5 Truths about Emotion

5 Truths about Emotion

One of the most difficult (and necessary) parts of the recovery journey is to find our way back to the body.  This is an incredibly scary process.  We left the body a long time ago because it wasn’t a safe place to live.  Maybe we left because we were experiencing physical and sexual abuse we could not escape.  Maybe we left because we were experiencing painful emotions and we could not cope any longer with our reality.  So we made a choice.  We chose to leave the reality in the body and create a new story in our head.  And that is where we took up residence.  And honestly, we were expecting to be there forever.

But we get some bad news in recovery.  We have to go back from whence we came.  Recovery doesn’t just happen in the head, no matter how much we whine about it (or maybe it’s just me whining).  There’s a problem though.  We don’t know anything about the body.  We may even hate the body.  Our trauma has probably created extensive issues with the body.  We might experience chronic illness and pain.  We may not know how to take care of it.  Maybe we are so dissociated, we don’t remember to eat or go to the bathroom.  I used to be able to go all day without eating and then wonder why I was “hangry”.  I would get to a very uncomfortable level of bladder holding before I had to run for it.  I just wasn’t paying attention.  And recovery is about paying attention.  It is about awareness.

Getting in to the body sends many messages to the universe and our parts.  First, it lets the universe know that we are ready to prioritize the self (at least a little).  It sends a message to our inner parts that we are ready to hear from them.  And it scares our defenders, who have spent an entire lifetime pushing away reality.  In other words, our first attempts to access the wisdom of the body will often be met with inner chaos.  That chaos can sometimes be interpreted as a “visiting the body is a bad decision”.  But I urge you to persevere because the long-term effects are remarkable.

When we do have moments of staying in the body, we will start to experience connection with the self in the form of emotions, memories and defenses.  And this poses a problem.  We don’t know what is what because we never got to know the body in childhood.  Many times, we believe that defenses are emotions because we don’t know the difference.  We may even believe that emotions will kill us if we allow them because in childhood, we put them away for this very reason.  So I am going to clarify some scenarios you might have experienced and misinterpreted.

  1. Anxiety is not an emotion. Anxiety is an attempt to defend against an emotion.  We have an inner defender who is attempting to keep us from feeling an emotion that is coming to the surface.  I call this the “battle of the parts”.  We have two parts who want different things.  When we can allow the emotions or defense to express, the anxiety will dissipate.
  2. Physical pain is not an emotion. When we begin to explore emotions, the body will often react with physical pain.  Our defenders create blocks to the emotions through muscle tension and spasms, and to be honest, it hurts.  It isn’t comfortable.  But don’t mistake the pain for emotion.  If we can allow ourselves to breathe in to that pain and let it release, the emotions can follow and the pain can end.
  3. Feeling emotion does not cause a nervous breakdown. I do understand why we would think this.  We are terrified of these emotions.  That is why we have left them tucked away for so long.  But breakdowns are not caused by emotions.  They are caused by our attempts to defend against those emotions.  The battle between them becomes too much.  We can’t hold the two realities any longer.
  4. Emotion cannot kill you. For the same reasons as #3, we might have inner parts who believe we will die or drown in the emotions.  It feels so overwhelming.  But emotions are a part of the human experience, and if we release the defenses and feel, we will not die from it.  This said hopelessness can convince a person that suicide is the best answer.  It does happen.  And it is important to develop an understanding of the source of this emotion so we can properly cope with this.
  5. Emotion has a message and a reason, even when it doesn’t seem like it. When we feel emotion, it is not as random and unpredictable as we might think.  Emotion often comes up with memories from our past or from triggers.  There is often a clear message behind the emotion.  When we understand and express this message, we can help the emotion to release.

I am not suggesting that emotion is easy to express.  It is very difficult.  It brings up fears that are intense.  It takes deep courage to allow ourselves to feel again.  But with some knowledge about emotion, we will be more prepared to handle the transition back in to the body.  And it is critical that we do.  We cannot find the true self without going back home.

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14 Comments

  1. I found the point that anxiety is not an emotion interesting. As I began to experience my emotions and pay attention to my physical body. I have begun to heal. I no longer have flashbacks swirling around in my head. What I find happening now is my mind is calm but my body is experiencing extreme anxiety. I often cannot catch my breath but I cannot pinpoint where the anxiety is coming from.

    Reply
    • It is difficult to find the message in the anxiety. Can you hear a defender in there? Maybe some anger? Are they resisting an emotion or the way you are living life? What do they have to say? I have happy to have a free call with you to discuss it if you would like.

      Reply
  2. This article just made so much sense to me. It connected so many dots for me.
    The part about anxiety not being an emotion is very helpful, my anxiety is blocking some of my deep down emotions from coming to the surface and pushing hard into that painful place has led to some wonderful lightbulb moments for me. As much as I dislike pain, in some instances, the greatest amount of growth comes from those most painful moments.
    My journey through recovery is now becoming a very awakening process for my whole self, mind, body and spirit.
    Each new memory brings great discovery and although it’s painful, once the processing begins I can see and feel myself starting to grow and flourish. There is still a lot of work to do, however I’m getting there.
    Thank you for your wonderful articles as they validate and normalise what I’m going through.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment Judy. It sounds like you are doing some very deep work. Sending my love and light on your journey.

      Reply
  3. Hi Elisabeth, I don’t feel present. I feel out of body. Especially at work, because I have to maintain a persona. I hope that I’m able to know and feel my real self before my time is up on this earth. Because I’ve always had to maintain. Seems I’ve never really been able to feel the raw internal feelings due to persona. I’ve had a lot of sadness. I’ve cried a lot but at times, it seems I’m still out of body, wish I could just sit, feel and deal if that makes any sense. Thank you for always sharing great articles.

    Reply
    • It definitely makes sense Katrina. We certainly can feel some level of emotions without being in the body. And those defenses can keep us from what we ultimately want: to feel on a deeper level. Love to you.

      Reply
  4. I completely relate to this as I spent most of my life in my head. It wasn’t until I experienced loss in my life that I began to feel. And it scared the hell out of me. I had no idea how to cope, felt constant anxiety to the point where I needed sleeping pills to snatch a few hours sleep, and was terrified I would disappear entirely. I spent a lot of time trying to find solace outside of myself but it was only when I spent time alone and connected with myself that I started to find peace. We all desire connection but you cannot find it outside of yourself until you find it within yourself.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for caring enough to make a difference. I have problems identifying my feelings.

    Reply
  6. Anxiety is not an emotion but a defense really spoke to me. One of my biggest problems at this time in my life is anxiety. I have it when I’m not aware of it. I can see now that I need to get in touch with emotions more and be accepting of them. Sometimes I’m anxious about things that don’t really make a lot of difference. Sometimes the incident is worth brief anxiety such as a close call on the highway or even someone who is not acting in a reasonable way, but I need to get over it much quicker. Then I need to acknowledge my true emotion. If there was a close call on the highway then acknowledging that I felt fear is acceptable. Staying anxious because something might happen is not. If someone is not reasonable, then I need to acknowledge that I feel angry at that person. Then if the relationship falls apart it is okay to be sad. Our culture doesn’t accept sadness. You can’t let most medical doctors know you are sad or they will prescribe something you don’t need and will become addicted to for depression. (Doctors even prescribe for people going through normal grief. Why don’t they say this is normal?) If sadness was acceptable, then maybe sadness would pass and wouldn’t escalate to depression.

    Reply
    • You are so right about sadness. Our society doesn’t accept it at all. The better we get about feeling our emotions, the less anxiety we will feel. I have learned this through years of watching it dissipate. Thank you Diane.

      Reply
  7. I have been experiencing severe Anxiety Attacks recently due to many years of abuse as a child & as an adult…since I lost my apartment i have been vulnerable on the streets having a lack of safety & secutity 🙁

    Reply
    • I am so sorry to hear this Susan. This must be bringing up so much fear for you. I hope you can find a safe place to stay. Love to you.

      Reply

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Stepping Up:

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