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Emotional healing is a process. It requires a number of skills. You will need some control over your attention, the ability to be present with the emotions you discover and ability to release them. A breath-work exercise is often used. It is helpful, if not required. You will also need the awareness to observe the thoughts in your head and perceive that they are not true. These are all types of mindfulness and awareness practices that are combined for emotional healing to work
Below I will describe a clients emotional exploration and healing process and the skills used. Without these skills in mindful awareness, and Releasing Emotions, it is very likely that you will lose your attention in the process, fall into some circular thinking, and exaggerate existing emotions instead of release them and heal. The practices I recommend are in the Self Mastery Course, Releasing Emotions Exercise, and Recapitulation series.
Jill’s Journey to Heal Her Emotions
Jill is 38 and anger has been an issue for many years. She describes the type of experience she wants to change. Jill went to pick up her boyfriend of several months. First there was a stressful deadline to finish up earlier in the day. Then there was traffic. But she gets there and doesn’t feel too stressed. Jill texts him that she is in the parking lot. He messages back that he will be down in a minute. As the minutes go by Jill’s thinking becomes negative and the emotions build up inside. It’s been five minutes. The thoughts get louder.
“He doesn’t appreciate me. He is ignoring me. He takes me for granted. He doesn’t respect my time. What am I doing with someone that treats me this way?
Jill has some awareness and tries to counter these thoughts, but they are more like self judgements that add to self-hate instead.
“Wait a minute. I’m over reacting. I should just sit here calmly. I shouldn’t get this worked up. I’m being stupid.”
Her boyfriend gets in the car 8 minutes after the message. Jill is terse with her hello.
He responds with annoyance, “What did I do wrong this time.” Jill’s anger comes out and a fight ensues. (Yes, this is a poor response, but I’ll avoid the segue as the article is long enough.) Yes, he was late. We can argue the definition of what “one minute” means. Was it literal or just a metaphor for “soon”? In any case, Jill’s emotions are hers, and pointing the finger at the boyfriend prevents the deeper work from happening. This article is about the pattern that Jill has been living for years, and this is just an example. So leave the boyfriend part alone for now.
Jill has been by herself with her thoughts and has built up a pressure of hurt, frustration, and anger with the stories she has told herself. Jill is responsible for the emotions she creates with her own stories when she is by herself so we will focus on that part.
Explore the Emotions not the Stories
As Jill is conveying the story, I ask her what she is feeling. I ask her to explain the feelings related to the thoughts, “He doesn’t respect me. I’m not appreciated. I’m not important to him.” These are the emotions she was generating while she sat alone.
Jill says that these have been a recurring theme for many years. It used to happen with her brother and her parents.
At first she describes a feeling in her head like a pressure and tingling in her neck and shoulders. She says her body just feels empty.
I take this to mean one or more things. The majority of emotions are felt in the belly and torso. If they aren’t felt in the belly and chest then there is a lack of connection to her emotions. Often this is because emotions have been too painful for her to be present with. It can also be that she has learned to not pay attention to them. This is how emotions become repressed. In either scenario emotions build up like a gas under pressure and later erupt disproportionately at minor things.
I have Jill spend time working with the Releasing Emotions Exercise on what she does feel in the area of her head, neck, and shoulders. Later we come back to her body and she notices it feels different now. There is a pit in her stomach. This is common. What you notice at the moment is not the answer. Continue a practice and other emotions will surface. It takes time, patience, and practice to get your systems to offer up these hidden layers.
The Pit in My Stomach
Initially it is just a physical sensation of a pit in her stomach. It is a tightness. It even feels to Jill that her muscles are cramping and constricting. We work with the Releasing Emotions Exercise that she has been practicing the previous week and let go of some of the physical tension.
After some time Jill says, “It’s shame.
It’s not surprising that we can not identify or name a feeling. We typically repress or suppress most of our emotions in modern society beginning in our teens. At that point we are socialized to keep our emotions and behaviors within a “normal” range. We wear a mask over our feelings and project to the outside world that we are “fine.” With so much repetition pretending we are fine, we even persuade ourselves that we are “fine” when we are not.
I have Jill use her attention and awareness to explore the feelings of shame. Around the shame is a container of fear. This is often the case when we have painful emotions like shame, guilt, anger, jealousy etc. We are afraid of those feelings “taking us over” and so we respond with fear and hold them down. With repetition over years we push these emotions into areas we are unconscious of and continue with our socially acceptable behavior.
As young children our behaviors are intertwined with emotions. We feel an emotion and we express it with an action. If adults shame or punish us for our behavior we have to stop our behavior. Since emotions and behavior are intertwined, we avoid behavior by repressing the emotions that drive the behavior. Repressing emotions seem like a successful way to change our behavior.
The layer of fear around Jill’s shame helps her repress that emotions so she feels better. It is a kind of denial system. However, the layer of fear surrounding the shame also keeps her from being present and healing the shame. Fear preventing the expression of it also prevents the healing. We are unaware at the time of keeping all those emotions stored up inside.
It is as if the fear were saying, “Don’t go here. This is painful stuff and it will hurt if you feel this. I’m going to protect you from this shame by pushing your attention away from it.” This was true perhaps when we were young and didn’t have any mindfulness and self-compassion healing skills. In the adult phase of our lives it is up to us to move past this protective fear and commit to healing. This fear layer is part of the denial system which has to be acknowledged and worked through for healing to happen
Skill: Willingness to Feel the Fear of Feeling Shame
I ask Jill to spend some time describing both the shame, and the fear as she does the breathing and release. This time is important as she is becoming comfortable with allowing herself to feel emotions that were hidden in her unconscious. As Jill applies the Releasing Emotions exercise the sensations in her body keep changing. It is a process where the sensations change every moment.
The constrictions in her muscles relax and she breathes easier. Her physical body is relaxing. After a while the fear is not so intense. The shame is also dissipating. Instead of just sitting in a tight knot in the pit of her stomach. It is moves around and changes shape. Without the fear layer the shame stretches and oscillates as it moves back and forth around her torso. Intensity fluctuates, but generally moves towards releasing and becoming softer as it releases.
Having her describe the emotions is an important part of the process. It keeps her in a witness observer state of mind. This is a mindful awareness state that allows her to feel the emotions and be present with them. With this activity to focus on she is less likely to let her attention be carried off by the emotions and related thoughts.
Without practicing and developing skillful control over your attention, those emotions can “take over”. They push you into distractions of intellectualizing, or worse, overwhelming you with too much emotion, such as shame. This can lead to a feeling of hopeless and despair or cause your mind to shut down so you repress and withdraw from the healing process. If this happens, the denial system has been successful at shutting the door and protecting you from hurting. Having Jill describe the various sensations of emotions can help her to be present with the emotions but keeps her attention from being taken over by them.
Discovering Unconscious Sources of Emotions
Jill describes the shape of emotions and what area they occupy in her body. She says they have the shape of a muffler. There is a long tube like a muffler going back behind her. Describing emotions and healing processes are often symbolic. What we have is a mind trying to communicate something it has never experienced before. Other people will sense it as a feeling, some will see colors. Any way that your mind presents the information to you is fine. If it doesn’t present the next layer, it may mean that your denial system is working well to protect you from unconscious layers of emotional pain. If this is the case, more time, attention, and patience is needed.
For me, this description of a muffler is an indicator of where the healing journey needs to eventually go. We spend some time working with the shame and fear. Later, we will follow the muffler channel back to the source of the emotions. The amount of time needed to work with the current emotion before going on to the next layer will vary. Sometimes a person needs five days or five weeks. Sometimes the work with the current emotion needs 5 minutes. Only go forward when there is good stability and relaxation with where you are. Patience and self-compassion don’t work in a hurry.
Exploring Unconscious Beliefs and that Cause Emotions
In later coaching sessions I have Jill follow the muffler tube back behind her. Her mind is navigating this emotional field of unknowns. To me it is an exploration of her unconscious beliefs, and repressed emotions in her psyche.
Jill follows the muffler tube of emotions to the engine. As she looks back into herself, it is a feeling like a ball of painful energy. There is a story being repeated over and over inside the ball of painful energy. It is saying over and over again, “I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.” It seems to have been saying this repeatedly for years.
“I Hate Myself”
I ask her to ask this ball of energy, “Why do you hate yourself?” At this point I don’t want her to answer with what she “thinks” the answer is. I don’t want her to consult her intellect. I want the ball of energy to communicate it to her. I want her to have a dialog with the unconscious part of herself that hates. I want it to tell us what it is doing and why. This is the buried parts of her psyche and they need to be brought into her conscious awareness and healed. Her intellect doesn’t know the answer but will explain away as if it did. It will miss the mark and is usually a distraction and not helpful. More importantly we lose the connection with the repressed emotions that need to be released and the beliefs it is clinging to. Emotional healing is a feeling, compassion, and presence process, and not an intellectual one.
The way the unconscious responds is sometimes with an image or memory. Sometimes it will be as if you are having a conversation with an inner child, or emotional part of your mind. In any case, the awareness connection made with your attention to this repressed part of your emotional body is fundamental to the healing. A healing only happens if done with an attitude of accepting presence. The unconscious and repressed emotions have something to tell us, and we had better listen.
Jill asks the question of this ball of “I hate myself” energy inside her and waits for a response. After a couple times asking, and waiting, it says.
“I’m not getting things perfect. I’m disappointing my brother, mom, dad, teachers. I’m not doing well enough in school. I’m not doing anything right. Even the other girls in school don’t like me.”
The reference to school is interesting. Jill is almost 38 and hasn’t been in school for 20 years. This is a part of her psyche stuck in the memory and emotion of the past. I ask Jill, “How old is she, the one with these feelings?”
Jill tells me that she has the impression of dealing with teen age girl about 13-14 years old.
At first it is a shock to Jill that this sub-personality of an angry hateful teenager is inside her. She had glimpses and thoughts of self-hate in the past, but to see it clearly all at once is unsettling. Jill works through the unsettled feeling and becomes more calm and centered again through the breathing practice.
I have Jill spend time releasing the emotions of anger. It helps as she can more firmly establish a witness observer conscious separate from this ball of hate and voice behind it. It is important not to overwhelm Jill’s emotional system or else she will go into shutdown and healing won’t happen. We move through layers only as her sense of safety, and control over her attention allow.
It is not uncommon to find a ball of emotion remaining inside for years because it wasn’t properly expressed and released in the past. A feeling of hate gets merged with a thought such as “I should have…” and becomes a belief. “I didn’t do stuff right, or perfect enough”, and now she has a belief of herself as a failure, loser, not good enough, etc. The hate is directed inwards and creates more feelings of unworthiness and shame.
Hate for oneself creates shame. Shame leaves us with a false identity of being inadequate, not good enough, and unworthy. The belief that we are unworthy and not good enough, becomes the justification to create more hate for oneself and that produces more shame. In short, hate beliefs produces shame, and the shame beliefs produce hate. The belief system becomes a perpetual emotion machine of suffering inside of us.
When things are settled and much of the emotional energy is dissipated we begin to have a conversation with the teenager inside her. She is 13-14 and she doesn’t feel loved, She doesn’t feel she fits in, and she is angry at herself because she can’t make things perfect. She can’t make people happy.
I have Jill ask her, “Why is she trying to make everything perfect?”
After some detours the “teenager energy of hate” replies, “If I make things perfect everyone will be happy.” I’ll ignore the detours and distracting answers here, but there are many. You will have to stay focuses on course to the core of the issues in order to not get distracted. The system is trying to protect you from feeling painful emotions, and it has many stories of distractions to offer for this. In the beginning you will get distracted by them. It is a trial and error process to become a skilled hunter of these core beliefs and emotional sources. I’m leaving this part out of the article as it is already long enough. But don’t use the example of the seemingly direct line of Jill’s story and process to judge yourself against.
I have Jill ask the teenager energy, “Why is it so important to make everyone else happy?”
After more detours in conversations and distractions, the energy of the teenager replies, “If I get everything perfect, I will get love and attention.”
The teenager wants to continue with it’s story, “But I just screw it up. I can’t make them happy. I’m not good enough, I am a failure and that is why I hate myself.
We have to re-direct the conversation or else the perpetual emotional cycle will continue forever. It tries to pull Jill into her story and take us for that continual ride. Jill’s job is to be the mature presence and refrain from believing the story that has plagued her unconsciously for years.
I go for the preceding domino and continue the inquiry. “Who, or what is the part of you, that doesn’t feel loved. Who is it that needs love and attention?”
Jill asks the question multiple times and waits patiently for an answer each time. Sometimes the responses are distractions, and sometimes the teenager waits in confusion. The teenager energy has been doing self-hate for so long it has forgotten why. Jill’s patients and attention, and compassionate presence with herself eventually pulls the angry teenager energy into Jill’s consciousness.
The Hurt Inner Child Part of Ourselves
Into Jill’s awareness comes an image of a six year old girl. She is feeling fear and doubt. There is some confusion inside her. Something happened with her mom. She was asking her mom a question, or wanted something, but mom was busy and snapped at her. She doesn’t remember what happened exactly, but she remembers how she interpreted it. She feels herself questioning, wondering, and concluding that she is not loved unconditionally. She feels fear, doubt, something painful. She is not feeling loved, and she is not feeling love.
I’m not loved. I don’t feel loved. This is THE Emotional Pain.
She always felt love before. Love was the only emotion she knew. Now it is gone. Now there is something else, and it is painful. It is confusing.
It is world shattering to a six-year-old. A paradigm of unconditional love was all she knew until that moment. She lived in a world where everything and everyone around her loved her and accepted her and now it had this painful crack where she could be rejected and pushed away. Her world of love had a crack in it and it felt painful, confusing, and scary.
That broken feeling was now inside her, a feeling that wasn’t there before. This is a loss of innocence. Everyone experiences it at some point while growing up. Most everyone forgets by burying those emotions below the range of our conscious awareness. We simply don’t know what to do with them at that age. Add to that, our mind has to explain the experience to ourselves in some way. The explanation is usually some kind of distortion of what happened, a lie. The lie becomes a false belief. In her case, the beliefs, “the world is a scary place” and “I am not loved” seems to fit.
Attempt an Imperfect Solution
A little girl lost that feeling of love and didn’t know how to get it back. It needs to get it back. It needs to build a world where she feels loved. “If I try hard to be perfect I will get love and attention again.” It’s a good belief, and it works often enough to make the belief in this plan appear true. She can do something good for a moment, and get some attention, praise, and love. But the six-year-old girl inside her still feels broken. It has to try again in the next hour and the next day to get some more love and attention from the next person, and then the next person.
Underneath there is still the hurtful memory, and unloved little girl as her identity. That belief that “I’m broken” is a lie. But she beliefs it, and it acts like a hypnotic spell in her psyche creating feelings of unworthiness. Since she no longer feels the joy inside her of her own love, she makes a second false belief. “Getting love and attention from others will make me feel better. Up until this time her natural joy just flowed out of her. Now with these false beliefs she is stuck in a pursuit of happiness that can’t be satisfied.
The little girl part of her begins a program of getting love, but it is always conditional. It is dependent on her being perfect, and pleasing other people all the time.
By the time she is 14 years old she has been following the program of trying to be perfect for everyone else, and failing. She assumes their emotions towards her are all because of her. She is failing, and the 13-14 year old self is hating herself for failing to be “perfect”.
The first lie, “I’m not loved,” is like putting a hot pepper in your mouth and having it burn. The second lie, getting love and attention from others is like drinking water that cools the pain and feels better. It doesn’t feel good, but you feel less pain so it is better. But the moment you stop drinking water, water you depend on others for, the pain returns. The mind has fixed the belief of our identity as being unworthy and not good enough as a fact. So that doesn’t seem changeable. So the mind fixates on getting more water all the time.
For years she has been trying to sooth the pain by drinking in the love from others. She has been trying hard to be perfect and be just what others want her to be so she gets that love. But she can’t do that all day every day. The moment someone else isn’t happy, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with her, Jill feels that hot lie of pain, down in the pit of her stomach. Jill feels the emotional pain in the memory the six year old self is still holding. Her world is broken, she is not loved. By her teenager hates herself for failing at her plan, or so she thinks. It wasn’t that she failed, but that she had a bad plan for conditional love that depended on others. It also left the hurt feelings of her six year old self burning inside her.
Because the mind has fixated on the image of the hurt girl as her identity this is what hurts. It doesn’t occur to her that she can remove the lie. It is an idea of herself from 25 years before. It is a memory of an identity now. Of course it can only be seen this way with the skills of awareness as an observer of the mind and what it holds. If it was just a pepper in her mouth, it would be a foreign object, and she could take it out. But to her belief system it is her own identity, her own sense of herself as a broken person, and she can not remove “herself” from herself.
What the hurting six-year-old identity didn’t have the awareness to understand was that she could feel the pain, release it, and let go of the idea that she was broken. Jill didn’t do it when she was six, but she can do it today. She can finally take that painful lie of her false identity out of her mind.
In her mind, I have present day Jill go to this six-year-old version and listen to her. Find out what hurts,,, hold her, and love her. I have Jill work with the Releasing Emotions exercise to help the little girl inside her release the emotions she feels. In this process, the “little girl” is the minds symbol for the memory, and her emotional body that is wounded. Is there really a little girl inside her? The question to that doesn’t matter. If the mind and memory has constructed it that way, then I work with it that way. If it constructs it a different way, then I work with that.
This hurt six year old is the bottom of the pit, and where everything else emanates from. Or so it seems at this point. This is the source of confusion, fear, doubt, and pain. The wounded lie amplifies the need for love and attention as an antidote to the pain. It generates the need to be perfect in order to get love and attention. It makes her mind think up all the ways to have someone else make her feel special and important to make up for it. It generates the anger at others for not making her feel loved, special, and important. Then it generates anger and self-hate for over reacting, and not being perfect herself. With all that self-hate at over reacting, comes the shame. Now the Inner Judge has something it can use as evidence as to why she is broken and not loved. Then the cycle starts over again.
If after cleaning these layers, more or other emotional reactions happen, then we will apply a similar inquiry and belief system inventory to the those dynamics. We clean and heal one layer of emotions after another as we discover them. For emotional healing to be complete, there are typically multiple journeys inward.
In Defense of the Denial System
Did Jill consciously know this or choose this emotional cycle? No, she wasn’t aware of what her unconscious beliefs were doing at these levels. She had clues at times, but not the whole picture. Jill could feel the hate and anger, but she didn’t even know that the belief system was directing it at her. She felt the “unworthiness” or “disrespected” and the response of anger, but her intellect justified it to be directed at her boyfriend.
Directing, or projecting that anger and hate outward is a defense and denial mechanism. We don’t want more of it directed at us. We are already in pain and it is less painful to direct responsibility to others. So, after hiding all the pain, and false beliefs in the unconscious, our rational mind says that someone else caused the pain.
This may be the most dangerous false belief of them all. This blaming of others for the emotions we feel inside prevents us from taking responsibility for our own emotions. Preventing us from taking responsibility for our own emotions, also prevents us from looking inward and making our own healing journey. If we blame others as the cause of our emotional pain, then responsibility to change the way we feel relies on others. If the responsibility for changing our emotions depends on others, then we have put ourselves in a paradigm of powerlessness over our own emotions. The first step on the path to emotional healing is to stop blaming others.
Yes, there are times that people treat us with disrespect, anger, criticism, judgments, resentments, and other harmful emotions. For these instances we need boundaries and to stand up for ourselves, or walk away. But if we are sitting in the car by ourselves, and getting worked up and feeling pain through the stories in our head, then that part is our own creation.
Look to Your Self for Healing
It is this journey inward, through all these emotional memories that is the healing journey. Through a recollection of these false, and unconscious beliefs, we bring these disconnected parts of ourselves back into our conscious awareness, release the emotions, and release the lies we told ourselves. In the process we reconnect with the parts of our psyche that have been lost to the unconscious and integrate them so we can feel whole again. When we discover the little girl or little boy parts of ourselves and heal them, we heal our emotional body. We are then more present with our emotions and more able to love from then on in our life. This is the healing journey back to love, wholeness, and Integrity.
For practical methods and techniques to stop blaming others, and heal your emotions, check out the free sessions of the Self Mastery Course.
For releasing and cleansing out emotional memories from the past I also recommend the Recapitulation Series available in the Purchase Products area4