feelings down but by doing this they don’t go away. They sit beneath the surface and can affect us negatively in different ways. Our emotions are held in the subconscious part of the mind: the part that is not under our conscious control. If we don’t identify them and release them they tend to fester and can be unhealthy for us. For example, if you’re upset about something a partner has said or done and you don’t acknowledge these feelings in a healthy way, you may become more and more resentful and this can affect your relationship negatively. Using this example you may only need to identify these feelings just for yourself and assess whether you do need to express them to the person involved, or not on this occasion. But if you don’t even articulate these emotions to yourself, you’re not really dealing with them at all.
How do we push our feelings down?
We may use distractions like overeating, drinking alcohol, drugs, watching TV, excessive work or shopping to prevent us facing unwanted feelings. These distractions work in the short-term but suppressing and not dealing with negative emotions can put stress on both the mind and body in the long-term. This can result in anxiety, depression, insomnia and physical symptoms like stomach issues, headaches, neck and shoulder tension and pain.
You need to feel it to heal it.
Here’s a simple tool for acknowledging your feelings and in doing so they become ‘felt’ and will simply pass. This is a super-simple way to acknowledge and process an emotion in order to let it go so that it no longer affects you.
It is best to write this down, but you can also just run through the process in your head if it is not possible to get pen and paper out!
By acknowledging the thought/feeling rather than trying to push it down or letting it take over, it will be processed & released. The second part of this technique allows you to identify an alternative positive feeling, which starts to train the brain to be more positive and resourceful.
Fill in the blanks below when you are feeling triggered;
1) “I am feeling………………… because…………………………..”
Stay with the feeling for a couple of minutes and breathe.
Now the turnaround, which gives you the opportunity to identify and feel an alternative or more helpful (or even just a neutral) way to think about something:
2) “I would prefer to feel……………………………. and feeling this
way will allow me to………………………………………………………“
If, like many of us processing your feelings is a new habit just practice this tool whenever you need it. The habit will become easier and more natural the more you do it. Realise that by developing this new behaviour you are looking after your mental and physical health and also improving your relationship with yourself and others.
This article first appeared in the May issue of SE22 Magazine.