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Alex B. How do I feel emotions without reacting to them?

Discussion in 'Ask a TMS Therapist' started by Guest, May 3, 2015.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    This question was submitted via our Ask a TMS Therapist program. To submit your question, click here.


    It is often mentioned that you have to feel your emotions, but not react to them. I really struggle with this concept.
    How do you "not react", without repressing/ignoring the emotions?

  2. Alex Bloom LCSW

    Alex Bloom LCSW TMS Therapist

    Hi, thanks for the question.

    I get this question often. It's very easy for people to conflate feeling an emotion with the discharge that can often accompany strong emotions. In other words, feeling anger can't be separated from say punching a door or some other kind of acting out. In fact, the two are distinct. You can experience an emotion fully without having to act out the impulse.

    It's important to understand that acting out the impulse, or discharge, is not actually a response to anger but rather a response to anxiety. An interaction will give rise to anger, which in turn will generate anxiety (anger being unacceptable and uncomfortable hence the repression). When this anxiety reaches critical mass, the only way your mind can get rid of it is to discharge. What happens after you smash a plate or punch a hole in a wall? Almost instantly the anger and anxiety dissipates. So in a way this discharge accomplishes it's goal, but at a very high price. Furthermore, this process reinforces the fear of anger, as you further associate the feeling with the negative consequences of discharge.

    Our goal is to help you get in touch with and tolerate the feeling so that it doesn't have the capacity to generate so much anxiety. You can do this by accurately identifying the feeling ("When she said that I felt anger towards her"), identifying how you experience it in your body ("I feel heat/energy/explosivity" etc. people ask me all the time what anger feels like, and it can be any of these and more. We all have the capacity to feel anger, we know it from birth. We learn how to send it away) and finally by getting in touch with what the impulse would drive you towards. Perhaps it's something like "punch her in the face". We want to identify that if it's there, understanding that you don't need to go do it, but that you feel it, and that it's ok for you to feel it.

    Any advice or information provided here does not and is not intended to be and should not be taken to constitute specific professional or psychological advice given to any group or individual. This general advice is provided with the guidance that any person who believes that they may be suffering from any medical, psychological, or mindbody condition should seek professional advice from a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions. No general advice provided here should be taken to replace or in any way contradict advice provided by a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions.

    The general advice and information provided in this format is for informational purposes only and cannot serve as a way to screen for, identify, or diagnose depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions. If you feel you may be suffering from any of these conditions please contact a licensed mental health practitioner for an in-person consultation.

    Questions may be edited for brevity and/or readability.

    Katy Elise, nightfury, Durga and 2 others like this.
  3. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    About feeling an emotion but not reacting to it...I like Alex Broom's explanation, but have found it hard
    if not impossible to not react to a strong negative emotion.

    I have found great relief in the past from feeling angry or frustrating by hitting or breaking something.
    Nothing valuable or that I would miss.
    It's physical, not psychological, and it has worked for me and I'm 84 years old.

    When I worked in an office and was frustrated about something, I closed the door to my little room and took out
    a new pencil and broke it in two. The relief was instant and felt great. If you work in an office or anywhere and don't have privacy,
    take a pencil into the bathroom and break it there.

    In my house, I sometimes made a fist and bashed it against a wall. Instant relief from anger or frustration.
    Or I hit my old stove. Same results. What did a few dents in the stove matter? I released pressure from my head
    that was like letting the steam out of a pressure cooker.

    Another way I deal with reacting to a negative emotion is to laugh. I just posted about the benefits of laughing, but here they are again:

    Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.

    With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.

    Laughter is good for your health
    • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
    • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
    • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
    • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
    To each his own, huh?
  4. Emilsen

    Emilsen New Member

    When I first learned about TMS six years ago, I had success in eliminating my fibromyalgia symptoms. Two years ago my pelvic pain began. I tried "my old routine" with journaling, and reread Sarno, but without improvement. Since there's much anxiety associated with my symptoms, I also tried to combine this with Claire Weekes method.

    I have now for some time attempted to "sit with my emotions," as Monte Hueftle have described.

    My specific experience is, that I get overwhelmed by a physically very intense feeling. A sort of deep inner pain: crushing sensation in the stomach, agitation, restlessness, chest tightness, numbness in arms and legs, a feeling of being paralyzed etc. It is extremely uncomfortably. No matter how long I endure it, the feeling doesn't decrease. I will eventually have to stop and get up. After every time, I experience a worsening of my pain, as well as new and bizarre symptoms.

    I'm thinking, that I must do something wrong, or that I have missed something.

    When I feel pain, my initial reaction is anxiety. Therefore, I been trying to feel my pain without reacting emotionally to it, and sometimes I succeed.

    Is it possible, that I am reacting the same way, when I attempt to feel my emotions. So that what i am experiencing isn't in fact my emotions, but pure anxiety? It's very confusing.

    If some have had similar experiences, I would be grateful for advice.

    Greetings from Denmark
  5. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi All,

    I love Alex's putting a magnifying glass on what actually happens when we feel a difficult emotion. That there is anxiety layered on, over the emotion. I tend to use my understanding of the Superego when it comes to emotions!

    We can be aware of the Superego as the Inner Critic with an attack. We can recognize this. More subtly, the Superego also causes anxiety, as we fear the attacks. All of this is down deep as feelings begin to emerge. Obviously this fear/anxiety around the lurking presence of the Superego will increase with difficult emotions, because the Superego is activated to prevent us from feeling. So acknowledging the element of anxiety in our emotions is key. And then discerning this layer from the actual emotions.

    I think that you are doing a powerful practice to simply sit with the emotional/energetic experience. To me this is developing a strong muscle of awareness in you.

    I don't know what kind of support you are getting like coaching or counseling, but this may be needed. It is very hard to sit alone in this fire without support. Often the support helps us separate the experience into more distinct pieces, which are more understandable and workable, as Alex suggests. As a whole, the energy tends to cloud itself so that we get confused. We are not only feeling, but we are reacting to the difficult emotions. Good luck in this endeavor!!

    Andy B.
    Durga likes this.
  6. Durga

    Durga Peer Supporter

    Thank you! This is explained so good!
    Recognizing the inner bully when emotions rise up has helped me a lot!
  7. Balsa11

    Balsa11 Well known member

    Having long deep conversations with friends.

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