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 criticizing other (gossiping) or aggressively 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.
Unfortunately, I can relate to this example. For the first twenty-plus years of my life, I had severe irritable bowel problems. I had suppressed the memories and painful emotions from my childhood (physical abuse/violence and sexual abuse). My poor intestinal tract struggled to hold the suppressed fear and anger that were buried deep inside of me (or the trunk of my psychological car). The good news is, when I dealt with my suppressed feelings through counseling and clinical hypnotherapy, my intestinal problems miraculously disappeared. Thank God! As a result, I haven’t needed Pepto-Bismol in the gallon jug for the past twenty years!
Other People’s Behaviors
Did you know that what we suppress, others may express? Yep, 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. Here are two examples:
1) Pamela came to me seeking tools for weight loss. Shortly into our work it became apparent that Pamela 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, Pamela 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 Pamela’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 Pamela. Fortunately, when Pamela 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.
2) Joel was in his third marriage when he came to me for hypnotherapy. Joel’s medical doctor recommended he learn some stress management techniques due to the chronic health challenges he was having (high blood pressure and an ulcer). Joel blamed all of his stress on his current marital problems. He claimed his wife, Jeanette, was an emotional mess. He said, “She’s so irrational, emotional, and frankly—she’s hysterical most of the time!” Joel clarified how all of his wives were independent and rational women when he first fell in love with them. He said, “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.
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.
After reading these examples, do you see yourself as being someone who can honor your power and your vulnerability? Or, like Joel, does vulnerability scare you?
~ Mindfulness Exercise ~
Think about learning to see your feelings as allies — rather than nuisances or enemies. If it feels right, try this exercise:
1) Become quiet and notice if you are feeling any (or several) of the 7 basic emotions in THIS MOMENT:
Love, Joy, Fear, Anger, Worry, Guilt, Sadness
2) Take out a piece of paper (or your journal) and writing about your feelings (for about 5 minutes).
3) Without judgement, think about the message that your feelings may be OFFERING. (For example: slow down, talk to someone, take healthy action…)
4) Ask your “Higher Self” for supportive feedback. Write down any wisdom you receive.
5) When complete, take a nice deep breath and think about something you feel grateful for.