I’ve been having an intense period of digging up stuck emotions. 40+ years of accumulated feelings are sure a lot. Each time I react emotionally, usually in the manner of taking things too personally, I am just surprised by the underlying feeling. I’ve encountered stuff like:
- The disappointment of realizing that I am not as good as I thought I was
- The shame/embarrassment of being wrong
- The desperation of realizing that I made a mistake and can’t take it back
- The anger of not getting what I deserve despite my best efforts
- The guilt of letting someone (or myself) down
They may all seem similar yet the underlying feeling is each so different and distinct. It’s helpful, if not necessary, to at least be able to name the core feeling because they have different ways of expressing themselves. For example, shame and guilt both feel de-energizing and depressing. Tears come out not in bursts but more in the manner of sobbing and weeping. Anger, on the other hand, wants to be very active. I am able to embody it intensely by tensing all the muscles and unleashing voiceless scream.
Sometimes it is hard to tell what the feeling is, it just feels “bad.” I try paying attention to it by separating a piece of my consciousness outside of that feeling and interacting with it. It’s helpful to visualize the feeling as if it’s a younger version of myself, like a 5-year old or a 12-year old. I’m trying to console this upset boy by telling him something that describes how he’s feeling. When it connects then suddenly the feelings come out and the physical body starts embodying it. Like a child who was trying to hide and not show what he was truly feeling, all the sudden jumps into your arms and starts wailing.
The author Michael Brown uses the word “integrating” for this process of digging up old emotions and engaging with them. At first I found it an odd word — I’d describe it as “purging” or “processing” if it was me. But having done this for over 6 months now, I am starting to see why he chose to call it “integrating.” Because once the threatening, overwhelming amount of stuck emotions is lessened, you feel safer feeling that feeling. You recognize that you feel that way but it somehow feels less uncomfortable than it did before. Situations that used to upset me don’t as much. I can stay calmer, clearer, even-keeled. It’s like before the emotion was a big, heavy hammer that you couldn’t lift or if you could, you couldn’t control. As you integrate it more the hammer reduces in size and weight and now you can handle it.
It’s excruciating when I’m in the midst but in-between episodes it’s been fascinating and exciting to recognize my progress. I had a relatively blessed life, with two loving and well-intentioned parents, so as much of these stuck emotions as I have, I assume it’s a finite amount. I don’t imagine that I’ll ever be “done” as in absolutely nothing upsets me — I’m sure I’ll continue to discover events and occasions where I’ll get emotional, taking things more personally than I should. But I suspect that there will come a point where I am mostly done with huge, all-consuming piles of emotions.
Then I’ll be able to feel a full range of emotions. I’ll get mad when I see unfairness, I’ll shed tears when I’m sad, I’ll crack a joke when I’m feeling buoyant. It’s analogous to the concept of range of motion for your physical body. When you train, you pay attention to your range of motion. You don’t push your body beyond the available range but by engaging in that activity more often and gently pushing on the limits you increase the range, which will lead to muscles growing stronger.
The same concept applies to our emotional body. It feels like I’m playing an intense period of catch-up, but my emotional body is slowly maturing through this process. Just as exercising your physical body is important, your emotional body needs to be properly nurtured, conditioned and challenged. When you start running away from uncomfortable experiences your emotional body’s growth gets stunted in places, creating an uneven, unbalanced whole. But the good news is that you can always pick it up and start making progress on this. All it takes is a correct understanding of how it works.
It sure has been turbulent few months, but I’m excited about the progress. I’ll keep you posted on how things develop in the coming months.