Releasing and Transmuting Surpressed Emotions

Techniques for Releasing Suppressed Emotions

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Dear Friends,

Some time ago a forty-five year old woman came to see me for advice on how to release suppressed emotions. Gina (not her real name) was being challenged with a recurrence of a serious form of throat cancer which she had overcome on its first appearance seven years ago using a combination of positive thinking, prayer and diet. Her words to me were something like this:

The fact that the cancer has returned suggests to me that I could have some deep unresolved negative emotions which I am not aware of. As you can see I am a positive and vibrant person who loves life and all that it offers, even the challenge of this flaring up again. Can you help me find and release these hidden feelings?

She expected that I would begin asking her in-depth questions about dark spots in her childhood, early relationships and then marriage. Instead I indicated that such an approach was like ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ and that it could take many sessions. Further, and more importantly, I shared with her my view that it was not always necessary to recall the upsetting events in one’s life for the suppressed emotions to be released. In fact, there could be disadvantages in focusing on the negative aspects of her significant relationships – it might interfere with her present health-generating positivity.

After giving her a brief synopsis of my understanding of how negative emotions came into existence, what their evolutionary purpose is, and why they get suppressed I then outlined a few techniques (see: ‘The Practice’ below) for gently releasing some of these feelings.  She was confident that, once she was aware of them, she could transmute them into a positive force for healing. She left the session with lots of homework to do and so far is progressing well.

Meeting with this courageous woman has prompted the present Notebook.

Why do we get upset?  
The worldly reasons for why we feel anger, sadness, grief, jealousy and all of the other upsetting emotions run into the thousands depending upon who we are as an individual. However the universal or fundamental reason is that we have engaged in ignorant or wrong thinking; that is, we were not aware  of, or failed to understand, or did not believe totally in, a higher truth. Let me give you an example of what I mean:

Let’s say that a vivacious young child dies tomorrow in a car crash. Her mother would, like any one of us, be devastated with shock and overwhelmed with grief.  This would be due to several types of wrong-thinking:

‘My daughter no longer exists’. Such erroneous thinking is disturbing because it goes against the truth embedded deeply within all of us, that we do not die. The daughter’s body died, not the real ‘Being’ who was inhabiting that mortal frame. Being an immortal spirit, her child did not die but went out of her body like a driver gets out of the car at the end of that particular journey.

‘This should not have happened to her.’ Any thought with ‘should’ in it creates inner disturbance because it is denying the perfection of the divine order governing everything in the universe. We know from many sources that the time for leaving the body is already set, that every event in a person’s life is the fruit of seeds planted in earlier years or lifetimes, that nothing can happen in life which is not to the advantage of the recipient, and that every trauma or disaster is a ‘test’ that the soul is ready for in the same way as a student is only examined on what she has studied during a school term.

‘She has gone away from me’.  Holding on to this thought naturally brings grief because it denies the reality that, in terms of being immortal spirit, we are not separate from anything nor anybody. There only seem to be individual waves on the one vast ocean; when the wave breaks on the shore we are made aware that it was only ever a temporary, changing shape or form of the one vast, limitless ocean.  Further, since the soul never dies, now that it is no longer confined to the body it can be anywhere at any time, thereby allowing closer communication than ever before, with true heart-felt connection unblemished by earth-bound personalities.

The higher teachings expressed above are readily available in the many books by Wayne Dyer, Eknath Easwaran, Deepak Chopra, Baba Ram Das, the Dalai Lama and Stephen Levine, to name but a few.

Someone familiar with this age-old wisdom would be well-placed to challenge the incorrect or ‘delusional’ thinking producing the grief, and to replace it with thoughts based on what could be called Eternal Truth.

With correct thinking, even the most intense suffering such as the death of a child can provide a powerful ‘impulse towards union with the Divine’- as Sathya Sai Baba puts it – propelling the wounded heart like an arrow towards higher levels of love, contentment, wisdom and compassion.

Why do we suppress emotions? 
We know that grief can be resolved over time in the above way by an adult who is familiar with the Perennial Philosophy, those higher techniques which remain the same from age to age. But what of a child whose father suicides, or who witnesses her best friend’s life being snuffed out by a car when they are out bicycle riding, or whose mother abandons her when so young? How is this little one going to survive such a tragedy crashing into her tender psyche?

Grace shines on the child always. If wise and loving adults are there she will quickly adopt the higher thinking and rise above and beyond her grief, even better than an adult can. The presence of wise mentors is Grace indeed. But, if they are not there, Grace comes in the form of the dulling and even repression of the traumatic memory, along with the suppression from conscious awareness of the unbearable grief-soaked emotions. It is as if the ‘benevolent subconscious’ in the child knows only too well that the wisdom is not yet at hand for the little one to draw upon and, out of compassion, places the trauma out of awareness until some wisdom philosophy has arrived into its life perhaps decades later. Then the subconscious is ready to release the material.

Conscious release of suppressed emotions
I have become convinced that, in the main, it is important that the release of any suppressed feelings needs to be gradual. In my clinical practice over the years, I have seen a few unfortunate people who had experienced intensive ‘rebirthing’ or some other rapid release technique and it had taken a long time for them to move out of confusion and anxiety into calmer waters.

My way of thinking is this: when eating a meal, we take one mouthful at a time, masticate it well, swallow, and then arrange another small portion to be processed. It we gulp down all of the food at once, without chewing and adding saliva, we can expect sever indigestion. In the same way, it is better to allow the subconscious mind to release trapped emotions in a gradual way so that each new wave of feeling can be made good use of. It is like the alchemists transmuting their base metal into gold – little by little, ensuring that the processing of one lot is complete before beginning with the next.

So, to reiterate: instead of trying to bring into the conscious mind a recollection of the actual events which triggered the disturbing emotions, I believe that it is wiser to allow the unconscious to release the suppressed emotions themselves in a gradual way, allowing time to ‘digest’ each new wave of feeling.

There are a number of self help therapy techniques which not only facilitate a gradual release of hidden feelings but which assist them to be transmuted into higher levels of love, serenity, understanding and other uplifting emotions. I have used each one of these extensively both on myself and in my clinical work with others over many years. You can try out those that appeal to you.


With love,
Ron and Su Farmer


Techniques for Releasing Suppressed Emotions

The purpose in releasing emotions which have been locked away in the unconscious mind is more than just letting go negative energy, more than just lancing a boil or vomiting up bile from an upset stomach.  Its higher purpose, as I understand it, is to provide material for transmutation into something more closely allied with our true self, with our soul. Grief can change to gratitude, anger to compassion, loneliness to connectedness and fear to love.

As you can see, I do not regard disturbing emotions as an imposition by a cruel world or an uncaring deity. Rather they can be seen as opportunities for growth, impulses towards evolution, and signposts that it is time to change our thinking.

Hidden emotions are like base or crude metal waiting to be discovered and then processed, transmuted, into the ‘gold’ of lasting peace, deeper love, effervescent joy.


The Practice                     

Yogic Breathing. Engage for two to three minutes, once or twice a day, in what is called ‘yogic breathing’. Look at how a baby breathes, with its stomach going up and down. Push the stomach out as you breathe in, and pull it back towards the spine as you breathe out. With practice, gradually your center of breathing will move downwards. This allows you to be re-connected with your feelings, instead of them being locked away behind a rigid abdomen. Your tummy will eventually become soft like a baby’s, giving you full access to all of your feelings.

I always caution against intensive practice of this technique. The pattern of breathing which has been in place for many years needs to be changed in a gradual fashion. Intensive modification of the habitual breathing style could possibly induce ill-health.

Heart Release. Play some heart-opening music (like Pachelbel's Canon) while pressing steadily, without bruising, with a thumb on a somewhat painful spot in the center-line of the rib-cage about a little finger’s length up from where the ribs first join.

The vocal sound of the drawn-out ‘Ahhh’ should be made every minute or so, seeking to match the tone to that expressed by the music.

This exercise is best carried out in private so as not to inhibit the release of sadness, grief, loneliness, abandonment or being unloved, whatever is ready to come up. Tears, sobbing, and even laughter can spill out. As each wave of feeling comes up you can repeat in your mind, ‘Yes, Yes, Yes”, with an attitude of trust that each release will carry you further towards inner peace, deeper love and sweeter joy.

Empty Chair Dialogue. This technique is also carried out in solitude. You sit on a chair facing an empty chair turned towards you. Starting with a parent (and then on later occasions with other significant people from past or present, alive or deceased), you imagine that the person is sitting in the chair opposite you. Begin talking aloud to them, expressing your thoughts and feelings, with a commitment to full honesty and openness. These first few words might last anywhere from thirty seconds to three or four minutes.

When nothing else ‘comes out’, you now go and sit in the opposite chair and reply as if you are that person, trusting whatever you spontaneously say, and not trying to censor it or think how the person would respond.

When it feels right, you now return to your own chair and become ‘yourself’ again, saying whatever arrives spontaneously in the mind. This interchanging of roles continues until there is a feeling of ‘enough for now’. You can take it up again a few days later with the same person if the pull is there, or perhaps you can try it with another significant person.

Unexpected results can flow from this technique: the release of emotions, deeper understanding and a flowing of forgiveness, compassion and love. It is almost always a refreshing and liberating experience.

Dry-retching Release. This is another technique from the yoga traditions of India, but it does not appeal to everyone. It requires one to dry-retch first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything at all. This is readily accomplished by inserting the index finger deep into the mouth and gently tickling the back of the throat, thereby eliciting three or four retching spasms.

The immediate as well as cumulative feeling is on of undefined relief, release or emotional freedom. It can be done on a daily basis (which I do) or less often for as long as you feel it is productive.

Sounding Out.  To avoid alarming others by the strange sounds you’ll be producing, this technique for putting you in touch with a wider range and depth of your emotions is best carried out in a place where you can’t be heard.  It is somewhat like ‘speaking in tongues’ except that it uses longer drawn-out sounds, as if one was practising the musical scale in a powerful singing voice, without following the scale or any particular timing. It is like a song without words and with no fixed tune.

‘Sounding out’ is a full cry of the heart to the universe, letting the waves of emotion-laden sound trigger feelings long held back, which in turn are poured out as yearning, passionate sound which triggers the release of other emotions, and so on.  At first, your voice could sound false, strangled, artificial, certainly unfamiliar and not at all melodious. Don’t let this deter you.

After five minutes or so, you will feel a type of emotional fragility or exhaustion approaching. At this point you place your open hands across the chest, with the attention focused in the ‘heart centre’ and announce a yogic sound for the heart charka in a strong, celebrating way, five to ten times, about one per second. It sounds like “Yumm! Yumm! Yumm!”, drawing out the ‘mm’ a little. This repeating of ‘Yumm!’ is essential, in my opinion, because the sounding out releases emotions which can leave you feeling somewhat unsettled and even fragile; the heart sound of ‘Yumm!’ disperses those feelings or, rather, transmutes them into celebration, confidence, love and tenderness.

Because the practice puts quite a strain on unexercised vocal chords it is prudent to limit the exercise to once or twice a week to avoid becoming hoarse.

If you decide to venture into ‘sounding out’ over several weeks and months, you will find that your voice gradually changes until it is beautifully melodious, powerful in its yearning for the highest in oneself, sometimes bringing sweet tears to the eyes at the haunting beauty of what is being released and expressed.

Practice in one or more of the above techniques will undoubtedly lead you closer to a more complete and easier connection with a greater range of your emotions, both positive and negative. This gives you more ‘grist for the mill’, as Baba Ram Das would say, more ‘base’ emotions to transmute into ones made of ‘gold’.

My advice is to proceed slowly, listening to that quiet ‘inner voice’ which tells us when to go ahead and when to pause for ‘spiritual digestion’ to catch up.

We would be delighted to receive any feedback you might like to share with us, and perhaps others, if you decide to experiment with your own releasing of hidden emotions.

 These are the relevant CD titles from the Self Help Therapy catalogue

  • Healing through Grief, Loss and Death
  • Letting Go of the Past
  • Simple Meditation

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