You were feeling great… and then you get an email or your partner/boss/friend says something that really upsets you. And suddenly you’re on fire!
You feel full of justified rage. Even if you know the thing that has upset you is rather trivial, possibly not even true. You don’t quite know where it all came from – all this emotion – but you are totally consumed. And it can take days, weeks to get over it – sometimes an awful lot longer.
Even worse when you discover you’ve completely misconstrued what the other person wrote or said. How could you even think they would say/think such a thing about you? And then you feel the embarrassment of realising that you’ve revealed yourself in a not too flattering light, shown them a part of yourself that you go to extreme lengths to keep hidden away.
The Power of Emotional Triggers
You have just been HAD by one of your emotional triggers. A trigger that can unlock a very powerful force that lives inside you. Except it’s probably not the kind of power or force that you want to have.
In a recent article THE CURSE OF BEING TOO NICE, I named this force the volcano of repressed emotion that has built up over time. And every so often the lid gets accidentally lifted off, as it did on this occasion, and you got a little glimpse of what lies inside your volcano. No wonder most people want to get the lid back on as soon as possible, so they can resume some kind of normal life.
And for a while, that’s exactly what happens. The emotional incident passes on and is forgotten about, until the next time the trigger gets set off – and then the whole process starts all over again.
So whilst the emotional trigger does serve to relieve the pressure inside the volcano, it does not serve to heal or resolve or release the suppressed emotion that is the cause of the problem. For whilst this is OK for the everyday irritations of life, it is not OK for your more deep-seated patterns and emotions.
Living Under the Volcano
For many years I sat on a volcano of repressed emotion. I didn’t know it’s what I had. But the truth is that I was half dead and I was just getting through life. I hid out in books and seriousness. I was the quiet girl on the fringes of the action, getting by but having very few expectations of what my life could be.
And by the time I got to young adulthood, I started going down with depression. And then I felt even more of an outsider, a smile would have cracked my face, I couldn’t operate socially, it was agony going out with my friends and pretending I was having a good time and I was unable to face any kind of work challenge.
I was training as a nurse at the time and I couldn’t cope with working on the children’s ward. It was just too distressing and I spent a whole summer off sick during one of the hottest summers in the UK, when everyone else was enjoying the sunshine and having fun, I was lying on my bed feeling absolutely terrible.
In the niceness article I made the point that however much pressure may have built up in their emotional volcano, most nice people don’t explode.
What Happens When You Don’t Explode
So what happens when the explosion doesn’t happen – as in the case of people who have learned to repress their emotions. If all that volatile material is kept under wraps, it’s got to go somewhere.
We have seen the tragic devastation that can be caused when the turbulence beneath the earth erupts. We have seen such images plastered all over our television screens night after night during a major eruption.This is what naturally happens when the pressure builds up to such extent that something’s got to give.
It goes within, it goes underground. The explosion is happening and the devastation is occurring… but within you. It is not being released. It is just causing havoc inside. No wonder I spent that whole summer feeling so awful.
There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that emotional repression causes stress, and prolonged stress releases a very harmful toxin into our system called Cortisol. This is what happens when the supply of adrenaline is exhausted – the flight or fight hormone that enabled our ancestors to respond to danger either by meeting the situation head on (fighting) or by running away (flight). For our ancestors this was quickly resolved, the danger passed so that all could return to normal.
But in modern life, the pressures are very different. We experience most of our challenges internally, stress levels can continue for a very long time so it all gets turned inwards. So the result is that Cortisol builds up in our system which in turn weakens our immune system which can show up in all manner of minor health problems, low energy levels, depression, chronic fatigue and … some very serious diseases.
I am reading a fascinating book by Candace Pert at the moment called Molecules of Emotion. Candace has proven scientifically that emotions show up in the body as biochemicals called peptides which pass into our cells through little mechanisms called receptors. And the emotional peptides use the same channels that recreational drugs, opium, and heroin do. And in the same way, these peptides can either make us feel great or absolutely crap. When there’s severe build up of negative emotion then we can become biochemically toxic and over time this makes it more difficult for our cells to operate properly.
So no wonder as humans that we don’t feel very good when negative emotions are triggered. No wonder we feel low in energy and our system doesn’t operate very well.
Clearing Out The Toxins
But as Candace points out – this actually makes understanding how to heal the toxic effects of emotional stress very easy. There is no big mystery. These toxic biochemicals need to be removed from your system, and then you are soon going to feel an awful lot better. This is too why talking about emotions is not going to be powerful enough to shift the toxic peptides. Physical action is needed for the toxins to be removed. In the same way, as you would put a hose on your car if it had accumulated a lot of crud. Physical action (high-pressure water coming through the hose) removes the muck off your car in seconds.
Another piece of good news. The body also produces its own biochemicals – the endorphins, which are the natural “feel-good” chemicals which can help a lot in the release of toxic emotional peptides.
It is of course, a lot more complicated than that. Particularly when dealing with long-standing emotion, but I hope this gives you some insight into why your emotions affect you the way they do and what you can do about it. At the end of the article, I am going to suggest ways in which you can release this toxic emotion easily and safely.
How Can It Be Safe to Express Negative Emotions?
I received an email from a woman (Liana) who had read the Niceness Article who asked,
I have a volcano, and it seemed for MANY years unsafe to express/release, for all the reasons you said,…can you tell me how the Sunflower Effect makes it safe, to ease the volcano? Plus…there’s something fun emerging about your approach, which I’ve seen in your tagline, and that sticks out. Somehow, a way to safely distance from how serious we take ourselves, objectify the murky parts, and be able to accept them back more easily or something… LIANA
So in answer to this question let’s start with the emotion of anger which causes a lot of problem for many people. Particularly in our society where the expression of anger is not acceptable. (And guess what, there are increasing levels of anger being expressed in schools, pubs, nightclubs and on the street. In UK pubs they are even bringing out an indestructible pub glass, to stop the terrible injuries caused to people who have been hit by pub glasses.)
So let’s say you’re a woman and you’re angry because your father left at a critical stage in your childhood. So in your adult life, you keep on recreating that situation: your partners are constantly leaving you for other women, which sets up a vicious circle of abandonment and pain which escalates the anger. None of your friends or family can understand why this keeps happening to you and even you begin to give up hope that you’re ever going to meet someone who’s going to stay with you.
So let’s say that this anger has been stored away in a number of very heavy suitcases. With every fresh incident, the suitcase just gets heavier. Or more suitcases are needed to hold it all. You are aware that you been carrying these suitcases for some time, but it’s become such a part of your life that you don’t even notice you’re dragging them around with you. Even though it’s exhausting you.
And then you get so heartily fed up with this situation, you decide to do something about it. You reach out for help and start doing some personal development work. And in the process of that, you realise you have indeed been carrying these very heavy suitcases around with you – and what’s more, you’ve been getting your partner to carry them too, so no wonder after a while he finds it too much. (In most case your partner won’t even know why he is leaving you.)
Emptying the Suitcases
The most obvious thing to do to sort his out would be to empty the suitcases. However, you’re dealing with emotions and this is easier said than done. Emptying the suitcase is a bit like opening Pandora’s Box. All that repressed anger starts flying everywhere because to shift to another metaphor – the lid has been taken completely off the volcano and now this volatile material is spewing everywhere.
Your anger is coming out everywhere, both consciously and unconsciously, and it is creating havoc. Your friends wonder what’s happened to you and it is sabotaging your work relationships. As Liana pointed out there are many situations in which expressing emotions is not safe.
There are many therapies that get you to re-experience the source of your anger and this can be very effective. But I have worked with many people who find some of the more cathartic therapies too much. Particularly men. Their system just can’t cope because it is just too overwhelming to experience that level of pain. They have lives to lead, jobs to go to and they don’t have the luxury to take time out of their life to see this through, so they give up the therapy. The lid goes back on the volcano and all the repressed emotion goes back underground.
How to Overcome Negative Emotions Safely and Easily
But there is another way – that is much safer, more fun and very effectively clears out the toxic biochemicals fast.
So let’s say you found yourself in a Making Moves course or workshop – and you came for other reasons because you want to feel more confident standing up in front of groups, or you want to make a breakthrough in your career or you’re just in the mood for a creative workshop.
And you start off just having fun. It feels good to discharge some of the pent up emotions through the physical and vocal exercises but you don’t think that’s going to make any lasting difference to your emotional life. And then the whole thing moves onto the playacting. Well, it’s all a bit like returning to playschool, listening to a story and then playing it out with other people in a safe, supportive environment.
You may find yourself choosing to play one of the rather devilish characters because no one else seems very keen on doing it. But you find it enormous fun. It is rather enjoyable feeling the reaction of everyone, and even though this character does get his “comeuppance”, it’s even rather fun being killed and dying. At the end, you just feel very good and rather pleased with yourself. Much to your surprise, you get feedback from other people of how much they enjoyed watching you and just how terrifying you were in that role.
That night you have lots of turbulent dreams and you hear from everyone that this good. This is your unconscious clearing out all the junk. Over the course of the workshop or course, you play many different characters and each begins to show you a different part of yourself. And at the end, you may find yourself celebrating with everyone else and feeling more alive than you have done in ages. You’ve had a good time, it’s done you some good and yes you have surprised yourself a few times but you don’t see that it’s got to any of your really deep-seated problems.
And then the next few days you notice that you feel rather emotional. You cry and cry and although it’s a bit disconcerting it feels good to let all that emotion out. Or you may just feel a bit heavier than usual, or you may find yourself feeling an emotion you don’t usually feel. And then over the next few weeks, all kinds of funny things begin to happen. They seem like coincidences, you bump into people you’ve been wanting to see, unexpected opportunities come your way, and things happen that remind you of some of your experiences in the workshop.
Then much later you find something happening that would normally have you in a terrible mess, except you are expressing yourself in a very different way. You are calmer, more confident and less worried about what other people are thinking of you. You notice too, people are taking you more seriously and treating you with more respect; you’re not being let down by your friends; and in situations where normally people would avoid you or failing to notice you, they are naturally being drawn to you.
This is a fairly typical experience of a Making Moves course and its after-effects. The Sunflower Effect does what Liana says it does: it “safely distances you from how seriously you take yourself”, objectifies the murky parts, so you are able to accept them back more easily.
It’s a way of emptying the suitcase safely and by degrees, so that that it just gets lighter and lighter. There are no damaging after effects and so you continue with your life. Processing goes on for weeks and months after the course or workshop, so does not hit you all at once.
Many people report that they experience a revelation months later when they realise the place they were in when they did the course has completely shifted, and they experience a new dawn with new pathways opening up for them. They feel happier than they’ve done for years which they attribute to being in the workshop.
How Does It All Happen
The beauty of the Sunflower Effect, you may notice, is that not once have you dwelt on your emotional history. However, throughout the session, you have been releasing emotions. These emotions have discharged second-hand through playing the different characters, even emotions normally you avoid – like rage. Through playing out the rage of a nasty character you were actually able to work more deeply on such emotions. All the time you were, in fact, releasing your own own rage but if felt fun, even joyous to let that out. It is not personal which is what makes it so freeing.
At the same time, you were also releasing the toxic peptides because you were physically moving your body and this was affecting a physical release at a cellular level. You may also be able to see aspects of your own behaviour that you didn’t like or habitual roles that you fall into and this will give you an opportunity to choose a different way of behaving.
Want to overcome your negative emotions. Check out the events I have currently on offer or transform your emotions/”unfinished business” through a series of individual sessions. or find out how to get started
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I am also always delighted to hear from you for any reason so do write to me if you have any questions, comments or just want to share anything. I’ll answer as soon as I can.