Emotions are body wisdom – What can we learn from them?

Buddhist Psychotherapy sees emotions as the vehicles which connect body and mind.  Our emotional states are often reactions to our external environment.

For example, you are walking across a paddock and you see a bull emerging over the hill.  How would you react? – Your initial reaction might be to freeze.  Then, your ‘fear’ may take over and make you run as fast as you can to the nearest fence without a second thought.  Right?

According to research, there are seven so-called ‘primary’ emotions.  Many of them are not positive and they often seem to be daunting to experience.  Just like ‘fear’ tries to protect us from life-threatening situations, all emotions help to guide us.

  • Joy tells us to join in, share, take part
  • Sadness tells us to withdraw, be more still to save our energy
  • Anger tells us to stand up for ourselves – fight or attack
  • Fear tells us to flee towards safety
  • Guilt tells us not to repeat what we have done and to repair the damage caused
  • Disgust tells us to keep our distance for protection
  • Surprise tells us to be amazed

Emotions enable us to react to the situations we face.  Some emotions generate energy in our body, and some make us slow down to conserve energy.  Emotions also connect us socially and help us communicate better.

But then, why do we fear or avoid emotions?

  • The way we express our emotions is often shaped by our culture, society and family environments.  For instance, childhood abuse often makes it difficult to connect with anger, because expressing anger towards our abuser may have provoked further abuse.  Another example is cultural sayings such as “Boys don’t cry”, which makes men shut down their connection to emotions.
  • We all have painful and traumatic memories from childhood and life events.  All these memories have attached emotions.  Memories of emotional reactions are often negative and make emotions feel more painful and scary.

When we avoid connecting to a primary emotion, we often need to attach to a secondary emotion such as frustration and jealousy.  I have met many people suffering from anger, but on further exploration, there were other emotions such as fear or sadness underlying this anger.  When we suppress or avoid emotions, we may experience adverse effects physically, mentally or socially.

How can we live better in harmony with our emotions? 

  • Connect with a true primary emotion rather than a secondary or disguising emotion.
  • Express emotions and accompanying memories using creative outlets, such as writing, artwork, or music.
  • Movement can release stuck emotions from the body.  Running, dancing, Qigong and Yoga are effective strategies for this.

Focusing on emotions is often an effective way to work with mental and physical suffering, such as depression, anxiety, trauma-related stress or chronic physical conditions.  
Wisdom Psychotherapy helps process traumatic memories, which can be fragmented, using body-mind processing approaches, such as EMDR, clinical hypnosis, process-experiential therapy and body movement.