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Metabolizing Emotions, or, How to Stop Being Emotionally Constipated

A part of the Radical Humans Series

A pile of round tan biscuits with the words "Digestive Biscuits" baked in to them
Photo by Eva Bronzini

If you don’t properly metabolize and digest your food, you get constipated. If you don’t properly metabolize and digest your emotions, you get emotionally constipated. Some of the symptoms of emotional constipation are numbness, the inability to feel, feeling emotionally bloated, groggy, cranky, and otherwise just unpleasant. Another two of the most common symptoms of emotional constipation are feeling a sustained depressed mood, and angry outbursts. When any emotion gets stuck inside of you, it either blocks all others from moving freely like tying a knot in a garden hose (depressed), or it's like jamming a rock in the end so water sprays everywhere without control (angry outbursts).

So what’s the emotional equivalent of a high fiber diet? Metabolizing our emotions, or in layman's terms - allowing ourselves to feel our feelings. Sounds easy, but if it were, this post wouldn’t be necessary.

In this post I’m going to cover one of my favorite practical tools for temporarily alleviating our emotional blockages, but if you really want to clear these blockages at their roots, you’ll need to find the beliefs that are creating them in the first place. One of the heavy hitters here is the belief “it’s dangerous to express my emotions.” If you were consistently shushed, shut down, shamed, or otherwise punished or hurt when you expressed your emotions as a kid, you may have this belief. Or, if your parents said things like “don’t be sad honey” or “I will not tolerate these angry outbursts” you may have learned to suppress societally unacceptable emotions like sadness, anger, shame, or fear and formed beliefs like “it’s not okay to be sad/angry/etc.” Until you address these beliefs and any associated conditionings, you’ll have to do constant maintenance to get the emotional flow going again.

Which brings us back to our focal point for today, the quick and direct way to get the flow going again - the practice of metabolizing emotions.

This is another simple and powerful technology I learned from Reuvain Bacal.

How to do it?

Identify the emotion you’ve been avoiding feeling, and name it.

“I feel sad/scared/ashamed.”

Check with yourself, “is it killing me in this moment to feel this emotion?”

I’ve never heard of a person dying as a direct consequence of them feeling their emotions, so the answer should be no here. Now, it may feel like you’re going to die, but that’s not the question, the question is “is it killing me?” If it feels really intense, I’ll sometimes ask the person “are you dead right now? How about now?” The answer has always been no, thankfully.

So then, if it’s not killing you to feel the emotion, perhaps it’s not actually a survival threat, and is therefore not dangerous. Given this, we’ll go to step three.

“I give myself permission to feel as scared/sad/ashamed as I already do.” In this moment, having clarified that you’re not in any true danger, you verbalize an allowance of the emotion such that it can work its way through your system fully. The truth is, you already feel this, you’re just blocking it or not allowing it to come into your awareness. When you stop blocking it and you allow it into your awareness fully, it can move through you and the cycle will complete. At this point you’ll be emotionally free flowing again.

Let’s recap with an example.

Say you want to ask your boss for a raise and you feel scared. You’ll name the emotion to begin with “I feel scared.” Next, you’ll check in and ask yourself out loud “is it killing me in this moment to feel scared?” The answer will invariably be no. Finally you’ll say “I give myself permission to feel as scared as I already do.” In this moment, relax and allow the emotion of fear to come up as fully as it wants to come up.

When we allow our emotions, they don’t last long. Our bodies simply aren’t equipped to produce those particular physiological states for long periods of time. It’s only when we block the emotions that we get stuck in a loop of recreating and avoiding the emotions. This also wrecks havoc on our hormone production systems and organs, but the details of that are better left to the experts!

Bonus Round - Advanced

There’s another way to work with emotions when metabolizing them alone doesn’t seem to work and you get stuck. In these cases, the problem is more than simply the physiological/kinesthetic (feeling) component of the emotion. You’re stuck in a loop essentially, and the way out is to bring conscious awareness and control to that loop so you can break out of it. Here’s how to do that:

  • Start with a thought that’s related to the emotion, often a thought about someone else or something they did.

  • As you think this thought, allow the first emotion you feel to come through.

  • Allow yourself to fully feel this emotion briefly, and as you do, take note of the first thought to come into your awareness.

  • Now, think that first thought that came into your awareness, and as you do, allow the first emotion you feel to come up.

  • Repeat this process of switching back and forth from thought to emotion to thought to emotion, until the emotional charge has dissipated and the content switches from negative to positive.

  • If you get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts and emotions and can’t seem to get out, it means you’re not actually feeling the emotion, or the thought is unrelated to the emotion. Make sure that you’re really feeling each emotion, and that the thought is coming from within the experience of the emotion.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the long term solution is to identify and eliminate the beliefs that are causing the emotional blockage in the first place. But when you need to do some internal cleanup, use one of these processes for metabolizing emotions.

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