Expressing blocked emotions enables improved relationships with oneself and others
Expressing blocked emotions reminds us of our unity with other human beings. An emotion is the body’s reaction to a thought our mind has about a situation. Emotions are reactions to matters that seem very important to our well-being. First we filter our experiences of events through our mental interpretation that says this is good or bad, or this is about me or it’s mine. Second the thought we choose to have triggers a positive or negative emotion after a mental reflective appraisal of our circumstance happens often unconsciously.
Emotions predominantly begin quickly such that we are unaware of the process that occurs in our mind that initially sets them off. We experience a positive or negative emotion depending on the content of our thoughts. Often a stream of negative emotion accompanies a stream of compulsive thinking about what is worrisome or upsetting.
How we express an emotion is intertwined with our mood, temperament, personality, family and cultural conditioning. There are family rules and cultural norms in society that encourage or discourage expression of emotions. For example we may feel fear when we fear the possibility of feeling physical or psychological pain.
There may be blocked emotions such as having feelings of anger turned in against ourselves or directed at others for not doing something. Equally we may feel sadness when there’s a loss of self-esteem, or loss of a person or pet. It is interesting to note that even though a person may experience emotional overwhelm, it really depends on the person’s make-up as to how they express their emotions.
There are socially extroverted people who express their emotions, while introverted people are often more socially withdrawn and conceal their emotions. When we suppress the expression of our emotions we block our vitality, and may become fearful of our inability to be with our and other people’s emotions restricting our ability to experience healthy emotions.
The good news is postponed suppressed emotions can emerge when we feel it is safe to feel them. Therapy supports people to be mindful and consciously express their emotions. The therapist creates a safe environment for the client to feel their normally suppressed emotions. As we heal our emotions, we pay attention mindfully to what happens in our bodymind by noticing how those emotions first register or land in our bodies and what changes in our thoughts.
Primary and patterned emotions
Founder of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Pat Ogden says there are two kinds of emotions called patterned and primary emotions. Patterned emotions can sometimes feel panicky, circular, hopeless, and contrived in the way they are repetitively and habitually felt.
We know when a person is feeling primary emotions because we feel included. We resonate with their emotions and feel a connection with the person having the emotion. Primary emotions are spontaneously felt. When expressed they bring a feeling of relief, and a feeling of expansion and greater connection with the person’s sense of their authentic self.
There are many positive outcomes for people when they can integrate and transform unresolved emotions. For example we can be emotionally available in our relationships, and feel compassionate towards ourselves and others.
When we integrate our emotions we also feel more alive after processing grief, expressing anger appropriately, setting healthy boundaries, feeling safe and in turn having greater self-respect. As such the therapeutic benefits gained in learning how to safely express primary emotions far outweigh the risks previously felt when caregivers, teachers or friends did not accept them.
Benefits in expressing blocked emotions
The benefits in being able to express our emotions include being aware of our unmet needs and knowing how to take wise action once we know what we are feeling.
Founder of the Hakomi method Ron Kurtz wrote that when primary emotions are expressed people can reduce the mental, physical and emotional noise within their body and mind. As it quietens down the information from within ourselves can be heard more easily. For example a client can make new decisions about who they feel comfortable with in expressing their emotions.
They can become more sensitive to how their body and mind works when they witness their body making a spontaneous shift as it re-organizers itself after an emotion is released.
In summary therapy enables us to understand that when we can process our emotions: we discover that our emotions serve us well in life, helping us to trust ourselves as we feel more present, calm and nourished.
- Pat Ogden & Janina Fisher in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Intervenions for Trauma & Attachment. 2015.
- Paul Ekman in Emotions Revealed: Understanding Faces & Feelings. 2003.
- Ron Kurtz in Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. 1990.