Some people struggle feeling “incomplete.” They haven’t felt like themselves in a long time. They feel not fully present in the world. Rather stuck in a real-life movie and watching everyone just pass them by.
Next, people who struggle with this “separatedness” feeling might suddenly feel flooded with sadness, anger, or panic at random times. It might come on as they are about to sleep, after receiving a slightly insensitive remark, or even when they are in the middle of having a grand time with beloved friends.
If you are struggling with what was described above, it is possible you are dealing with emotional blocks. Emotional Block is not the most clinical term in the book. More of a street name for a byproduct of dissociation— a well-researched clinical concept of being mentally fragmented after a tragic or traumatic event. Fragmented means people cannot seem to feel their full scale of emotions, and their personalities are stuck in a few mind sets. Like an old transmission stuck in first gear.
Some people think they will not feel whole, balanced, or fully present until they are unequivocally happy again. It is actually the opposite. People feel like their most whole selves when they fully experience every emotions. The sad ones too.
When humans struggle with pain, a lot of times we bury it. Hardly need your doctorate in psychology to know that. You probably just needed a few snobby kids to tell you how unwanted you were in the fourth grade.
Perhaps you learned to bury pain as a child when your mom irrationally exploded on you for the 18th time that day or after someone abused you in secret. The spectrum of trauma keeps going. Past abandonment. Past terrorism. To hell on earth itself. But the pattern of “burying” or “fragmenting” is fairly universal.
If we bring out our Internal Family Systems (IFS) lens and bring to focus, “burying it” looks like burying a part of you. The part holding the pain. IFS calls it the exiled part of you. Long ago, you took the pain, handed it to one resilient part of you, and set them off to sea. Never to deal with again. You fragmented. Unfortunately, you did not realize that the pain-bearing lifeboat was hitched to you. It just had a really long rope. But ropes and emotional resilience have limits. You might have reached yours. If that pain-bearing part of you is drowning, you are going to get dragged down too. Severe fragmentation is mostly found in those who have experienced significant trauma, particularly childhood sexual abuse.
So how do we mend this fragmentation and break through our emotional blocks? The process may include:
1. Recognizing the painful event
2. Mentally re-experiencing it in a safe space and let yourself as a whole (past self and present self) feel the pain again
3. Release the pain, allowing blocked emotion flow out of you like it was supposed to years ago
Super Important Ethical Disclaimer: Steps #2 and #3 require a detailed therapeutic process that is better done with a mental health professional. People can get re-traumatized unless the process is done just right. After working with a therapist for a while, you will probably learn to do it yourself.
However, I can help you start step #1 on your own and understand what a therapist could help you with in steps #2 and #3.
Step #1. Recognition
Recognition, as they say, is the classic first step. I am confident, my introspective readers, that you can do it. After all, only you can truly know if you have an emotional block. Here is a good DIY way to check.
What is shown above is a list of primary emotions that blesses and plagues the human race. Technically, unless you have experienced severe traumatic brain injury, suffered from developmental disorders, or are a cyborg–you actually experience all of these. Subconsciously or consciously.
Read the list and select one or two primary emotions you think you rarely or never experience. If you need help, look at the smaller words too. Jealousy. Lonely. Competitive. Trapped. Once you have selected one, we might be looking at an emotional block.
Statements like “I’m just not one of those people who get angry” make therapists’ antennas prop up for a second. They probably just do something pretentious like scribble something on their notebook for 2.4 seconds with a completely numb face. Let us peek into their notebook, shall we? It is about you after all.
After perusing the selection above, let us say you claimed, “I never feel overwhelmed.” It is likely the therapist wrote, “possibly feels like their demanding responsibilities do not allow them to be overwhelmed.” If you said, “I am never jealous, and I don’t even know what that would feel like.” The therapist’s notebook might read, “Maybe was not given something others had in childhood, and it is too painful to feel.”
A hop, skip and away to Step #2. Again, a mental health professional is best for all these steps, but I am pretty much ethically required to save for step #2 and 3 for a therapy appointment.
STEP #2 Re-experience
When I say re-experiencing the event, I am not talking about a heightened form of exposure therapy. You are not going to revisit someone who terrorized you in your past. Your therapist will probably have you sit comfortably on a couch and mentally re-imagine a difficult or traumatizing experience. In fact, if you struggle with emotional blocks or fragmentation, there is a good chance you already might be reliving the trauma without even wanting to.
For example, if you have been physically abused as a child, the primary feeling of fear followed particularly by a feeling of being overpowered will surface from time to time. It is a body memory running through you. Our fight-or-flight response teaches us to fight this feeling–pummel the abuse to the ground till you do not feel it. Remember, this is a memory of abuse not actual abuse. If you fight the feeling, you are actually fighting the part of you feeling the fear. Do not fight yourself. You have been abused enough already. Instead of pushing the bad feelings down, a therapist might teach you how to let them pass through you. A likely tool the therapist will introduce to you is called mindfulness. Mindfulness hands you back the control counter-intuitively by focusing your attention on the fearful and overwhelming feeling inside your body. But this time, you are going to be in charge of your body. No one else.
NOTE: Lots of people feel guilty engaging in this mindfulness technique if they already forgave the abuser. Got to “leave it in the past” and move on right? Right now, the past is intrusively inserting itself into your present. It is an unavoidable, physiological symptom of trauma–not of unforgiveness. A doctor is not condemning a perpetrator by doing follow-up appointments on the abused survivor. A judge can do the sentencing. The doctor is simply healing. So take yourself off of this judgement throne you think you are on and scrub in.
ANOTHER NOTE: In fact, you might find it easier to forgive the person after this healing process.
STEP #3 Release
Therapists use a variety of methods to help people release old toxic feelings they have repressed inside themselves. Honestly you will probably have to try a few yourself to determine what feels natural for you. Methods that help you let go of emotions include the Gestalt Empty Chair technique, the famous unsent letter, visualizations, and more.
However, a man named Jeff Foster described the phenomenon of reliving the experience and letting it slip away naturally in a particularly poetic way. He describes the well researched therapeutic technique of mindfulness as simply as he can below.
When you’re feeling sad, just feel sad.
Don’t try to ‘not feel sad’; you’ll only split yourself in two.
Don’t think about feeling sad.
Just feel sad.
Feel the raw sensations in the belly, heart, throat, head.
Let the sensations tingle, pulse, vibrate, shimmer.
Breathe into them, dignify them; soften around them.
(It’s just energy that wants to move in your body.)
Drop the word ‘sad’; simply connect with what’s alive.
Be the room for these sensations, their loving embrace.
Know that these sensations aren’t a mistake;
You’re not doing anything wrong.
You are alive. And sensitive. And not numb.
You have a right to feel sad!
To stand with sadness; be its loving parent, not its victim.
There is no shame in this. No failure.
So just feel sad, friend; your sadness is a portal
to love, and a tender embrace of this fragile world.
Jeff Foster, author of Life Without a Centre