For boys and men, this often means sadness, sorrow, grief, rejection and all of the other "soft" emotions that men are taught not to feel - "boys don't cry," "shake it off," or "c'mon, be tough," as just a few examples of the many ways boys are taught not to feel. For men, there are cliches such as "man up," "stiff upper lip," "put it behind you," or "suck it up."
In the words of the AA folks, what we resist persists. We need to stop resisting the feeling and expression of human emotions.
May 27, 2013
by Kate Bartolotta
It’s never too late to address unexpressed emotion stored in the body as pain, tightness, and discomfort.
When we look at the language we use to talk about emotional reactions, there is often a physical sensation associated as well: a lump in the throat, butterflies in our stomachs, a gut feeling, the weight of the world on our shoulders. This isn’t coincidental! Those visceral reactions are messages from our body.
We hear this referred to as “the mind-body connection.” It’s often associated with using the mind or positivity to help boost the immune system or physically feel better. While that is certainly a helpful boost, we shouldn’t ignore what our bodies can do to help heal our emotions.
Most of us can recall a time growing up where we were discouraged from releasing a painful emotion by well-meaning adults. Parents tell little boys to “be a tough guy” or “shake it off” when they get hurt, while women are encouraged and socialized to discuss their feelings. Our bodies hang on to what happens with our emotions—even if we’ve “talked ourselves out of it.” The physical and emotional impact of unexpressed pain is one that lasts. Unexpressed pain sticks around.
Below are some typical patterns of stored emotion in the body as recognized within the bodywork community. Each person has their own patterns as well, but these are some common patterns :
Infographic courtesy of Nutritional Solutions
Our bodies are aware of the things that our minds would like to push aside. The things that we have forgotten at a conscious level are still present all the time in our bodies. The good news is that it’s never too late to address these issues, and that the results can help with both physical and emotional pain.
A few steps we can take to release unresolved emotion:
- Find a daily physical practice you enjoy. Notice I didn’t say “exercise.” Caring about our health and fitness is important, but the intention here is a physical activity that we love. It helps to choose an activity that quiets your mind a bit. For me, this is yoga. Many people find running to have a meditative quality. It could be as simple as a ten minute quiet walk where you pay attention to your breathing and the sensations in your body.
- Receive regular bodywork. Therapeutic massage and bodywork are some of the most effective ways I’ve seen (and experienced) for releasing stored emotion. When someone works on those knots in your shoulders you have from long held anger or stress, sometimes emotions will come up. I’ve had clients cry on my table—and sometimes they’ve known and shared why; other times, the pain is old and just hanging on in the muscles, waiting to be released. It’s important to remember that a massage therapist is a facilitator for these things—not a psychotherapist. Through bodywork, we can tap into these stored emotions and begin to process them ourselves, or if needed, with another professional.
- Make touch a part of your primary relationships. This sounds simple, obvious even. Unfortunately, we have become a very hands-off culture. Fewer and fewer of our daily interactions involve touch. As we rely on social media and smart phones for the bulk of our communication, our relationships often involve less physical contact than we need. Make a point of touching people on the arm or shoulder as you speak with them. Greet friends with a hug. Play a pick-up game of basketball instead of just watching the game. When we begin to remember that we are not just minds stuck inside a body, but body and mind working in concert, we can begin to heal old hurts in a deeper and lasting way.
~ Read more of Kate Bartolotta’s men’s health column, Body Wisdom, on The Good Life.