July 15, 2014

Our Emotional Brain. ~ Carla Ardito

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Coming out of an emotionally dysfunctional family took its toll on me.

I struggled for years to find something meaningful to do with my life. And my relationships? Well they never seemed to turn out the way I had hoped. I went to therapy and had an excellent therapist for 12 years. I recounted, and cried about, hurtful past events and things did improve, but I never really felt done with the past, and my present was proof positive that I wasn’t.

A few years ago, I came across the work of a woman named Julie Motz, and it provided the missing link for me. Julie is a healer and author of the book Hands of Life and her work deals with emotional-energy. The philosophy of emotional-energy healing is based on the principle that emotions are the energies that run through our bodies and keep us healthy.

Julie believes that healing emotional wounds is incumbent upon one finding and removing the emotional blockages within oneself.

What was wonderful about the healing was that it allowed me to really resolve my past and be done with it once and for all. As Deepak Chopra says, “Once you have healed, there’s nothing to forgive.”

So how do emotions become blocked?

The following is a simple, yet accurate example of any emotional wound:

A child is running in the playground, falls, and severely scraps a knee; it is frightening and painful. If no one empathizes and validates the fear and sadness; no one offers the hug and the soothing words; or if, worse yet, the child is in any way berated or chastised for having fallen; then the fear, anger and sadness are buried. In fact, it’s commonplace for a child who has had an upsetting experience at school, to immediately play out the emotions once within the safer, more nurturing environment of home. I’m a mother, I know.

The consequence of unexpressed, invalidated emotions is that they cause all kinds of problems in the present. I have been on a healing journey long enough to know that any interpersonal, irresolvable conflict, occurring in my present, is a repeat of an unresolved, unprocessed trauma from my past. The problem with suppressed emotions is that they seriously limit our ability to be fully present.

The psychologist Frank Hannah, MS, gives weight to the theory when he writes, ”The feeling brain stores the memories, collected knowledge and beliefs acquired over a lifetime, holding them in readiness to influence, if not determine all of our thoughts, behaviors, feelings and emotions.”

Have you ever found yourself thinking about the past and saying to yourself, “Why did I over-react?” or “How could I not have seen how distrustful that person was?”

We seem to be declaring that our emotional brains over-rode our logical brains. A PBS special entitled “The Secret Life Of The Brain” is a wonderful source for anyone interested in learning more about the critical interplay between reason and emotion.

The research indicates that the thinking brain and the emotional brain are always working together and perhaps when important emotions get blocked in the past, it jeopardizes its ability to do so well. The emotional brain allows us to have the visceral experiences necessary for the thinking brain to fully comprehend the truth of our experiences.

When my emotions are overwhelming and my arguments turn messy and frustrating, it is an indication to me that some unresolved, hurtful situation from my past has been stirred up and that I am not fully in the present. The circumstances and people are new, but the feelings they stir up are old. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Somehow, the old, unresolved conflict shows up again in my life as an opportunity to process and heal. Perhaps the theory of reoccurring issues is a well-known one in the world of psychotherapy, but it was not a technique being used by my psychotherapist.

I recently saw two people bump into each other. One person knocked into the other as they passed on the sidewalk. The person who was not paying attention immediately started to apologize profusely; but it was obvious the moment their bodies made contact, that the person who had been knocked into was transported back to another place and time. His face and body energy were in no way related to the actual moment because the bump was not that harsh but his face was full of fury and frustration. Poor perceptions, unresolved anger and pain are the cause of many, many misunderstandings and can be so potentially damaging.

Couple Fighting

So, when a messy conflict arises in the present what do I do to rectify?

First, I get quiet and ask myself, “When in the past did I feel similarly?”

Then I go back and replay that scene; only this time, I get to express everything I felt, no holes barred. The whole healing process gets done through visualization. No one gets hurt, and I get healed.

Once the suppressed fear, anger, and sadness have been expressed, it is very important for me to follow with comfort and relief. Just like the child who fell and needs comfort, I visualize one or more people who I know can offer empathy and comfort. I allow myself to be comforted, I immerse myself in that comfort, and I actually can sense the relief in my body. Imagining allows the body to feel whatever the mind creates.

The muscles, bones, cells and systems are all affected as if it all were actually happening. In fact there are studies showing that when you express your old unresolved emotions, your immune system gets an immediate boost. As a result of using this method, I am able to feel the healing in my body and somehow my life is flowing more and more smoothly.

The principle of mind/body oneness has been studied and documented in the work of Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

In a recent radio interview, as a way of explaining the oneness of the mind/body, Ms. Langer spoke of a study done with actors. An actor playing a character, who is completely and utterly immersed in the role, becomes not only akin to the character in outward appearance but also altered on a physiological level (i.e., blood pressure, heart rate). The actor is not ‘watching himself’ be the character, but rather has merged completely with the role—the visualization technique works in the same, exact way.

The mind believes, and the body feels and responds.

Discovering where the emotional conflicts are in the past can be the key to resolving the present. The word resolve has its roots in the Latin verb resolvere, meaning to loosen. I find the definition particularly accurate when applied to healing the body. The repressed emotions make us tight and stressed, and by resolving the past, we literally loosen ourselves. It’s a shame to let stressful times from the past contaminate our present opportunities for connection.

Perhaps once we process blocked emotions from the past, the emotional and the thinking brain can once again be partners.

When we restore our ability to accurately perceive all situations, then all of our feelings are available to us, our breath flows freely and, we are once again returned to our senses. From this place our relationships can flourish and our life energy can flow.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: James Vaughan/Flickr, Ed Yourdon/Flickr


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Carla Melucci Ardito