In the midst of managing and surviving our full lives, a silent but profound energy drain often lurks beneath the surface—the cost of not allowing ourselves to feel our emotions.
This hidden toll can feel even more costly when we explore the complex intersection of complex trauma and disordered eating.
Emotions are like waves – and like a wave, they have a path through the body.
To stop a wave of emotion – you need to create a holding in your arms and legs, pelvic or respiratory diaphragm, pericardium, mediastinum, throat, jaw, or eyes, and any combination of those.
Your nervous system automatically will arrange you in a form that will hold the emotion back. It does that beneath the surface, outside your conscious awareness, and oftentimes against the will to make that very form go away – through massage, relaxation or various forms of bodywork and movement.
Some of the emotions we hold back are ours – the irritation at a child, who just swore at you, or the anxiety about a deadline that determines your income.
Some, we are born into – like the un-grieved losses in my lineage that had me folded in half for most of my life. Not knowing where the immense gutting grief came from – I covered it over – not just with the tensions in my body, but by overexercising, not eating, then eating, overworking…but mostly – not living. Living would mean feeling. And I wasn’t about to feel what my ancestors couldn’t. Until I got some help.
Most of us have no clue about how we hold our emotions back, as not feeling over time feels like numbness or absence. How can you feel what you don’t feel, right?
My students will often get upset when they find out how they overthink, overwork or overeat to not feel and will shame and blame themselves for it. They want to know how to start feeling, but there is a small detail that is very important. You can’t will yourself to feel.
On the contrary, the way to feel is to be present to all we are doing to not feel.
To experience, on the somatic level, in real time – with our present eyes, present ears, present interoceptive pathways – what it is that we are doing inside that is helping us not feel. To become awake to the cost of it.
This is how direct this can be in a session: as I am working with a student whose shoulders are tensed up to their ears, I can ask – can we make this a little more pronounced, a little more clear, more intense and defined, so you can feel yourself do it. And then we inquire – what’s the cost of this to your system…and we wait for the body to answer – with a feeling, an image, an idea…
As we open up more and more to how we are being, every day, moment to moment – that is costing so much – we can also understand why we are tired, why we turn to food so often to soothe, why we can’t get enough sugar or crunch…
“But I didn’t do anything all day”…someone will say. And by doing – they are referring to the laundry or the garden or the bookkeeping.
“You’ve been working on not feeling”, I will say.
And that is back breaking work.