When things go wrong in our lives, our tendency is to try to move on as quickly as possible. We will, more often than not, lie to ourselves, claiming “we’re over it”. So if we’re over it, why is it that our bodies still feel so bad? Why the sinking feeling in our stomachs, the tightness in our throats, the heaviness in our chests?
The truth is, we will never “get over it” simply talking about how we “feel”. If we’re going to get over it, we must have resolution, and resolution can only be achieved if we are willing to feel emotions.
Conflicts, frustrations, dejection, loss, heartache, we have all experienced these. There is no real relief in simply moving on; our minds tell us we’re fine, when our bodies are quite clearly feeling to the contrary. If the mind wins, the body will bury the upsetting emotions, and in doing so, the body and the mind will both suffer.
An inability to feel resolve, is always an indication of a mind and body at odds with one another. The mind wants to be done with it, but the body knows the truth. The degree to which our minds and bodies are in harmony, plays a major role in our mental and physical health.
In order to maintain optimum mental and physical health, all of our major crises and minor conflicts require resolution. We need to feel our pure emotions, our fears, our anger, our sadness. Staying stuck in “feelings” like resentment, guilt, frustration, and despair, will only keep the mind and body in pain. Resolution can only be achieved by bringing the mind and the body back into harmony, and doing so requires 2 steps. (1) First, we must process the real “emotions” that we experienced from having gone through whatever we went through; and (2) secondly, we must have validation for those emotions in the form of empathy from another human being. We must have someone who can absolutely connect to what we are feeling, who is familiar with and not afraid to feel the uncomfortable emotions with us. We need someone who can bear witness to our fear and anger, and provide the relief, comfort and love we need in order to resolve. These are the two stages of true healing. Then and only then can we truly declare, “We are over it!”.
There is a difference between a ‘feeling’ and an emotion, and it is important to distinguish one from the other. When we can’t work out any conflict, whether it be a conflict within our own minds, or a conflict with another, the reason is, we can’t access real emotions. Emotions bring clarity; they are the means by which our minds and our bodies can be as one.
Our emotions give us the power to resolve the conflicts between mind and body and in doing so bring us back a harmony within ourselves, and then with others and ultimately to the world at large. Real emotions move through our bodies and are the means by which we intellectually process the good and the bad experiences of life. Naturally, we are more than willing to feel the emotions associated with the positive events that life brings. Unfortunately in order to be healthy, we need to feel both the good and the bad.
Our emotions are not a superfluous part of our existence, they are a vital means, through which, we are able to navigate all of life’s challenges. The problem is, everything we feel is not an emotion. When we talk about how we feel we are often using our logical minds to explain the sensations. We are often inflicting upon ourselves what we think we ought to be feeling given the circumstances. The neurobiologist, Antonio Damasio, distinguishes a feeling from an emotion in his book “Self Comes To Mind”, when he notes, “…feelings of emotion are primarily perceptions of our body state during a state of emotion.” In other words, ‘feelings’ are perceived, whereas ‘emotions’ are experienced. Feelings are perceptions of what is happening in situations that have evoked emotion. If we are perceiving, we are drawing conclusions and deciding how we are. Damasio cites pertinent brain research, that proves the existence of a reactionary, time lapse, as we go from experiencing an emotion to having a feeling. The time frame, …”from the moment stimuli were processed, (the emotion) to the moment the subjects first reported ‘feelings’, is about half a second.” Quite a substantial amount of time when one considers that a brain neuron can fire in about five milliseconds. Neurons are the brain cells that transmit information. Emotions happen in our bodies within the exact instant in which a situation is occurring. Feelings lead to, and require words, but emotions happen in the now. Feelings require the use of our intellectual brain. Emotions preclude explanation. If we take into account everything Damasio is saying, we can conclude that, once we explain an emotion, it no longer qualifies as an emotion. After any upsetting moment in life, if we haven’t actually felt an emotion like anger or sadness, and received some kind of real empathy, we will move on without resolution leaving our minds to struggle and our bodies to suffer. The human body can of course get used to any state of being, but at what cost?
The struggle between mind and body is the reason why we experience uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, depression, jealousy, resentment. These feelings are signs of our internal conflicts. Internal conflicts cause negative thoughts because of a confusion within ourselves that creates frustration, resentment, hate, and despair. Emotions give relief and create positive thinking because they offer understanding and connection to ourselves and to others. Pure anger helps us connect and know love. If I don’t have the capacity to feel anger, a protective, boundary enforcing emotion, then I can’t get close enough to you to experience real love. Frustration and resentment are “feelings” that look like anger from the outside, but they always end up pushing people away. Human beings can never find positive connection through non-emotions such as bitterness or dejection, but we were designed to, and can, connect through our anger and our sadness. Emotions are primitive, and are based on our common vulnerability as a species, they are based in survival. Defensive feelings are born out of a denial of our vulnerable self; they promote isolation and hinder community.
In order for any kind of therapy to be effective, it must take us beyond talking about our “feelings”. Healing can only happen by accessing and processing real emotions. The latest neuroscience is exploring the relationship between what our bodies feel and what our brains understand, and science is proving that this relationship plays a crucial role in our health. The more we understand about the nature of the mind/body relationship, the more we can devise therapies that are actually effective in healing us holistically. One thing science has confirmed is that our emotions act as messengers between the body and the mind, therefore, if for any reason we are unable to access our emotions, the mind/body relationship suffers, and so too do we. Here are some basic facts about how our emotions keep our mind and body healthy:
Emotions keep our minds healthy
because they supply our brains with the truthful information we need in order to make sense of our lives.
Emotions keep our bodies healthy
because we feel them in our bodies, and when we can’t access them, our bodies become tense. Tension means stress, and stress causes illness.
We must find out where in the past we were forced to come to conclusions about ourselves and our life without drawing the information from our emotions. Once we process the emotions that were buried, we can calm our minds and set our world right. The body is a healing machine, filled with inherent, natural healing processes. It is the ways in which we are stuck, that hinder its ability to heal itself. Nature has given us the means and the tools to heal everything. Our emotions play a major role in helping us heal and stay healthy because they have real power to restore peace to our bodies and our minds.