Releasing emotions stored in the body
You’ve gone through a lot – and now it’s time now it’s time for releasing emotions stored in the body – but how do you do that?
First of all, let’s check that what you’re dealing with is, in fact, emotions stored in your body.
Signs and symptoms of emotions stored in the body
How do you know if you’ve got emotions stored in your body? Here are some of the most common signs:
- Chronic tension
- Joint and other pains with no known physical or medical cause
- You can’t cry
- Over-reacting to small mishaps
- Inability to be intimate
- Dissociative states
- Feeling ‘frozen’
And, of course, the most obvious indicator that you have emotions stuck in your body: you’re alive 🙃
The nature of being human is that you’re going to have some amount of unprocessed emotion in your body somewhere. Even people who’ve broken through to enlightened states find they have trauma – stored emotion – to process.
Some of us have more emotions stored in the body than others, and it builds up to the point where it causes physical aches, pains and illnesses, relationship difficulties, and mental health issues.
When you’ve been through difficult childhood experiences that have led to insecure attachment and/or cPTSD, you’re likely to have a lot of emotions stored in the body. Technically, this is what we call trauma.
As Dr Gabor Mate puts it, “trauma is not what happens to a person, but what happens within them” as a result of what happened.
Why do emotions get stored in the body?
Emotions are supposed to arise, deliver their message to you (basically: I like it, I don’t like it, and variations on a theme of these), pass through, and fade away.
What happens for many of us instead, is that emotions arise, we interrupt their passage by whatever survival and coping strategies we’ve developed, and we squirrel the emotions away in the body somewhere.
Typically as kids, when we learn that our emotions – or not all of them – are welcome, we come up with ways to hide them. We don’t get properly co-regulated by our adults, so we don’t properly learn to self-regulate.
The adults around us don’t model emotional processing, so we don’t pick up on how to do it for ourselves. We’re left on our own with our feelings, so they either get absorbed into our bodies, projected out onto other people, or both.
If you’re atypically-brained: Highly Sensitive, Gifted, Empath, or Neurodivergent, you’re more likely to have stuck emotions and responses in your body. Why? There are three interconnected reasons for this:
First, your experience of the world itself is more intense than regular people experience. There may not be time for you to process everything you experience and your responses to it. Whatever’s left unprocessed stays with you, more or less, and the emotional parts will be held or stuck in your body until they get a chance to release.
Second, your atypical experience of the world is not validated by regular people – and this lack of validation triggers various emotions that – you guess it – get squirrelled away too. In fact, at times it goes further: people invalidate your experience, and that invalidation is painful and/or traumatising (getting emotions stuck) too.
Finally, being an atypical person itself puts a certain friction into your daily experience, adding up thousands of minor and major aggravations that lodge in your system as trauma.
Now you’re pretty confident you have emotions stored in your body – how do you go about releasing them?
How to release emotions stored in the body
When you’re ready to get started on releasing emotions stored in the body, here’s how you do it.
In essence, releasing emotions stored in the body is a do-over of what would have happened had you been able to process the emotions at the time they were triggered.
You allow them to arise, get acknowledged, flow through, and ebb away.
1. Find Or Create Safety & Stability
Safety includes keeping yourself and the people around you safe: physically, emotionally/psychologically, mentally.
If you’re in an actively abusive or highly stressful situation, you’re likely to be in survival mode and not have the inner sense of safety that allows you to feel your feelings. Do what you can to get yourself to a safer situation.
Stability means your life is generally stable enough that you can dedicate some time and space to doing this. Whether a few minutes here and there, an hour or two, or perhaps longer, depending on what’s going on for you and how much time and resources you can free up for this.
2. Come Into Contact With The Emotions
Your emotions are stored in your body. To find and release them, you need to be in contact with your body (instead of away with the fairies or lost in daydreams, worries, or solving complex problems in your head).
Get into your body: do a body scan meditation (there’s one in my Free Grounding Course) and ask your body to show you which areas are storing emotions that are ready to release.
Know what it’s about? Prompt yourself with photos, memories, music then tune into your body and see what’s there.
No idea what it’s about? Music is a great opener – put on the tunes you feel drawn to. If you have a go-to piece of music that always moves you and releases your emotions, put it on repeat and have a good listen.
Similarly, read the books that call you. Watch the movies that echo your recent or previous experiences. Deliberately – gently – allow things to come to mind – then be curious about what turns up and explore your body’s response to it.
3. Allow Your Emotions To Pass Through And Release
Emotions, when moving healthily through your system, go through the same kind of cycle each time.
Something happens -> emotions happen -> emotions deliver their messages to you (yes, no, and variations on a theme of these) -> you act (or not, when appropriate), taking your emotions into account -> the emotions fade and you resume your ‘normal’ state, whatever that looks like and feels like for you.
Your emotions will rise, flow, and ebb away – provided you don’t (un)consciously interrupt them. Think of them as tides, waves, or bubbles passing through your system. There’s a natural progression they like to follow.
Your job, such as it is, is to allow them to pass through. In some cases, your job is also to listen to the messages your emotions bring.
If/when they get stuck, you might need to gently search for the way forward – perhaps there’s another emotion hot on the tails of this one. This gets easier with experience – or when you get support from and ultimately acquire your own expertise from someone who’s experienced in doing this and/or or supporting people in doing this.
Each time you allow stored emotions to release from your body, there’ll most likely be a period of integration afterwards. You may feel a bit spent, to be honest. Emotions, especially strong ones, take a lot of energy to allow them to pass through – especially if you’ve been storing them up for a long time.
On the flip side, once you release emotions, you’re no longer expending energy a) holding them in and b) shielding yourself from them, so there’s a net gain in energy after going through release and integration processes.
You might find that after a release of sadness and grief, you find peace, calm, even joy.
You know it’s properly released when the charge has gone – when you think back on that memory, it feels different, more diffuse, more in the past.
While you can do a lot of this by yourself, working with an experienced support professional can help enormously, not least because they have a map and navigational aids for the territory you’re trying to cross.
Find a counsellor, psychotherapist or bodywork practitioner (massage, cranio-sacral…), or someone like myself who combines all of these modalities with mirror-empathy and working directly with your energy and emotions.
For Neurodivergent, Highly Sensitive, and Empath Neurotypes
Highly sensitive, gifted, autistic and ADHD people frequently have much higher energy sensitivity than other neurotypes. This means it’s super easy to connect energetically – but that comes with a bewildering range of effects that aren’t all that often talked about or well understood.
As you may already know, your emotional experience may merge with other people’s. You pick up their emotions and interpret them as your own – this is often known as having empath traits.
This can happen with people who are close to you – partners, children, parents, close friends. You naturally pick up on and transfer emotions and energies between you.
It’s also true with people who are a similar neurotype to you. Put simply, metaphorically-ish, they’re on a frequency very close to your own, so it’s super easy for their emotions to get picked up on your radar.
It’s particularly true for you if you weren’t shown how to cultivate proper boundaries as a child, as your parent(s) may have blobbed their emotional difficulties onto you. As a coping and safety mechanism, you learned to take on other people’s emotions – but now as an adult that doesn’t work well or healthily for you any more. Read more about reparenting your inner child.
When people talk about being an empath, typically it’s someone who has poorly-defined, porous emotional boundaries, most often a result of their relationships with their parent(s) when they were children.
When you’re processing emotions, it’s important to cultivate the art of discerning which emotions are yours, and which are coming from other people.
Beyond that basic recognition of whose emotions are whose, there are simple, practical steps you can take to reduce the level of interference other people’s emotions and energies cause you. This is something I work on with clients in 1:1 consultations, finding the ways that best suit them to protect from incoming energies and emotions, without draining their batteries unnecessarily.
1. Do Nothing
I always put this in as an option. You always have the option to not do anything directly about it. But on some level, reading this article – and others on my site – will create ripples. In your mind, in your emotions, in your energy. Every time you learn something new, you change. Passive change, active change, it happens.
2. Do It Yourself
Follow the ideas in this article to tap into your stored emotions and let them flow through.
Figure out the ways that help you the most effectively – and comfortably – to access your stuck feelings, tenderly hold space for them, and give them what they need to release from your body.
3. Do It With Someone
As I mentioned above, while you can do much of this by yourself, working with an experienced support professional helps enormously, not least because they have a map and navigational aids for the territory you’re trying to cross.
You can take a few short-cuts and get support in figuring out what suits you best in this process by working with a counsellor, psychotherapist or bodywork practitioner (massage, cranio-sacral…), or someone like myself who combines all of these modalities with mirror-empathy and working directly with your energy and emotions. See your options for 1:1 consultations with me here.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.
Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, neurodiversity training, mentoring & coaching for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.
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