“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” -Kris Carr
“Stop your crying!” my mom told me when my favorite toy Barbie was ran over by my brother, head severed, and all. As silly as a Barbie doll breaking is, as a 6 year old, I was devastated. I was so viscerally Sad and Upset. The tears formed quickly and my body started to quiver as I tried to hold the tears inside.
That wasn’t the first time I remember being told in some form or another that I shouldn’t cry, be upset, or in general be feeling how I felt in certain moments. “Go to your room until you can act like a lady” was another common phrase many young girls, including myself, may have heard growing up. But what that taught me I would have no idea until later in life. Looking back, I learned that I shouldn’t trust my emotions. That having them was not okay, that crying and expressing them was bad. I then learned to repress instead of express them.
Repression of Emotions
There are a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about emotions that we fall prey to from growing up with either our families, society as a whole, or both. Regardless of where you learned it, it causes more damage than we realize.
Repression of emotions is one of the major causes of depression, disease, abuse, and addiction in our culture. In many families, emotions are either repressed or expressed in an unhealthy, abusive way. The expression “Shame on you” is very common when children express anger. When children indicate a feeling of anger, the parent may punish or shame them into repressing it.
For the most part, boys are very much shamed for their Sad and Scared feelings, and girls are shamed for their Angry feelings. (Just look at all the names women are called when we express anger). It is extremely unhealthy the way men in our culture have been systematically shamed for their soft tender feelings. This leads to the majority of men in our culture having a very difficult time crying and expressing grief.
Disease from Repressing Our Emotions
All of our emotions are vibrations and energies within our bodies. When a person holds anger, that angry energy has to go somewhere. Angry energy can actually be held anywhere in the body from your jaw, to your chest, to your stomach. This energy, if not released and expressed, wreaks havoc on the body itself through aches, pains, and disease.
- Jaw – if a person holds in their feelings and does not say what needs to be said, they may feel the tension in their jaw, which may result in TMJ.
- Stomach – when someone has unexpressed anger they have long held on to, it may show up in the form of ulcers, stomach, or even colon cancer.
- Breasts – someone with breast cancer may have rescued and taken care of everyone else but herself for years, and held the resentment inside her body (the breasts represents the nurturing part of a woman).
- Back - lower back pain is commonly associated with not feeling supported in life financially.
The word dis-ease means an “un-easiness” somewhere in the body. People often transfer emotions pain into physical pain, because it’s so much easier (and less vulnerable) to say “my stomach hurts” instead of “I hurt”.
Healthy Expression of Feelings
The first part in healthy expression of emotions is learning to label and identify what you feel. Most people don’t have words to describe the visceral reactions they experience in their body. Below are the 6 primary (uncomfy) emotions:
- Sadness is associated with some sort of Loss. Sadness usually has us cry, withdraw or connect. The goal of sadness is usually comfort or connection.
- Fear means there is some kind of threat or danger. This puts us in Fight or Flight mode. The goal of sadness is safety.
- Anger tells us that we’ve been violated. It asks us to protect a boundary or a value (that may have been violated). This can really help us learn what our values are. The goal of anger is protection against that violation.
- Hurt/Pain means that our sense of self has been wounded (usually associated with betrayal). It has us not want to repeat that painful event again. The goal of hurt/pain is comfort and connection.
- Shame has us feel overexposed, and it tells us to hide. It can also have us feel that there is something wrong with us. Things like mental health, addiction, and other taboo topics that come with heavy stigmas often come with deep internalized shame. The goal of shame is privacy or validation.
- Disgust tells us that we are experiencing something “bad” for us. It usually wants us to get up and react, and it can be a great motivator. The goal of disgust is to get rid of whatever that “bad” thing is in our lives.
Tune in and notice WHERE you feel these emotions in your body and HOW they feel. This helps us learn when our feelings are strong, when they are lessened, and when they are released. Sometimes our bodies can have memories that our conscious mind isn’t aware of. These visceral body reactions are very powerful, and can link us back to other times in our lives we may have felt a similar way. They can give us a window into how or why we may be thinking, feeling or acting the way we are.
Find a healthy way to physically RELEASE all of your negative energy! Don't confuse healthily getting your anger out with abuse or violence. Healthy expression of emotion gets the negative energy out without hurting yourself, others, or property. Think about a lion about to chase an antelope for its’ meal. The antelope is immediately in Fight or Flight mode (threat/fear) and runs. IF the antelope gets away, you should see it shiver off all of those feelings as many times as it takes until they are released. We see this with dogs, and several other mammals “shaking off” negative energy. We are the only mammals that Shames ourself about releasing our emotional energy. Try yelling into a pillow, punch a punching bag, exercise, throw a temper tantrum on your bed (it’s not just for kids!), belt your favorite songs from the top of your lungs, or tossing rocks into a lake.
Thing like writing and art to express yourself are so great and nourishing, but try to also use some physical outlet to release the negative energy. Not to be cheesy, but you will really FEEL the difference!
What do you think about repressing and expressing emotions? Do you have a tendency to repress or express? If so, how do you get those negative energies out? Let me know in the comments below.