Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Are you turning an emotional problem into a body problem? Today I want to explore what happens to us when there is something you're not allowing yourself to feel, admit, or acknowledge. It can become a form of energy that is stored in the body. This energy causes tense muscles, less blood flow to certain organs, and eventually, illness or pain.
This hidden process of stuffing down emotions into your body is called "somaticizing." "Soma" means body in Latin. When you somaticize, you are transferring your emotional and mental state into your body, and it manifests as physical symptoms. Because you don't face and feel your emotions directly and consciously, your body starts to speak for you through symptoms.
Many people somaticize and they don't even know it. I was one of them. It starts when an emotion arises in them that they don't want or are scared to experience fully. But instead of allowing themselves to feel those emotions, they'll:
Distract themselves with busywork, social media, or TV
Deny that there's anything wrong
"Buck up" and tell themselves they're above all that
And then, months or years later, they develop inexplicable backaches, headaches, weakness, fatigue, or even a chronic illness.
Signs of Trapped Emotions
There are so many signs of trapped emotions including:
Addictive, compulsive or impulsive behaviour (i.e. substance abuse, gambling, food, exercise, sex, shopping, binge eating)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Anger or short tempered
Feelings of anxiety or depression
Shoulder, neck, back tension and/or pain
Are any of these resonating with you? Are you not feeling 100% well lately? Do you sometimes get a tightness in your body somewhere, particularly around your neck, shoulders, or back… Or suffer with headaches after particularly stressful times... What about having general feelings of dis-ease that can't be explained medically?
If so, it's possible that there's some truth you're not facing or accepting about yourself. In other words, your physical issues could be a sign there's something you don't love about yourself.
How My Body Hid a Seething Emotion
During the last three years of my marriage I experienced many of the symptoms listed above. My marriage fell apart for a variety of reasons. I was angry, resentful and hurt but as a mom to two small children I had to keep it together despite my world feeling completely and utterly out of control. The only way I could do it was to suppress my feelings and shut them down.
Too ashamed to confide in friends or family about my circumstances, I faced that struggle alone and boy did it manifest itself in my body. My trapped feelings turned into:
IBS and an inability to release the byproducts of the food I consumed. I faced giving myself biweekly enemas to release what I couldn’t emotionally. It was painful and frustrating. I know, gross right?!?!
Angry and resentful outbursts that came out in short tempered ways with my him and my girl with even the littlest of things.
I suffered from acne on my back and face
I began marathoning and became addicted to exercise and went to extremes with my diet wasting away to a 105 lbs orthorexic nervosa state and losing critical hormonal functions in my body for overall health and wellbeing
Another example was my long term relationship after my marriage ended. Severe narcissistic abuse left me with intense anxiety. I would have full on panic attacks when I had to go into a public gathering with him. The thought of putting on a happy, smiling face when I knew as soon as I got home the psychological abuse would ensue yet again. I couldn’t breathe, would hyperventilate to the point of almost passing out because I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. I couldn’t calm myself down and I got so worked up he would just leave without me and tell others I wasn’t feeling well. It got me out of unwanted situations where this charming demeanour captivated everyone around us in the outside world but inside our world he was anything but. Who would believe me? How could I pretend that we were happy and that I wasn’t crumbling inside, how the gaslighting was making me question myself and my reality, and the violent outbursts where I was sure he would eventually hit me when he didn’t get what he wanted?
These two situations brought to light everything I had been suppressing and more importantly, after doing my deep inner work, I found a way to love myself for everything I was feeling. And you know what? It wasn't overwhelming or frightful. It was liberating! So much so, I was able to tune into what my body needed to heal it.
When I left my kids dad and started life without him, my acne improved and my IBS and anger went away. It all went away because the stress of the relationship, distrust and resentment had gone away. I became a calmer, more patient mother to my two beautiful little girls. I finally eliminated the real issues and feelings that my physical ailments had been masking.
When I left my narcissistic partner, my anxiety released the moment he packed and moved out. It was instant. It was like this incredible weight was released from my shoulders.
To this day, I can't believe how much my stuffed-down anger caused me so much physical hardship. All of it was just a way for me to avoid feeling something! But this is exactly what happens when we somaticize our feelings. We don't want to suffer, so we stuff it down. We stuff it into our organs, our muscles, our nervous system and it's unfortunate.
It's unfortunate because by denying our truth we end up creating all the pain and suffering we were trying to avoid in the first place. Admitting our truth doesn't cause suffering, it ends it. Facing our truth is freeing. It releases the pent up energy that's causing us to feel stiff, achy, and out of sorts, so we can feel at ease instead of diseased. That is the miracle of learning to love yourself.
3 Tips to Overcome Your Trapped Emotions
Overcoming my trapped emotions was a simple as leaving the environment that made me sick. This may not be so simple for you however, so here are three tips to overcome your trapped emotions.
1. Identifying the early warning signs of trapped emotions
Naming and understanding your emotional experience can be tough and makes it difficult for you to recognize when certain aspects of your life aren’t serving your needs. Some early warning signs include:
Regularly feeling numb or blank
Feeling nervous, low, or stressed a lot of the time, even if you aren’t sure why
Having a tendency to forget things
Experiencing unease or discomfort when other people tell you about their feelings
Feeling cheerful and calm most of the time because you never let your thoughts linger on anything significant or upsetting
Feeling distressed or irritated when someone asks you about your feelings
2. Take action to improve your situation
Understand it's not a simple trick to resolve trapped emotions and that often it's a perspective and total lifestyle change that will yield the best results. Changing your lifestyle can come by way of cleaning up diet and proper hydration (heal the gut), intermittent fasting, improving sleep habits, journaling and artistic expression, exercise, and meditation. Put yourself and your mental health first!
3. Practice meditation
Although there isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate, it’s important to find a practice that meets your needs and complements your personality. Most people who start practicing meditation find it to be an unusual or unnatural experience at the beginning, but it's a proven technique to gradually bring us down into where we are. With practice you can come to see the contrast between being lost in thought and being fully engaged with where we are and what we're doing and feeling.
Don't stuff down your emotions or suffer the physical consequences. Follow these three steps and you'll be well on your way to processes your emotions and removing the physical pain that can accompany them.