Memories are a kind of informational energy that we can store for years.The physical body has the ability to store energy in the form of emotions as well. These stored emotions can be held in the body without our intellect knowing they are there. When we don’t have memory of these emotions and lack an effective way of releasing them these emotions remain repressed or suppressed.
Imagine that little Johnny is three or four years old. It’s time to go to bed and he is told to put away his toys. Johnny is having such fun and loves what he is playing so much that he ignores the direction. After a few failed attempts at getting him to comply, Mom or Dad takes Johnny’s toys out of his hands. Johnny has an emotional response of sadness at the loss, or perhaps hurt at losing the feeling of joy he was having with his toys. Some of these emotions can be genuine, some generated by attachments through belief systems.
As a defense mechanism against these unpleasant emotions, Johnny becomes angry. Anger is a natural response that we use to protect ourselves from danger. Johnny isn’t in any physical danger, but his automated system responds the same way to pain and, in this case, to emotional discomfort. Anger may also arise from a belief system of Victim/Villain because of his attachment to his toys. Regardless of whether his anger has one or more sources, Johnny expresses it to his parents.
But this doesn’t go over well with Mom and Dad. Disrespect and angry behavior are not going to be allowed, so they respond by raising their voices, scolding, physically lifting him off the floor, or even expressing anger back at him. Mom and Dad’s response scares Johnny. After a few experiences like this, Johnny finds that when he gets angry he starts to feel afraid. Johnny learns to be afraid of Mom and Dad’s response and associates this to feeling angry. Johnny becomes afraid of his emotion, and even more afraid of expressing his anger.
The next time Johnny gets told to stop playing, he still feels the hurt and has the emotional reaction of anger. That part of the emotional response hasn’t changed yet. However, as the anger starts to build, so does the fear, and he instinctively pushes down the energy of anger back into his body so it doesn’t get expressed. He holds it in and doesn’t let anyone know that he has anger inside. After doing this awhile, Johnny becomes so good at it, and he does it so quickly, that he has no conscious awareness of the responses of anger going on inside him. Later in life, he feels afraid of letting his anger out because of what might happen or what he might do. The fear of feeling anger is bigger than the anger itself, as it is a layer of energy and emotion holding the anger in.
The effects of repressing your emotions
In later years a person’s repressed anger may not be so easily controlled. The anger being held in the cells of the physical body has built up too much pressure and needs to be released. The emotion may come out at traffic, employees, oneself, or one’s spouse for the smallest of reasons. When a repressed emotion bursts out, it’s often completely out of proportion with the cause or trigger. This is confusing, and the mind scrambles to come up with a reason for it. When we have enough awareness to recognize that the justification we give is bogus, our Judge and Victim characters pile on with their stories and condemn us for our outburst and inadequate excuse. The characters use what we did to make us wrong again, which encourages us to return to repressing our feelings. We then add guilt and shame, as well as fear of angry outbursts, to our emotional layers. We might also express some anger and hate at ourselves for being so angry, thus increasing our level of hurt and ensuring further repression. In a vicious cycle, this kind of expression from our characters adds more emotion to our emotional field and makes it more likely that we will have an outburst again.
What are the most commonly repressed emotions?
Commonly repressed emotions are anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and grief. We are most fearful of these emotions because of how we will behave, what others will think, or how much we will judge ourselves for feeling them. These fears and judgments about our emotions interfere with releasing them. When these emotions are not released in a healthy way, they can take a toll on our physical body, often manifesting as a physical pain. Or they end up getting released by venting to other people in inappropriate ways, taking a toll on our relationships.
A solution out of these fears and judgments is to make an inventory of the thoughts, beliefs, and judgments your characters have about the emotions you feel. A better understanding about why we feel what we feel, and a compassionate acknowledgment of those feelings, will help remove the forces of fear and judgment that keep these emotions repressed.
Belief-based repressed emotions versus natural- response repressed emotions
While some of these repressed emotions are belief-based and have an accompanying story or belief, some do not. We may have repressed natural-response emotions as well. For many of the natural emotions there are often no stories, thoughts, or beliefs to dismantle. When they are released there can be a great deal of emotion with no connecting thought or memory.
For example, when we lose someone we love there is often grief. It is a natural response that even animals have, despite having no belief systems. There are no words, thoughts, or beliefs that accompany these natural-response emotions. As humans, we also have a mind that will project thoughts, beliefs, and images to form stories. Both these belief-based emotions and the emotions that have no story have to be allowed and released.
Letting go of your repressed emotions
At first the healing and change process is just a matter of letting the suppressed feelings empty out. The emotional body, much like our physical body, has its own guidance and healing system and release mechanisms. It will have bouts of crying or rage for no apparent reason. As best you can, allow the process and let the emotions be vented off without inflicting them on others. What will take the most work, particularly in the case of anger, will be to refrain from expressing that anger at anyone. The mind will try to justify and explain in some simple way why we feel what we feel. In these intense emotions it is looking for an answer. In reality, you don’t need one. The work that needs to be done is to let the emotions move through you in a healthy way without sending them to anyone or believing the accompanying thoughts. It will be helpful to suspend belief in any of the justifications for these emotions. Investing faith in justifications just adds more emotion-producing beliefs to your system.
The work that needs to be done is to let the emotions move through you in a healthy way without sending them to anyone or believing the accompanying thoughts. If we fall into the cycle of believing the related thoughts we generate more of the same emotion.
Repressed Emotions: Love
Surprisingly, one of the biggest emotions that we repress is love. As very young children we were free to dance and express excitement and joy through our body. While growing up, we were told not to be so silly, that laughing is inappropriate, and that we should be more serious. We learned that how we appeared to others was more important than expressing our joy. As we learned to be more responsible, we also tried to act more serious. All of these little moments add layers of energy that hold back our natural expressions of joy, wonderment, humor, creativity, curiosity, and love.
As we sort out career choices we may put aside interests we love, like art and music, dismissing them in favor of more “practical” fields of work. Our worries about making money and financially providing for ourselves and our family take precedence, and the expressions of love that come with those other, cherished activities are repressed. We try not to think about what we gave up because it hurts too much not to express that love for things we are passionate about.
If we fall in love and then have our heart broken, we can make an internal agreement that love hurts, or that we have to be careful, which really means to be afraid of love. We become hesitant to love again, unaware that it wasn’t the love that hurt but rather the pain of not loving when it ended. We create false interpretations and beliefs about our emotions and future actions. We hold back our feelings of love as if love itself were painful. Like the child who stopped feeling joy when his toy was taken away, we also repress our painful reactions at the loss of love by covering it with layers of denial about feeling anything. “I’m fine” is a convenient statement to repress the hurt, and to repress the love we want to express underneath.
As we remove these layers of denial and notice what we feel with honest acceptance, we first find fear and judgments of our emotions. Beneath that are repressed layers of sadness, grief, and anger. But below those layers are the repressed layers of love, passions, and an abundance of joy in great reserves. Some of those emotions based in love have been held back for years and may at times rush out in overwhelming waves. Once that repressed love is no longer under pressure, it returns to a normal authentic flow in a balanced and sustainable way. However, there isn’t one specific way this looks for everyone; each person’s experience of this process will be unique to them.
For methods on accessing repressed emotions, see the exercises in the Self Mastery Course and the special exercise on Releasing Emotions.
This article is an excerpt from Gary’s book MindWorks: A practical guide for changing thoughts, beliefs, and emotional reactions.