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The human body is a profoundly dynamic system, in both biological and emotional terms. In my clinical and personal experience I’ve come to understand that long held emotion can be blocked and stored in the body. This often occurs as the result of our needs not being met in some way by important caregivers, and also through specific trauma events.
A key mechanism that enables this storage of emotion is muscular tension. The tension in a particular region of the body (frequently a system of muscles rather than just one) holds this bound up energy which has the benefit of keeping it out of conscious awareness. We could call this ‘unconscious containment’ of feeling.
It is common for ‘negative’ emotions such as anger, sadness and fear to be held like this, and on one level this supports our ability to function in the world. It prevents us from having to feel the painful feelings, which apart from being often perceived as unpleasant can sometimes also be overwhelming.
There are significant drawbacks to this process however. As emotional energy is held static, it stagnates and can ‘fester’, bubbling up into the conscious mind as various forms of negativity. Energy is also required by the bodymind to maintain this repression of feeling, which reduces the total amount of energy available to both body and mind. And frequently when the energy held in the unconscious becomes particularly strong, other unpleasant physical and mental symptoms appear (e.g. chronic pain, depression, fatigue, irritable bowel, to name just a few).
On another level we can say that this ‘blocking off’ of parts of the self creates a significant (but very much normal) split in our consciousness. There is part of us which is ‘conscious’ and another part of us which is cut off and ‘unconscious’. I have come to suspect that as well as the repression of painful feelings, there is a part of us, of our soul if you like, that becomes shut down in the process of repression. Its like throwing a difficult part of your life into a prison cell – the good bit is that you dont need to look at it – the bad bit is that its still part of you, but cut off and stagnating in the metaphorical darkness.
As we undergo a process of personal transformation it is often desirable to confront the material which is held unconscious in this fashion. Somatic or body oriented psychotherapy facilitates this process by drawing consciousness into the contracted area. Muscular tensions are explored by guided awareness and/or hands on bodywork.
Emotions that have been unconscious can be safely confronted and allowed to move, which frequently releases a lot of vitality, improves physical wellness and opens the door to deeper personal insight. The English translations of Wilhelm Reich’s work are full of wonderful terms such as “vegetative motility” which was his way of describing the return of spontaneous, pleasureable energetic flow throughout the physical body, after successful therapy.
One way of looking at the process of healing is as a transition from unconscious containment to conscious containment of emotion and energy. As we deepen into ourselves, our depth becomes more available to our conscious self, and we are more able to channel our life force in creative and positive directions.
"Since I've started seeing Hal, I've quit drinking and smoking, gone off my antidepressants, stopped feeling shy, dramatically improved my relationships with my partner and with my mother, and largely gotten over my RSI issues.
Its been a transformational few months. I have to give credit to myself and to a course that I'm doing at the moment as well, but seeing Hal has really helped me get in touch with my emotions and given me the capacity to deal with life, rather than avoiding ... >>read more >>
"Seeing Hal changed my life. After 4 years of strong chronic pain I now experience minimal pain and have no restrictions in doing all the activities I love in life. Here is my story.
I initially developed RSI type pain in my wrists from typing and computer use while writing up my PhD. It manifested as strong pain right through both my wrists whenever I typed or used my wrists for normal activities. It eventually got so bad ... >>read more >>