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Article

The Emotional Realm: Introduction

Wednesday, October 6th 2021 12:00pm 8 min read
Dr. Jessica Renfer drjessica.nd

Licensed naturopathic doctor with expertise in lifestyle transformation, healing from chronic disease and natural fertility & preconception.

As we heal, we often find that alongside our physical symptoms, there exists our vast and varied emotional processes. Our emotional body and experiences shift our physiology, as well, physical processes very much affect our emotional states. Emotional triggers are wonderful opportunities for deeper self discovery. They can serve as guiding lights to what is perhaps not working for us in the present, whether that be internal belief and behavior patterns, or external situations, such as relationships, jobs/careers, lifestyle choices etc. The emotional and intuitive realms are intimately linked, as we learn the language of onet we are gifted with understanding of the other. When we understand the subtle messages of our bodies & inner voice, we are better able to choose and follow the path of healing that is for us.

In assisting patients who are healing from chronic dis-ease states, it almost always requires working with the emotional realm, alongside addressing the physical body. Oftentimes, chronic dis-ease is associated with childhood trauma, whether overt or simply being a part of a rather emotionally dismissive and high pressure societal structure. As a result, we adopted mechanisms of protection, often involving repression or denial of our own emotional and intuitive experiences. What this ultimately does is disconnect aspects of ourselves from the whole, making it difficult to manage or understand later in life. This manifests itself in many ways, such as difficulty tending to one’s needs and/or difficulty establishing and holding healthy boundaries. This also can result in being stuck in “flight, fight or freeze” nervous system tone (which diminishes the body’s self healing capacity), and ignoring one’s inner voice or intuition. All which can be a part of the development of dis-ease. Thus, learning to acknowledge, accept and value our emotional body is an essential part of the healing process.

Physiologically, emotions cause measurable shifts in neurotransmitter and hormone production, affecting nervous system tone, heart rate, cognitive capacity and more. Once triggered, the cascade of physiological and biochemical effects will inevitably run its course, which takes time. Once released, these neurotransmitters and hormones circulate and take time to be broken down or processed, as well the nervous system takes some time to come back to baseline. In some situations, it may be in our best interest to hold our emotions within, which will then likely come up at another time, or else if we allow it to remain on the surface, we will likely have to sit in the experience as long as it needs to move through us. Now for positive emotions, such as joy & love, this can be a very pleasurable experience. However, emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, shame or guilt, can be quite uncomfortable and all consuming at times. As we evolve and heal, we become more comfortable with navigating this realm, and we learn to navigate the shadow aspects of the self with trust and compassion, and ultimately become more whole. We also learn healthier ways of managing our stress and emotions, which helps to limit avoidant or addictive habits. An important concept to keep in mind is that inflammation, food sensitivities, chronic infections, chronic pain can all contribute to emotional extremes. This means that tending to the physical body can very much support emotional balance. This is particularly clear with anxiety and depression states, both of which have roots in both the physical and mental/emotional realms.

There are many ways to learn how to ride the emotional wave as opposed to being taken away by the process. Let’s consider two basic concepts in cultivating emotional awareness, as well as some tools and techniques to assist and support the process. Both of these concepts we will address today assist in becoming less reactive to situations, which ultimately allows for a more peaceful existence. For many individuals working with a trauma-informed and experienced practitioner can be very helpful to create a safe space for self discovery, and offer feedback through the healing process. This is especially important with trauma histories, as often there are layers to discover that can be quite intense to see and work through.

  1. Observe: the first step is developing the skills to observe ourselves in our emotional processes. One of the things to pay attention to is when the experience goes from what is “true”, versus when what can be referred to as the “storyteller” comes into play. The storyteller is that part of us that begins to translate the emotional experience into an intellectual one. Often emotional triggers bring up thought patterns surrounding self worth, trust, safety. For example, if someone hears a critical comment, they could perhaps feel this as a hit to the heart or abdomen, and it can affect the way we breathe and make us feel like we are heavy, tired, sinking and sad. The true experience is the feeling of sadness, what it does in the body, how it may affect one’s posture, overall mood and energy levels. The “storyteller” may come in and start to say things like “I am not good enough, this person doesn’t value me”, which then can trigger either deeper sadness or even anger as a protective mechanism…and so down the line. This is when we end up exacerbating the original experience. Often elements of self judgement come into play, and then we are essentially caught in a spiral of emotions and thoughts that can be very destabilizing. When we master the observer, we stay present with what is, and can discern what is true, and what perhaps is something to dive into at another time in a safe container for self exploration. Learning to discern between observing and judging is valuable, and leads us into another of the key concepts in emotional navigation.
  2. Accept and Allow: In a research study, Acceptance was found to have a measurable impact on mental and emotional wellbeing. The study found that those who accept rather than judge their negative emotions tend to respond less intensely to stressors, as well as limit exacerbating their emotional states much as described in the example above. For many, we were conditioned to believe that emotions are bad, a sign of weakness and at the very least, inconvenient. Simply accepting our emotions as a real and valid experience can be hugely healing.
    We can take this one step further, and play around with a concept called Radical Acceptance, which was first proposed by psychologist Marsha Linehan in 1993. When distilled down it is essentially accepting whatever is even if you don’t like it or agree with it. Easier said than done of course, and especially when we are healing from a chronic dis-ease, when we can feel many things about our situation, our health, the past, present, politics, environment. Acceptance does not mean that we necessarily “like or agree” what is happening, nor does it mean we are silent about what perhaps needs to be spoken. Rather, we practice releasing resistance to what is happening, both within us and externally that may have contributed to our uncomfortable present experience. When we release resistance, we can relax and allow what needs to flow and allow what is asking to be felt.

Tips & tools

There are so many beautiful practices and tools to support our emotional wellbeing, so here are a few to start exploring.

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