What are emotions?
We can think of emotions as messengers or data. They hang around or come seemingly out of nowhere to alert you to something (surprise they aren’t just there to annoy you). Imagine a situation where you are walking down a dark alley late at night…it’s vital that you are able to feel a sense of nervousness and apprehension, perhaps even fear. That feeling is there to tell you that this situation is a little dangerous and you might want to stay on guard or take a different route.
Why are they so complicated and hard?
I often hear my client’s say that their emotions are “too much” or they are afraid to feel them because then they won’t be able to cope or the emotion won’t stop. This kind of self-talk can make us want to not feel certain emotions and instead block them out. It’s often the case that we actually have a very poor relationship with our feelings, usually rooted in childhood and the way emotions were managed in the home. It’s not necessarily the case that emotions are hard but rather we have a lot of resistance towards feeling them, which then creates an internal struggle that can be extremely uncomfortable.
The first step to healing emotional avoidance is to start paying attention.
Pause now. Turn your attention inward and see if you can sense what you might be feeling in this very moment.
Notice if there is any avoidance or attempts at suppression going on.
Is your body giving you some clues as to what emotion could be lingering? Maybe a tight chest. Breathing is hard. Stomach is clenched.
Ok I see but now what?
You have possibly had a lifetime of resisting and suppressing your feelings.
Maybe it was mum that used to say, “stop crying” or “you’re so sensitive”.
Or dad that told you “I’ll give you something to cry about”.
Perhaps you had to go to your room until you calmed down.
All of these things send the message that what you feel is wrong or bad or shouldn’t be spoken about/shown. But this is not true.
All feelings are valid.
The way forward to is stop resisting and fighting with your emotions. Pain can only exist where there is resistance, the moment we accept something and allow it, the pain can no longer remain.
Oftentimes there is a lot of fear around feeling our emotions and what might happen. This can be quite overwhelming, especially if you have dealt with feelings in a harmful way before such as through self-harming, use of substances or aggression.
It’s important that we distinguish the difference between the emotion itself and our response to it.
All feelings are ok but not all responses are helpful or healthy. For example, it’s ok to feel anger but hitting someone is rarely a helpful response. Therefore, it is necessary to work not only on recognising and allowing our feelings but also on how to better respond to them.
Knowing that we can respond in a healthy way to our feelings gives us the confidence we need to be able to continue allowing feelings in.
Therapy for emotional healing
Some of the things that we might explore in therapy include:
- Going back to childhood to discover why you started avoiding or supressing in the first place
- Identify which particular emotions are met with resistance for you and why
- Work on any past or unresolved traumas
- Overcome fears around feeling again
- Learn how to access and allow feelings safely
- Develop healthy strategies for managing emotions
If you have been trapped in a state of emotional avoidance or feel out of touch with yourself, I would love to help you in this healing journey.
Author: Cindy Porter, BPsych (Hons), MClinPsych, MAPS
As a registered psychologist, Cindy has experience working with mothers, infants, adolescents and adults. She aims to help people on their healing journey through understanding and empowerment, allowing them to overcome whatever is currently holding them back. In doing so she strives to help people flourish and create the life they desire.
To book with Cindy try Online Booking or contact M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
Harris. R. (2008). The Happiness Trap. London, England: Robinson Publishing.
Hayes. S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.