The Key to Inner Balance
Emotions have energy that need releasing.
Posted Jul 27, 2020
Humans are living organisms. And, all living organisms need to stay in a balanced state of energy to thrive. At the most basic level, we need to produce and release energy so we don’t overheat or get so cold that we die. 98.6 degrees is our sweet spot. That fundamental process of energy and temperature management is called homeostasis. We consume food for energy to make our bodies run. Energy enables our hearts to beat, lungs to breathe, stomachs to digest, and muscles to move.
Because emotions prime us for movements, emotions and energy go hand in hand. Just think about when you are excited—lots of energy! Just think about when you’re depressed—no energy. Feeling emotionally well has everything to do with understanding and detecting energy in the body.
For inner equilibrium and harmony, we have to balance our use and expenditure of energy.
If a car gets too hot, it stops working well. The engine creates heat, and that heat must be released. That’s basically what it’s like when core emotions, the inborn, wired-in, programs that help us respond adaptively to the environment, are triggered in the brain. Core emotions evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to mobilize physical energy for adaptive movements, which we feel as impulses. For example, when we see a threatening object, we run to safety; when someone attacks us, we fight back; and when we hit a home run, we jump up and down with joy and excitement. Running, fighting, and jumping are all physical movements that require and burn energy. The energy released when we have core emotions needs to come up and out to maintain our homeostasis.
Unfortunately, most of us block our core emotions and thus their inherent energy gets stuck in the mind and body. How do we do this? With another category of emotions called inhibitory emotions. Our inhibitory emotions are anxiety, guilt, and shame. These emotions are great at pushing down (inhibiting) core emotions and are helpful to humans in small amounts at appropriate times. For example, if someone we know enrages us, we need guilt and shame to curb any impulses to hurt them.
Inhibitory emotions help civilize us. For example, when we are children and our parents scold us for not sharing our toys with friends, they “teach” us to feel guilt and shame for that social transgression. As a result, we learn to share. How? Because guilt and shame become wired to our selfish need to covet all our possessions. The next time we don’t feel like sharing, our unconscious memory of past shaming events tells we had better curb the covetous impulse and share. So healthy guilt and shame suppress emotions and impulses in specific circumstances to help us be good citizens. Problems arise when our core emotions become chronically bound to inhibitory emotions. When we have too much guilt and shame, core emotional experience is buried, and we experience chronic anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of blocked emotions. The outward energy of core emotions lay buried under the swirling energy of anxiety, guilt, and shame.
When Jonathan learned his dog had died, the sinking sensation of grief was suddenly palpable to him in his stomach and heart. The rush of sensation inside him spread across his body heading up to his eyes. But before the grief could reach his eyes, where he could release it by crying, he stopped it with an automatic muscular constriction in his throat. Most of us have felt the proverbial lump in the throat. Jonathan stopped his crying and told himself, Man up! Not feeling his sadness was one of the factors that led to his anxiety and depression.
Core emotions arise with energetic impulses that push up and out for release. Anxiety, shame, and guilt are the emotions that squash down the energy from the core emotions.
Releasing the energy of our emotions
There are various ways to release our emotions when we have them:
Naming your emotions
Studies show putting language on what you feel helps calm down the brain. The validation helps release the energy. This makes sense because the job of the emotion is to be noticed, not ignored. Taking the time to name emotions tells the brain you have tended to it in some way. Naming our emotions is the first step to processing them and releasing their energy. Try it!
Click here for a list of emotions to help you name what you are experiencing.
Naming your physical sensations
All emotions have physical sensations. In fact, emotions are basically a bunch of physical sensations that we come to recognize as emotions during our infancy and childhood (when things go right). Try it! Click here for a list of physical sensations to help you name what you are experiencing.
Breathing through emotions
Breathing deeply as you notice and stay with emotions and/or their accompanying physical sensations helps emotions flow and release. If you try this, you should be able to detect a shift in energy towards relaxation. Alternatively, you might notice more inhibition coming up with increasing tension. Both are natural responses to staying with emotions. Why one person can let emotions flow and another person gets more tense has to do with the degree of comfort one has with emotional experience, education on emotions, the amount of adversity experienced, the amount of emotional abuse and neglect experienced, genetics, mental health, and the amount of experiential psychotherapy a person had. Just notice and validate your experience without judging yourself.
Listening to the impulse of your emotions
Scan your body head to toe to notice any impulses. You may feel like you want to scream, hit, fold up into a ball, run away, push something away, reach for someone or something, hug someone or something, speak truth to power, help someone, hide under the covers, and many more. Validate the impulse of your emotion and notice what action it is pulling for you to do.
Full emotional release
As an experiential therapist, I help people fully experience blocked emotions. Each emotion has a wave where we perceive the energy of the emotion rising intensely, peaking, and then the energy dissipating. At that point, we feel ourselves calming down. Think about stubbing your toe. It takes a moment before you feel the pain, but you know it is coming. Then it rises, hits a peak, and thankfully starts to diminish. That’s what it is like to fully experience a core emotion.
The gifts that come after releasing previously blocked emotional energy
There is great relief that comes from experiencing core emotions, feeling more integrated, and thus achieving greater homeostasis. Our mind is calmer, our body is calmer and yet has more energy for new and creative endeavors. We feel more socially engaged, more connected, and more our confident selves.
Craig, A.D. (2014). How Do You Feel?: An Interoceptive Moment with Your Neurobiological Self. Princeton University Press; NJ
Hendel. H.J. (2018). It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect With Your Authentic Self. Random House: New York