Part 2: Emotional
In part one, I wrote about emotions getting trapped in the body if they have not had the opportunity to be processed well. Thinking of emotion as energy often helps to understand this more easily. For instance, when we become filled with anger, our urge is to act aggressively so that we might release the energy of that emotion. If we were taught that yelling or throwing a temper tantrum was wrong or bad, and not given healthy options in how to express or release this emotion in a socially acceptable manner, and the anger, that energy, is pushed back inwardly with no release, then our body contracts to hold it in. This can happen with any range of emotions, like fear, nervousness, frustration and sadness.
The process of discharging emotion in a healthy manner is crucial to handling life well. Discharging emotion is the matter of releasing the energy of emotion through actions like raging when we are angry, crying when we are sad, shaking when we are afraid. Intense emotion disrupts our ability to think clearly and make balanced and thoughtful decisions about how to respond to life. Learning to allow our feelings to arise, demonstrate them in healthy and responsible ways, and then demonstrate balanced decision-making by re-evaluating our situation is the mature path in life. Inappropriately raging at people, withdrawing completely when being confronted and using substances to numb our feelings are all examples of unhealthy manners of handling our emotional lives.
In order to undo any unconscious emotional conditioning, we must become aware of our reactive responses to life and particular situations. Quickly reacting, feeling compelled to react emotionally in certain ways, and having these reactions feel repetitive and automatic, are some signs that we may have emotional undoing to do. In order to accomplish this, it is most helpful to have an unconditional listener at hand; someone who can listen to us share our sense of reactivity, offer the space for emotions to surface where they can be expressed in safety. Once discharged, we think and speak more clearly about the current situation that caused the emotional reactivity. Sometimes it is best to have a professional to be the listener because detachment and objectivity are essential to holding an open space for us to process our experience.
Our reactive, repetitive patterns can cause us to be stuck in our lives and unable to experience our authentic power to elicit change. In relationships, it is not unusual to see a dance of two people with repetitive patterns cycling through the same process of interacting. Many times individuals will find themselves reacting to a situation, again and again, unable to stop what can feel like child-like behavior. And so the cycle goes until, one or both of them, take the opportunity to process the unexpressed feelings more directly and then see the situation through clearer eyes, unclouded by intense, and perhaps, inappropriate emotion.
When we become aware of being stuck in this manner, the path to ending the pattern is not to continue doing what was done in the past, but rather to change the topic to the pattern where one is stuck. For instance, if we are continually responding to our children in an angry tone or in frustration, it’s time to look at the anger rather than expect the child to change. Once we have dealt with our own anger, we can creatively determine how to set better limits with our child if that is what is needed.
When a couple is cycling through a repetitive pattern, the same theory applies. Rather than continuing the same conversation or focusing on the topic that elicits the repetitive patterns in each other, instead it is important to learn to stop the pattern, put it on hold and redirect one another’s attention to the places where each other is stuck, to the emotional content behind the place one becomes entrenched. Often we discover that each of us is caught in some fear, or hurt, maybe some resistance. Feeling the feelings, staying with them, asking about them through questions like “I wonder what this feeling is about for me/you?” “What might this be about, what does it look like from my/your past?” or “What am I/are you really so afraid/sad/hurt about?” All of these questions encourage a sense of interest and curiosity about one another rather than setting a tone of adversarial connection.
Changing unconscious emotional conditioning is one of the most powerful and freeing things you can do for yourself and in support of others. Over time it helps unlock us from inner repetitive messages that also tie us down mentally. I’ll address this in more depth in the next posting. By changing our mental and emotional responses to be spontaneous and true to the present moment, we no longer play out the same dramas over and again. Finding ourselves more creative and better able to flow with life, with a consistent curiosity and sense of wonder, we see all of life as opportunity and adventure!