Updated: Mar 12
Our relationship with emotions...
I find it a fascinating juxtaposition to be writing academically about our relationship with emotions. You can only get so far with your mind. With that, I encourage you to feel your way through my words. In truth, we are beautifully emotional beings. So, I am writing. Coming from a place of the mind, and returning to the heart of the matter... our emotions.
We are strange. We talk of health of the mind, and of the physical body as if leaving out a significant part of how we function will have no effect on the outcome of our science. We have health care, we even have mental health care, but what of our emotional health? What happens to our physical form when we don't process our emotions? What happens when we push them down, and just keep going? Everyone knows by now that psychological stress in the body leads to a litany of physical problems... muscle tension, weight gain, exhaustion, high blood pressure, ulcers, heart issues, just to name a few. What about self-hate in the body? What about unprocessed grief?
Psychological ramifications of stress research
Why do we know about stress in the body? In large part it is due to the research in laboratories on over 15,000 animals in the mid 1900's by one man, Hans Selye. That's a lot of animals. That's a lot of pain. Psychological stress, it seems to me, is as close as we've gotten to talking about our feelings in public, and we got here by testing out experimental scientific theories on living beings that are still to this day seen as less than. Good enough to experiment on, but not to consider the emotional and psychological ramifications of doing so for all involved. We generally don't have conversations with each other about what it might feel like to be the research assistant or the animal. To be put into situations where you are asked to cause harm to another on purpose, or to have no way of communicating with your torturer or to know what is going to happen to you next. However, some research is now being done on the psychological ramifications of such research.
You may be familiar with the Milgram Shock Experiments (1963) that asked people to shock "students" for giving a wrong answer. The shocks were nonexistent, but the actor was convincing. Cries and pleading, and then eventually silence came from the other side of the partition from the white, middle aged man they had met before the experiment began, seemingly hooked up to wires that would be used to "shock" him. A white man in a lab coat urged people to continue "shocking" at a higher voltage and prompted them four times when they wanted to stop. The prompts were: "Please continue", "The experiment requires you to continue", "It is absolutely essential that you continue", and "You have no other choice but to continue". The results were the most shocking part of the experiment. The row of switches were marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock), to 375 volts (Danger: Severe Shock) and finally 450 volts (XXX). All of the participants continued to 300 volts. 65% of the participants continued to 450 volts.
The Milgram Shock Experiments teach us that when there is a perceived authority, the majority of people (2/3 in the study) will follow orders, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. People will override their own emotional wisdom because they are taught to give ultimate authority to an external force, someone higher up than they. Imagine for a moment, what that means for nonhuman beings, the environment, minority groups, and anyone seen as "other". Who gets to decide the rules? Who decided on the hierarchy in the first place? Are we sure they are fair and just? Who decides what's fair and just? Is this hierarchy keeping us safe and benefiting everyone/everything on the planet? If not, who gets to decide to change course? Who gets put in charge then?
When authority is questioned and the chain of hierarchy itself is under scrutiny, it is often met with fear and criticism. Change is scary. When the hierarchy shifts, what if you land on the bottom of the new one? How do we rethink a new system without a hierarchy? Would we even allow ourselves to do so?
Honestly, emotional balance, inner strength, and both the will and ability to act on our empathy makes us the best kind of humans. The more emotionally healthy we are, the deeper our connection to one another, to all living beings, and the natural world. It is in this connection that we understand the inherent value in everyone and everything. None of us is better or worse than the other. When we see ourselves as part of the larger whole, we would never wish or inflict harm on another. When we see that we are all equal and give ourselves the authority to act on our own empathy, and then we see where harm is being caused, we stand up, speak out, or adjust our actions accordingly in large and small ways. This is a natural reaction. We are acting on our emotions and our inherent compassion instead of acting on external rules.
Reconnecting with nature, with life itself teaches us compassion, love, honor, and respect for all life. Disconnecting from this emotional space allows us to wreak havoc on those around us, with no regard for the pain it may cause. This disconnection from our emotions and others has brought nations to their knees and left us with a world in crisis... environmentally, racially, and politically.
The trouble with patriarchy
(and other structures of hierarchy)
Emotions are considered feminine in nature, and perhaps this is part of the problem. They are secondary, just like women in our society. When looking up how to deal with your emotions, among the suggestions to meditate and exercise, you will find lots of advice about controlling or regulating your emotions with the mind, figuring out the reason for your sensitivity, and letting your guard down at "socially appropriate times". If we really need to pay attention to them, we will, but we'd rather not if we don't have to. The pleasant ones are wonderful, so the focus is on elevating the light, bright ones, while changing our behavioral patterns or thinking our way out of the other ones. The complicated ones, the ones we can't easily categorize or contain are troublesome. What happens inside of us then, is a shame that lives in us when our emotions come forward, unbidden. They are unwanted and unacceptable to the outside world.
I can tell you in my work tapping with people, that paying attention to your emotions takes a very strong person. It can be uncomfortable. It can be painful. It is vulnerable, and it is much easier for some than others. I can also tell you that there are times when we first have to work on the limiting belief that it isn't alright to show emotion, to let it out at all, before we are able to get to the root of some of the problems they came in to work on. Part of this comes from the shaming of our more "feminine" side. I have worked, with great success, on tapping with my clients on feeling "less than" because they are women. You see, many women raised in a patriarchy have the shame of actually being female to contend with. When female bodied/gendered people were emotional as children it wasn't just their emotions that were demonized, but they themselves for being girls and being emotional. Emotion is a part of who they are, and they could feel it. They internalized the idea that they themselves were bad, not just the emotions they felt. Most men and boys on the other hand, are taught to distance themselves from their emotions, seeing them as a sign of weakness. In truth, we are all emotional beings, and pushing away or disconnecting from this essential part of ourselves is a massive reason for so much of the illness I see.
Now extend that idea of feeling "less than" to every other person/being in our system of hierarchy. Understand that being in a system that makes someone better than someone else, means you are introducing the body to the belief of being "less than". This manifests in low self-worth, lower immune function, depression, self-hate, lack of confidence, feeling stuck in life, feeling lost, alone, and hopeless just to name a few.
What's your body trying to say?
We have spent so much time in our society praising the mind and the body, but leaving our feelings out of the conversation, as if they are an unfortunate byproduct of our experiences of struggle. In truth, our emotions are a constant indicator of how we are, what we need, and when we are out of balance. They also speak to us of love, compassion, and justice for everyone/everything around us. Emotions are truly our internal wisdom. They don't need anyone else to interpret them or tell us what to do with them, they need us to hear and accept them and to give ourselves permission to act from a place of emotional intelligence with them as our guides. Ignoring our emotions or pushing them aside doesn't mean we've overcome them. It simply means we haven't spent the time to understand how they work, how to listen to them, and the best way to process them. If you'd like to know what not listening to them will get you, just look around. There are examples of people overriding their own emotional intelligence everywhere.
Tapping processes stored emotion
If you find mental/psychological issues coming forward in your life, they are likely those unprocessed emotions requesting your attention. Take the time to hear what they're trying to tell you. Let yourself process them or ask for help in doing so. If you find more gradual physical issues coming forward in your life, I urge you to look deeper. I urge you to be with your body, and to feel what it feels. It is likely in the emotions that it began. Our body's true wisdom is shared with us via emotion. The language of the body is emotion. We just have to listen.
Your emotional health is incredibly important. I'm here if you need me. Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have or to set up a private tapping session to let go of whatever might be holding you back.
Angela Hed Vincent