By Lisa Meuser.
“Just feel your feelings!” We get told this repeatedly, but if it was that simple then this world would be a different place. For many of us, dare I say most of us, there have been times when it literally hasn’t been safe for us to feel our sadness, or anger, and/or our fear. We didn’t have an adult who would support us while we felt these things so we didn’t learn that these emotions were an innocent part of being human. Then on top of that, due to our circumstances, we often weren’t safe to be with, or express these emotions.
There are many strategies we learned to counter this lack of safety, to give us the appearance of safety; to be self reliant, to submit, to rebel, to try to disappear… Being angry, or sad, or afraid were often either demonized, we’d get in trouble for being this way, or opened us up to more attack. So we did everything possible to avoid certain emotions and/or to fear them. If we were bullied as children, for example, it was safer to pretend we weren’t afraid- the hope being that if we were “strong” then we’d not be preyed upon or be vulnerable to attack. This strategy may have actually saved our lives! Pretending we were strong kept us safe on some level, at least in certain ways, for a little while. Pretending to not be afraid was innocent. But over time this led to us shutting down on what is actually a healthy emotion- we unintentionally developed an unhealthy relationship with something that is healthy- and led us to repress fear because of our fear of fear.
This is how it looked in my house: My dad was often gone during the week so my mom was the main caregiver. For various reasons my mom was often in a state of overwhelm, which meant that in order to handle her own feelings, she turned away from mine as well as subtly or overtly shamed me for having them. I wasn’t allowed to be angry, and I got negative feedback for crying. Not only would I not be comforted if I showed emotion, showing emotion would get me in trouble. So I learned very quickly that no one was there to support me emotionally, and that emotions were not acceptable. One way to deal wit this was to pretend I wasn’t upset, or to hide when I was upset. After all, I didn’t want to be a bother to my mom, plus I knew my emotions wouldn’t get acknowledged anyway. AND I might get in more trouble for having them. It was best to just stuff them. I grew up not know how to feel my feelings, because I had no one to support me when I had them, and because it wasn’t safe for me to feel them. My best option was to stuff/ repress them.
So yeah, it’s not as simple as “JUST feel your feelings!” There are so many reasons they haven’t seemed safe over the years. It’s no wonder many of us have repressed emotions. And yet, this has happened innocently- we innocently repressed innocent emotions due to our circumstances, conditioning and belief systems.
The good news is that our brains and neural pathways are malleable – trauma, conditioning and belief systems can be explored and journeyed into so as to bring integration, returning us to healthy expressions and healthy ways of being.
There can be a lot of self-loathing, guilt and shame in not allowing ourselves to experience healthy emotions- emotions that all human beings experience from time to time. When we demonize, try to avoid, or fear anger, sadness and/or fear, they get repressed, and as such resisted. As we’ve all heard, what we resist, persists! They tug at us, under the surface, influencing our lives.
Almost everyone has experienced trauma in our lives in one-way or another. Just to name a few, trauma may have been experienced from having emotionally neglectful or over baring caregivers, from being bullied by people in our childhoods, or from having physically or sexually abusive people in our lives (developmental/complex trauma). For some people they’ve had trauma from a one time event (acute trauma) such as an act of violence, a natural disaster, or an accident/death.
There are many safe ways to explore trauma. As a somatic therapist, I help clients explore trauma every day by gently exploring their day-to-day challenges in ways that include their somatic system. Since trauma can be stored in our bodies energetically and/or in the fascia network, it is important that the somatic system be a part of any kind of trauma work. There are many ways to explore the somatic system. Two methods that I have a lot of experience with are: (1) John F. Barnes Myofascial Release works with the fascia web that can hold trauma (this is a hands on approach), and (2) The Living Inquiries is a hands off somatic approach which explores belief systems and their felt resonances. There are many other methods. Many libraries have books on somatic processing/ exploration and you can also do an internet search for “Somatic Therapy” or something similar. Many somatic therapists work with people using skype or zoom, or even by phone. If you’d prefer someone local make sure you ask the practitioner if they have a good understanding of how trauma and belief systems can reside in the body. (If they don’t know what you’re talking about then chances are they do more of a cognitive-based therapy.)
When our past traumas and experiences have been honored and gently explored, when our vigilance centers have released a bit, allowance is possible.
There is so much freedom that comes with allowance. We are able to open doors to compassionately love and honor ourselves as human beings- being who are literally designed to feel and experience a vast array of emotional expressions and states of being. What a relief to celebrate our humanity!