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New Program Day 16: Emotional Repression

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 16: Emotional Repression

    On Day 2 of the program, we discussed that our brains can’t perfectly distinguish between a physical threat and a psychological threat. One of the goals for recovery is to teach our brains that the psychological stressors that it learned to fear are not actually dangerous.

    There are many things our brains can interpret as psychologically dangerous, but today we’re going to focus on emotions.

    Emotions aren’t inherently dangerous, but if you grew up in an environment where it wasn’t okay to feel certain feelings, you may have learned that these emotions aren'’t safe. This means that later in life, if a threatening emotions arises, your danger signals are activated, and you can feel pain.

    One way to break this pattern is to teach your brain that the emotions it believes are dangerous…are actually safe.

    The Learning Brain

    A few years ago, a friend of mine got a rescue dog named Rocky. Having been treated poorly the first few years of his life, Rocky was a bundle of nerves. Whenever there was a knock at the door, Rocky would cower behind the couch. He had learned that people = danger. But every time visitors would come over, they’d treat him wonderfully. And day by day, he came to develop a new understanding: people = safe.

    No matter what we learned growing up, with enough corrective experiences, our brains can develop a new understanding. The way to teach our brains that scary emotions are actually safe is to simply experience the emotions over and over in a safe way.


    In order to experience our emotions in a safe way, we need to feel them first. But there’s a barrier: when scary emotions arise, our brains generate protective defense mechanisms – kind of like psychological shields.

    As an example of how defense mechanisms work, imagine that you’re going out on a blind date. You agreed to meet at 7 PM at a restaurant across town. 7 PM comes and goes.

    “She’s probably stuck in traffic,” you think.

    Then it hits 7:30, and you’re awkwardly fidgeting with your phone.

    “Maybe she had to work late,” you reason.

    Now it’s 8 PM, and the waiters start taking bets on how long you’re going to stay.

    Finally, you get a text from her: “Omg, I’m so sorry, totally lost track of time…reschedule?”

    You think to yourself, “She’s really busy, it could happen to anyone.”

    This is the defense mechanism of rationalization – your mind conjures up a way to justify her behavior. You never even feel the anger that is likely bubbling under the surface.

    Our brains have a lot of defense mechanisms: denial, dissociation, projection, etc. And defense mechanisms are unconscious, which means we’re not even aware that we’re using them. This can pose a challenge, since it’s hard to overcome what we can’t see.

    One of the benefits of working with a therapist is that they’re able to point out defense mechanisms that we might not otherwise be aware of. This can help increase our ability to access certain emotions.


    Getting Beneath the Surface

    You may be thinking, “If my defense mechanisms are protecting me from repressed emotions, and I can’t see my defense mechanisms, how am I ever supposed feel these emotions?’

    Well, there’s a loophole.

    Defense mechanisms don’t protect us from emotions directly, they protect us from the anxiety that comes up in response to the emotions. So to help get to these emotions, we just need to regulate our anxiety.

    And what’s the best way to regulate anxiety?


    See how it all comes together?

    When there’s an emotion that our brains think is dangerous, it increases our anxiety. By bringing our attention to that anxiety, it helps us get to the emotion underneath the surface.

    Attending to the physical sensations of your emotions in a safe way, over time, can have a cumulative effect. And like Rocky, the rescue dog that came into his own, your brain can learn: What was once dangerous is now safe.

    Feeling Your Emotions

    Psychologists have identified six universal emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise. It's important to feel our emotions, even the unpleasant ones. Like Winnie the Pooh said, "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

    Two emotions in particular that people have a tendency to repress are sadness and anger.


    In the following clip, Ginger is repressing sadness. Somewhere along the line, she’d gotten the message that sadness isn’t okay. You can hear the emotion in her voice, but defense mechanisms keep popping up:

    Click here to download the mp3 audio file

    By attending to the physical sensations in her body, Ginger was able to access the emotion, and even more impressively – she was able to stay with it. This corrective experience communicated to her brain: sadness is safe.


    In the following clip, John is repressing anger. He has a tendency to treat himself poorly, and as he talks about his “inner bully,” anger begins bubbling beneath the surface…and his anxiety shoots through the roof:

    Click here to download the mp3 audio file

    Despite his anxiety, John leaned in to the anger and felt it deeply. And when he did, his anxiety completely subsided. This corrective experience communicated to his brain: anger is safe.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day. One experience alone isn’t going to bring you from “emotions are dangerous” [​IMG] “emotions are safe.” But it’s a start. And with exposure and repetition, you can change your brain.

    Last edited: Aug 21, 2017
    Lotus, kim marie, Angel8 and 12 others like this.
  2. Carol Omans

    Carol Omans Peer Supporter

    Whenever there was a traumatic event in my life, I sort of went into a state of shock, completely denying the feelings. I find that I still do this. I'm like a deer in the headlights and it can take days to uncover the feelings if I ever do uncover them. Any suggestions? I know this is a defense mechanism and I know it's how I've learned to deal with uncomfortable events. It's a bad habit that's hard to break.
    I guess just knowing about it is a step in the right direction. Thanks Forest. Thanks Alan!
    This forum is great.
  3. joe12stories

    joe12stories Peer Supporter

    Wow! The first audio clip hit me hard (in the good way). "No because". I really needed to hear this, being the over-analyzer myself. I love how the key for Ginger to let go was her realization that she had to stop thinking. I could learn a lot from that. Feel. Don't think.

    And thank you John (second audio) for opening up too! I too think about other's opinions
    whether I admit it or not, and for what it's worth, in my opinion, you got guts for sharing, and I admire you for it. And yes, Alan. It's an "Incredible Hulk" fear. But we have to remind ourselves it's not about becoming the Hulk or smashing anyone's face in. It's about being okay with feeling like you want to do that. If you really let yourself feel it and that it's okay to feel it, the magic happens: the rage subsides.

    Thank you for this important lesson!
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2017
  4. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    DonnaH, AMarie, kim marie and 8 others like this.
  5. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

  6. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    Thanks for adding that link.

    I will definitely listen to all those as I find audio the perfect medium as I could listen to it whilst I walk, and that let's me REALLY focus on it.

    Maybe after this wonderful 21-day course you could do some more webinar/podcasts with Alan. It would really help expand on all of these excellent points he has raised. This would be AWESOME Forest! Please :)
    kim marie, suky and UnknownStuntman like this.
  7. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

  8. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    What movie is the excerpt from?
    kim marie and Janey like this.
  9. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    Somatic tracking helps me discover my emotions. I cannot name the emotion as I do this. I do feel sensations and can describe them. Do I have to learn to actually name the emotion? If I have anxiety which is mostly constant, are the two emotions either anger or sadness?
  10. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    I too feel this way- it is the fight or flight or freeze mode- And in a lot of situations, my fear causes me to freeze and then yes, it is almost impossible to feel in a freeze state. I agree. I havent been able to do it, but I think we are supposed to catch ourselves before or right after it happens and begin to feel into our body at that point. It is hard for me to even remember to feel into my body when im experiencing emotions I guess because I never have, I just automatically do what I have always done, so I think remembering to practice will help retrain our brain to do it in safe settings and then hopefully, when we feel anxiety and emotions it will be like a habit and we are more apt to do it instead of freeze or flight or fight
    kim marie and Hayley like this.
  11. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    I plum , the movie is called Inside out- i believe. I remember when it first came out thinking - I need to watch that
    kim marie, Janey and plum like this.
  12. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    Thank you so much Alan and Forest- I can definitely relate to both of these audios. I get caught up in the anxiety of feeling. I have tried for years to just let myself feel into my body and see what I am feeling and to not explain or analyze why I may be sad or angry. Yes, the key is what Ginger said to not think, just to feel- very hard to remember to do this. It resonated with me when Alan said that John learned that his feelings werent as important as ....... from his mother. In the past few years, I have certainly seen that I have to put other people's need before my own or I am not comfortable and feel guilty and this allows for others around me to enjoy their life, except for me lol. I recently noticed that my mom had been making all these unwritten family rules but none apply to her only to me - it has just taken me 53 years to realize it. And that does Anger me. When I noticed it, I become really angry towards my mom and the anger was really strong that it did terrify me- so allowing anger and not worrying that nothing terrible will happen as a result is very difficult but very needed. I love the excerpt of the movie- I always thought that I should see that movie and now I may just take it out of the library lol
    Lainey and Forest like this.
  13. Alex1991

    Alex1991 New Member

    Could there be stuck emotions?
    What if there was that seperation that everytime i think of it and let my emotions "drive me into it" i cry..
    But its been like 6-7 month from than already.. I mean i can surely cry about it and i do from time to time.
    Why isn't my brain feeling safe yet? Or is it possoble that i have some kind of stuck emotion in my body? (Sadness) and how do i let it go?
  14. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Hi Carol, defense mechanisms are there for a reason, they help protect us from feelings that can overwhelm us. It's important to move slowly, gradually increasing your ability to attend to your emotions. A good therapist might be able to help you in this process.
    It's okay if you can't name the emotion, simply feeling it allows our bodies to become accustomed to it in a safe way.

    There's no agreement between social scientists as to how many emotions there are. In addition to anger and sadness, most agree that joy, guilt, disgust, and surprise also fall under the category of emotions.

    CarolAnnie and plum like this.
  15. Carol Omans

    Carol Omans Peer Supporter

    Thank you Alan. I am currently working with a therapist who is a practioner of Byron Katie's THE WORK. I'm hoping and have faith that this will help. Thank you for having this forum. It's fantastic!
    shira likes this.
  16. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Alan, I want to make sure I understand this properly. How does somatic tracking relate to finding unconscious emotions? Is it that we are constantly doing somatic tracking for a long enough period that we simply become less anxious people? Then, when something comes up that we would repress, we recognize and soothe the anxiety as a matter of course by somatic tracking. As a result, the defense mechanism isn't triggered because we simply aren't anxious? If this is true, we never actually find out what we were repressing - we just stop repressing it because we aren't as anxious.
    Penny2007 and Ellen like this.
  17. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Think of it this way, let's say you drop your keys in the snow. You can't find them because they're buried. But what if you had a giant heat lamp at your disposal...you could melt the snow, and there are your keys.

    Somatic tracking is like the heat lamp of your body, and your anxiety is the snow that's keeping your emotions buried. As you attend to your sensations, you're able to regulate your anxiety, and you can get to the emotions underneath.

    By the way, it hasn't snowed in Los Angeles since 1987 so I really had to reach for that analogy.
    Katya, Ren, WIRM and 12 others like this.
  18. James59

    James59 Well known member

    John's clip hit home, and I was feeling the anger right along with him. My wife often sends me subtle, and sometimes explicit, messages that expressing anger is inappropriate or uncivilized. I don't know how to deal with that because I have to live in peace with her somehow. It certainly doesn't help that constant pain, limited range of motion, and the accompanying frustration make expressions of anger inevitable. I feel anxious right now just thinking about it. Somatic tracking engaged....
    JuliaJulia and plum like this.
  19. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    I was just wondering why journaling is such a big part of many mind body programs but not this one so far. I have done some journaling and learned about myself and expressed feelings but didn't ditch the pain. The somatic tracking seems to access the sensations a lot more. What is the rationale on journaling vs. what we are learning now? Just curious.
    Penny2007 likes this.
  20. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    I, too, could relate to that anger. Expressing anger to a spouse can be difficult. Sometimes I write the anger down and rip it to shreds. I do believe that over time with somatic tracking we can take care of ourselves and then not get quite so angry with our loved ones who can't understand TMS. I actually have come to see that all my family has anxiety/anger. It is just expressed in different ways. This helps my patience levels.

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