I have noticed a very steady increase in the number of visitors to my last blog, “Depression and Emotional Suppression”. Even though I wrote that entry six months ago, it has quickly catapulted into my most read entry of all time.
This emphasised to me how much people all over the world are also in pain, and how we are not alone in our experiences with depression. What also struck me was that the majority of the hits were directed from Google. To find my entry one would have to specifically type in keywords along the lines of “depression emotional suppression”. Clearly, people are realising themselves that this could be the reason for their darkness and are searching further.
I received some questions this week from a reader, so with his permission, I have published my responses to them below. I realised that in the last entry I didn’t go into detail about what one can do personally to embrace one’s emotions, so I share a lot of the techniques I use below. I sincerely hope that this will be of help to other people who are starting to shed light on their darkness.
Say one has been suppressing emotions for quite some time now. Would depression result in confusion and some form of apathy in contrast to feeling pure sadness?
Even though I have experienced depression, I do think that depression can take a multitude of forms. My experience is just one experience, and may not be the ultimate truth. I just want to reinforce the importance of finding your truth, your path to freedom, and to just take on board what truly resonates with your heart.
My experience is that depression ranges from complete apathy to deep sadness/despair. So to answer your question, I would say “yes”. Either way, the common denominator seems to be suffering.
However, despite these so-called “feelings”, it is still not quite the same as fully experiencing an emotion. The analogy I used in my last entry was if that your suppressed emotions are rotting garbage, depression is simply the smell alerting you to them.
Subjectively, the depressive experience feels 2D, almost like a vacuum. As it is occurring because you are not feeling true emotions, what you are experiencing is something slightly different. It’s like a blackhole. I often felt like it was like white fire raging through my guts.
In contrast, emotions are embodied. They feel 3D. Even so-called “negative” emotions like hatred or grief have colour, shape and character. So the sadness you experience when depressed feels different from when you are completely embracing your sadness. The former is a painful vacuum, while the latter flows through your body. With my synesthesia, sadness also feels dark blue to me, whilst depression has no colour.
If someone has been subconsciously suppressing emotions and after doing it for quite some time (which comes with self-rejection of how you feel), how would it be possible to face and embrace said feelings and emotions buried deep?
Firstly, I want to congratulate you for even realising that you a suppressing. Realising this is the first step towards acceptance.
The answer to your question is: there are many ways!
1) Mindfulness and meditation
First and foremost, you need to get back into your body.
It is highly likely that if you are suppressing, you focus most of your consciousness in your head i.e. your thoughts. This is a coping mechanism you picked up at a very young age in order to avoid feeling “negative” emotions like grief or anger.
One interesting exercise is to draw how you feel in your body right now. Shockingly, when I did this I just drew one circle that represented my head. Although obviously I knew I had a body, subjectively I had completely lost touch with the rest of it. It had ceased to exist within my consciousness.
Body scan practice (a form of mindfulness) can slowly help shift the spotlight of your attention from your thoughts back into your body. Here is a helpful link to get you started. In learning how to become aware of your body again, you can increase your sensitivity to any emotions that may arise within it.
In general also, practice mindfulness. Gently, and compassionately, observe how emotions may arise and how you push them down. The importance is not to beat yourself up about it. Just notice. The key here is just to get to know your patterns and habits a bit better.
Finally, meditation — specifically, mindful breathing. If you clear your mind, you will notice that sometimes suppressed emotions will just come up on their own. Instead of fighting them, smile in your heart, smile with your whole being. No matter how tough the emotion, don’t take it too seriously. Be playful with it. Surround yourself and the emotion with love. Soon, you will start to be able to release emotions through the breath.
2) Let your body express itself
Personally, while mediation and mindfulness helped, one issue I started having was that I had the strong urge to move while emotions started bubbling up. If anger started rumbling from within I felt the urge stamp my feet, punch some pillows and scream.
My solution? I now just do it. At an appropriate time and place of course.
For me, having danced for many years, I found that movement medicine was right up my street. I discovered 5Rhythms® at a spiritual festival I went to two years ago. Essentially in these classes, you let your body move however you want for two hours, with the leader’s invitation to explore certain styles of expression, should you so wish. Allowing your body to freely communicate what you feel within is great, but seeing everyone around you shedding all of their layers too has its own magic. This practice has taught me so much about myself, how to relate with other people and so much more. I will put some links to a variety of movement meditation forms at the end of this entry. There are so many to choose from.
Dance not really up your alley? Don’t want to publically show your emotions? No worries – just do it in the privacy of your own home. I do this too. Allow yourself to laugh, cry and rage, and do it in a very embodied manner. Become a three-year-old having a tantrum if that’s what needs to be expressed. There is something to be said about returning to the way we used show emotions as kids, with no filters.
I do have one caveat though — make sure that you are still in control of your emotions, and that your emotions do not control you. Ultimately, this is the difference between your adult self, and your three-year-old self. It took me a good few years to get the hang of this. Letting your emotions flow is a great thing, but if you identify with them you can get lost in them. Trust me, this isn’t pretty. You want to be in a state of expanded awareness, as opposed to having narrow focus on only the emotion. The key is to let go while still being centred, knowing that you are simply awareness, and are not the emotion itself.
3) Emotional Freedom Technique
Another technique that has really helped me on my journey of self-acceptance is the Emotional Freedom Technique. It is a tapping technique that helps accept and release emotion. Here is a YouTube link to get you started.
4) Speak your truth
To some people, simply feeling their emotions is enough to release them. However, I find I need a little more support. If there is an emotion I can sort-of feel, but can’t quite embrace, and I then proceed to let go and say out loud anything that comes to mind. I usually do this in a safe space, like in my room or in the bath when I’m alone.
I also have a notebook that I exclusively use to release feelings. When I feel the pangs of depression coming up, I know I’m suppressing and not allowing life to flow through me. So I get out my notebook and start writing what I feel. The notebook technique helps because you can do it anywhere, even in a crowded train.
For example I may write:
“I feel angry at Sally, and that’s ok”
“I feel scared about taking that risk, and that’s ok”
Some key points I want to emphasise here are:
1) To always write “I FEEL”, and not “I am”. The former emphasises that at you are simply having an experience, like anger, and that your core being is simply awareness. The latter is identification with the emotion, which is something we want to evolve away from.
2) Be completely honest with whatever comes through, and to add “that’s ok” to re-emphasize that. Remember, even if they are very dark emotions, you have to love and accept them. Feelings are just feelings, they are not You.
5) Understand that you have multiple personalities
As you start your journey to observe what is going on within, you will soon get to know the multiple personalities that exist within yourself. Your nurturing personality, your artistic personality, your business personality, and so forth. You also have within you personalities from your past, ranging from your infant self, your childhood self, your teenage self, to your adult self.
Now, things can get a bit tricky when several of these characters come up at the same time, especially when they are in conflict with each other.
For example, let’s say that my friend and I have an argument. At this moment, the “mature”, mediator personality may calmly whisper, “look, your friend also has a point”. At the same time however, our inner teenager will also rip through wanting to yell out a bunch of expletives. When this happens, the mature personality may take over, shoving the teenager into the dark depths of our unconscious (not with everyone though, some people definitely choose to do the opposite!!).
This is understandable, as to give the aggressive teenager the mic may not be the best decision. But suppression equally isn’t the answer. Remember, to accept your emotion doesn’t necessarily mean you act on them. As explained earlier, feeling your emotions doesn’t mean being controlled by them. The eventual goal is to feel, accept and release all emotions that come up, from all of your personalities, but to also calmly pick what action you are going to take next (note: this could mean letting the teenager express itself, but if you choose to do so, it will come from a place of deeper knowing rather than impulse).
To accept contradictory, conflicting emotions that come up is definitely the skill of a master. Meanwhile, for the rest of us mortals who aren’t the Dalai Lama, what we can do is to find a safe space and express what the other personalities have to say later. You can do this out loud, through writing — anything that works for you is fine. No matter how ludicrious or immature the other persona may sound, don’t judge, just observe and let it speak. Swear away if you have to. After all, it still is a part of you.
Re-embracing your emotions takes daily practice. Although a few years have passed since I had the realisation that I was suppressing my emotions, I’m still learning to embrace them. Even when you do start to get the hang of it, once you’ve released a set of emotions, you’ll find that more come bubbling up to be expressed. It’s like a never-ending train. Don’t let this put you off. Think about all the years you’ve suppressed your emotions. That is a whole load of build up. It’s only natural that we have a lot of healing to do, so welcome the challenge with compassion.
Eventually the goal is to clear what is left within, and to be in a place where even if emotions come up, we simply observe and let them go. As I wrote in my last entry, the opposite of depression is the ability to freely experience your emotions.
Finally, I have written here my techniques of embracing and releasing emotions, but again I want to emphasize that these are things that work personally for me. What works for you may be different. For example, I read recently of a lady who found drumming to be the perfect medium to express her pain. Art and music are also popular choices. The key is to find your voice, and to speak your truth. And don’t forget to do it all with love, as it truly is the key to growth and transformation.
Special thanks to BR whose questions inspired this post.
Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith
Types of Movement Meditation