When I begin working with new clients, I often look for indications of whether they are more comfortable with their power or their vulnerability. I listen for areas in their lives where they describe themselves as powerful “givers” (or rescuers) and areas in their lives where they appear to feel helpless, overwhelmed, and vulnerable.
who come to see me
for stress-related issues
over-identified with their
For example, I have seen new clients who initially had little or no connection to their emotional vulnerabilities. However, their bodies were expressing their vulnerabilities through stress-related symptoms. The symptoms were desperately trying to get their attention, and when they got loud enough, the wake-up calls were finally heard. This is the point at which doctors, after treating the physical symptoms, often refer their patients to me for complementary care and proactive tools.
Feelings: Important Messengers
When we are stressed by the demands of life, it is easy to look for ways to distract ourselves from the feelings that are stirring within us. As I share in my book, Stress Reduction Journal, instead of seeing our feelings as allies that have important messages for us, many of us see them as enemies that need to be avoided. That is when we go into a flight mode away from our feelings.
For some people, the avoidance of feelings works for a while. However, for most of us, the feelings sooner or later begin to leak out—and it isn’t always pretty. The unconscious leakage of feelings can manifest through our behaviors, our bodily symptoms, and other people’s behaviors.
Imagine we are driving through our lives in psychological cars. Let’s say that we don’t know how to deal directly with our angry feelings, so we hide them in the trunks of our cars. After a while, the intensity of those feelings begins to build. As a result of the pressure, our cars’ trunks pop open uncontrollably on a regular basis and we spew anger.
In these times, we may find ourselves forgetting important commitments and arguing with others. We may explode over little things that aren’t at all related to what we’re really angry about. As a result, feelings that are not addressed may unconsciously be expressed through our behaviors.
Our Bodily Symptoms
After years of depositing angry feelings into our trunks, can you imagine how heavy the back ends of our cars would become? Eventually, the front wheels would be lifted up off the ground—we could call this motion an anger wheelie!
And, think about how stressful that overloaded trunk’s weight would be on the back tires. If the pressure isn’t released, one or both tires could easily blow out at any time.
Other People’s Behaviors
Best-selling author John Gray says: “What we suppress, others may express.” He explains that if we are suppressing strong emotions, then someone else in our household may end up expressing our buried feelings. As a result, our partner, kids, or pets may unconsciously act out our suppressed emotional material. For example…
Joel was in his third marriage when he came to see me. Joel’s medical doctor recommended he learn some stress management techniques due to the chronic health challenges he was having. Joel blamed all of his stress on his current marital problems. He claimed his wife, Helen, was an emotional mess.
“She’s irrational, emotional, and frankly—she’s hysterical most of the time!”
Joel went on to clarify how all of his wives were independent and rational women when he first fell in love with them—“but, after a year or so of marriage, they each became an emotional basket case. Why am I destined to put up with these hysterical types?”
Through our work, Joel realized that he was following the unconscious conditioning from his childhood to avoid his vulnerability. He had been stuffing his fearful feelings into the trunk of his psychological car since he was a young boy.
As a result, his wives ended up expressing their own as well as his suppressed fear (and his other unexpressed vulnerable feelings). Consequently, it was no wonder that each of Joel’s wives ended up feeling overwhelmed with vulnerability.
Another example is my client Victoria, who at forty sought tools for weight loss. Shortly into our work it became apparent that Victoria followed the unconscious conditioning from her family and from societal influences—not to express anger. In childhood, she remembered hearing her parents say, “Girls should be seen and not heard.” From our work together…
Victoria discovered that unaddressed hostility and sadness were weighing down the trunk of her psychological car. These painful feelings had been accumulating since she was a little girl. Thus, many people in Victoria’s life were unconsciously working overtime when it came to anger expression (they were expressing some of her suppressed anger in addition to their own anger).
High drama in relationships was a common occurrence for her. Fortunately, when Victoria learned healthy ways to deal with her own anger, her weight began to drop and her relationships began to stabilize. She also noticed that she was attracted to new friends—who were less angry.
So keep in mind that what we suppress, others may express is reversible. It can become—what others suppress, we may express. The distortion of feelings can happen in either direction.
Finally, it’s important to understand that our feelings are allies rather than nuisances or enemies. When we embrace the messages that our feelings offer, instead of avoiding them, we have an opportunity to become deeply acquainted with ourselves—thereby, gaining the valuable wisdom that our emotions carry.
As a result, we become aware of honoring both our sense of power and sense of vulnerability—to better balance our minds, bodies, and emotions.
Now that’s a gift that NOURISHES US…
from the inside out.