When emotions from past events haven’t been worked through, they stay locked inside our body as memories. Every time we encounter a similar event, or the same kind of emotion is triggered, this stored emotion can rise to the surface for release. Our emotional reactions may, as a result, seem out of proportion to the actual event. This can be overwhelming, confusing, frightening and frustrating.
Stored emotions also colour our view of reality and affect our general disposition. Someone with stored anger for example, might be constantly feeling a low level of tension and irritation. Someone with stored grief might seem depressed or pessimistic. Some people repress their emotions so well it can seem as though they never actually feel that kind of emotion. A person with well repressed anger, for example, can tend to be ‘too nice’ and may have trouble standing up for their rights. It takes a lot of energy to repress emotion; sometimes cracks appear in our emotional armour and repressed emotion leaks or explodes out into the world around us!
To reduce the likelihood of stored emotions colouring your perception, affecting your relationships and messing with your emotional health, try using the following strategies and understandings:
Emotions rise up from within in waves; know that they will pass if you just ride them out. Trust yourself to ‘ride the wave’. Be present in the emotion and hear it out, whilst waiting for calm, solid ground to reappear on the other side of the wave. As much as you can, relax into your emotions rather than being afraid of them, or judging yourself for having them. It can help to think of your emotions as being like little children: They aren’t rational and they don’t have to make sense. They need to be parented. This means hearing and validating them in a loving manner while offering the safety of firm boundaries.
If you don’t feel safe with the emotions that are coming up for you, reach out for help. Your helpers might be family members, friends, therapists, healers, doctors or counsellors.
As emotion rises from within you, listen to your body and focus on keeping your breathing steady and calm. Emotions are physical body sensations, but most of us have trouble making connections between body sensations and emotions. We might feel the emotion but not realise how it is affecting our body. Or we might feel body sensations but have no idea these sensations are being caused by emotions. Being able to recognise these mind-body connections helps us identify and understand our emotions so we can manage them better.
You can use your breath to release emotions as they arise. This will help you stay centred and calm throughout emotional release, rather than becoming overwhelmed and panicky. Listen to how your body feels as the emotions come up, and breathe into these body sensations. Make a picture in your mind of the breath going into this part of your body. Relax your muscles in this part of your body, almost as though you are using the in-breath to melt or soften tension. Stay focused on your breath and your body sensations, rather than feeding or judging the emotion with mental dialogue. Simply stay present as an observer, listening and breathing. Parent your body and emotions with love, acceptance and calm assertiveness.
On every out breath, imagine releasing the emotions with the breath, almost as though you are blowing them away or letting them go, out through the mouth. Make a picture in your mind, imagining what this might look like if your body were made out of colour and light. On the in breath, focus again on body sensation, taking your mind and breath into this part of your body without complicating matters with mental dialogue. Be patient with yourself: if your mind wanders from the task or gets noisy, guide it back to the task with gentleness and love. Repeat the process of releasing the emotion on the out breath and then listening again to your body in the in breath.