“Hi, how are you?” This is the frequent greeting we all use neither giving a real answer nor waiting for one. How do you feel at this moment? How often do you take the time to really tune into that question? How often do you honestly answer it to yourself or others?
Like it or not, we have emotions and live by our feelings whether we are aware of them or not. Who we are, how we live, feel and even think is an embodied experience.
Our emotional state is recorded in the body for anyone to see who can read the information and for anyone to know with a willingness to look and experience it. Most people think their emotions in their head, an intellectual statement that describes an interpretation of an emotion. But emotions are experienced in the body and have energy.
Feelings can be described in one word such as anger, fear, pain, sadness, disappointment, excitement, joy, and grief. Pushing emotions out of awareness can become destructive to our health. If we deny our feelings and do not experience them, they do not go away. That energy goes somewhere in the body. Over time, weakened areas in the body due to stress and other factors are at risk for developing disease.
Contrary to popular belief, stress is not due to external events but rather to internal states. Something becomes stressful due to our perceptions and how we handle our emotions. For example, negative thinking and judgments of self and others are a source of internal stress. The belief of having to accommodate oneself in order to meet others expectations or be in relationship is another internal stressor. No event in and of itself is “stressful”, not even the death of a family member. I have had several clients who felt great relief and freedom to live their lives with the death of a relative due to a severely difficult relationship. Emotional stressors are the most salient source of stress (1).
An example of how emotions and stress affect the development of disease comes from a former client of mine. She had a history of chronic sore throats and swollen glands from childhood. Her throat was constricted by all the things she felt and learned that she could not express. This emotional block led to the malfunctioning of the thyroid. During her first year of emotional work, she developed frequent sore throats and colds. But as she began to express her feelings and freed the flow of energy in the body, healing took place. She no longer developed sore throats. No more thyroid medication was needed despite being told by her physician that she would have to take it for life.
No amount of talking about the past or problems releases the emotional energy held in the body. Only by learning to regain an awareness of emotions moment by moment and expressing those feelings appropriately can the body release and heal. The first step is making a decision to become more aware of your body and emotions. Some questions to ask yourself are: What am I feeling? What is this illness telling me? What is out of balance?
An easy beginning exercise is to close your eyes and scan your body. Find a place of tension or the location of a symptom. Breathe into that area and focus your attention there. You can ask your tension or symptom to talk to you and ask what does it need you to know. Just wait quietly and patiently. Since you have not been listening to your body, it may take time to receive an answer. Pay attention to whatever occurs to you – sensations, thoughts or feelings – without censoring or judging. With patience and practice, there will eventually be answer from the body that may help deepen the emotional connection or point the way to getting help and making changes.
To go further is to enter a learning process of recognizing and experiencing the defenses and blocking patterns in the body. Next is learning to release the held in emotions in a safe and appropriate way. This allows for a change in life situations and often healing, as no more energy is being invested in maintaining that particular posture and way of being. There is an increased capacity for joy, trust, pleasure, love and health.
So the next time someone asks, “How are you?” take the time to check into your body and become aware of how you really do feel – for your health!
1. Mate, G. (2003). When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress Disease Connection. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pamela Morgan, LCSW has a private practice in Fort Lauderdale specializing in body oriented psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She is a licensed clinical social worker and certified in Radix Body Education. Pamela received a Special Service Award from the National Counsel on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity for her work with people in recovery and was profiled in the September 2001 issue of the New Age Journal. Contact for at 954-525-8088.
(This article was originally published in Natural Awakenings Broward County, December, 2003, p. 36)