There is a difference between the idea of repressed emotions and the action of consciously or unconsciously repressing emotions. It is unclear what repressed emotions are and where they are found, if anywhere in the body. But we all have probably experienced behavioral habits we use to try and resist our emotions when uncomfortable feelings arise. I have used various techniques to try and feel better, some that I thought were good for me, and some that I knew were bad, but they all made sense when I felt unsafe with my feelings.
This resistance to overwhelming emotional experiences is a healthy psychological response. No one wants to feel uncomfortable, and emotions can sometimes feel too much. So distracting from the discomfort makes sense until we understand that we are safe to feel our emotions. When we realize our uncomfortable feelings are safe, it is easier to see that emotions don't cause problems. Instead, the habits we use as coping mechanisms to avoid painful emotions negatively impact our psychological and physical health over time.
Emotions aren't dangerous. They are physiological expressions of thoughts we identify with and are healthy and normal. Our nervous system is designed to feel emotions. That is how it releases stress, stabilizes itself, and returns to equilibrium. However, the nervous system is not intended for chronic stress, and resistance to our experience creates chronic stress that is unhealthy for the body and mind.
Feelings are the formless energy brought into form. Thoughts and feelings are designed to flow when we are open to them. They don't cause us any harm. This doesn't mean there aren't real experiences that are uncomfortable. Feeling pain is needed for our survival to keep us safe. Physical pain is a signal that helps us to take care of ourselves, and so is emotional pain. When we open to the signal of emotional suffering so it can guide us to effectively take care of ourselves by reminding us to slow down and let our minds settle, we see how helpful it is. However, if we react to our emotional pain and resist and fear it, we miss the wisdom and often find ourselves creating more suffering for ourselves.
Repression of feelings is simply fear of feeling our emotions the moment they arise. And with a greater understanding of our safety, we can resume being open to our experience and allow it to move through us. This is health. Psychological health means we have the internal safety to experience the full range of our emotional experience so the body's design can do what it needs to do to return to balance and harmony.
When we understand that we can be safe with our emotional experience and that it does not cause us harm, our nervous system responds the way it is designed. We recognize that emotions do not cause us damage and can avoid the chronic stress that results from habitual patterns of thought and behavior that try to keep feelings at bay.
We are designed to feel our feelings. We aren't intended to chronically resist our experience.
When it comes to trauma, we re-experience trauma through memory. Memory is thought. We feel our thinking. This is healthy and how we integrate and find balance and harmony after experiencing challenging events and experiences. We are designed to heal from trauma. We are psychologically resilient. But sometimes, the ability to integrate experience is interrupted because it feels too overwhelming to allow ourselves to feel. What is needed, then, is a more significant experience of internal safety. Rather than looking in the direction of the traumatic event, we need to acquaint ourselves with a felt sense of inner well-being and security so we can feel safe enough to be with our experience rather than resist it. This allows us then to integrate the memories of traumatic events in a way that feels safe and isn't retraumatizing.
Experiencing our internal safety and well-being is essential for everyone, and we don't increase our internal safety intellectually. That is why the treatment of trauma often includes modalities beyond talk therapy. They describe this as a bottom-up treatment that helps the nervous system to become more regulated. With this greater nervous system regulation, a felt experience of greater inner safety allows people to be open to their experiences. Numerous modalities offer this, such as neurofeedback, yin yoga, psychedelics, and many more. How one achieves greater nervous system regulation and the subsequent feelings of inner peace and freedom doesn't matter. What matters is that the experience lasts beyond the time spent on the technique. So that there is a sustainable change that doesn't require the constant use of a technique to feel better; otherwise, it becomes exhausting, and believe me, I have been there. I have exhausted myself using techniques to try and get somewhere. Thinking the power was in the technique to help me feel safe because it gave me a temporary reprieve from my suffering, but that became like any addictive behavior. I needed to keep using the technique because I wasn't experiencing an authentic internal shift that allowed for sustainable change.
That is where experiential understanding is critical. When people wake up to the experiential truth that they are safe within themselves and have innate peace and well-being within, no matter how they reach this realization, sustainable change occurs. They see they are not defined by their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They recognize who they are is greater than the sum of those parts. There is a felt experience of the space within which all experience occurs, and the safety and love within this space are tangible and transformative.
How people describe this experience may be very different. Some refer to it in religious terms as connecting with a higher power. Some refer to it in more spiritual terms of feeling connected with a oneness beyond their personal self. Some describe it as the deep feeling of inner peace with scientific references to the brain's gamma waves. No matter how we describe the experience or how we get to that experience, what is essential is that we have a felt experience of that space that sustains us so we can genuinely feel safer within ourselves. This profound experience of well-being helps us break free from whatever unhealthy coping mechanisms we have been using to try and help us feel more comfortable and gives us the capacity to be present with what is and welcome all of our feelings.
We don't need to go looking for emotions. Life gives us ample moments for feelings to arise. Our opportunity is to cultivate the experience of peace, love, and safety within ourselves.
Anything that wakes us up to the truth that we are safe with our feelings is beneficial for experiencing greater inner peace, freedom, and happiness. For me, the teachings of Sydney Banks have been profoundly helpful on my journey of awakening to what is true. But no one person has a corner on truth. So listen to what speaks to your heart and helps you to remember the truth of who you are. Looking in this direction will impact every area of your life and allow you to live life in alignment with the inner safety, freedom, peace, and happiness that are hallmarks of your true nature.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In the first season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couple's intensive retreat programs that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilders Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.