How emotions can affect our health
How hypnotherapy can help
People have a finite capacity for emotion which varies for each individual and, from time to time, in the same individual. Each of us can cope with irritation, aggravation and provocation to a limit, after which we have three choices:
- To constructively express our emotions (I am frustrated with you because...).
- To control them (I am frustrated but it is inappropriate to express it at the moment).
- To repress them (I will not acknowledge my frustration).
The first depends on prevailing circumstances and the freedom we feel we have to express anger constructively and comfortably having no regard to the risk in so doing. It must be realised that anger is a normal emotion which probably evolved to protect us from enemies. Usually this is the choice amongst real friends.
The second is employed when the consequences of expressing emotions are likely to lead to an undesirable outcome. For example, it would be foolish to express anger to a policeman who has stopped your car for speeding or at a breath test. The likely outcome may be a night in a police cell.
The third can be shown to be extremely dangerous to our emotional and physical health. If we repress our emotions long enough, we certainly will become depressed and in time our health will suffer. Consider that we can accept the notion of the capacity to handle an emotion as a bucket. The size of the bucket may depend on the background of each individual. See the illustration below:
Unexpressed emotions will ultimately accumulate, unless they are expressed directly at the cause or indirectly at a substitute. The previous illustration will indicate graphically what the process is. Consider our ability to contain our emotions which can be seen in the form of a bucket open at the top.
The question we must now ask is: what will happen if the capacity to contain the emotion is exhausted? Emotional overload can present itself in a variety of psychological and physiological problems, such as depression, unexplainable health issues, and symptoms of varying degrees that will not go away with regular medical intervention.
Let us now look at the options and consequences. The most usual emotions that need attention from the therapeutic point of view are anger, guilt/shame, grief and fear. The first and last being associated with our physical survival are most powerful. Anger and fear create a surge of adrenalin and activate additional energy for the flight and fight response.
Let us look at some illustrations of the usual conditions presented by angry individuals. We all have a finite capacity to deal with continuing anger. The options are illustrated below:
What then happens when the bucket is full and we are further provoked?
“The last straw that broke the camel’s back.” Options are as follows:
1. Slow Release: This condition is illustrated best by the individual who always seems angry out of proportion to the conditions prevailing at the time.
2. Repression: When faced with continual repression of anger depression or anxiety is the most likely result.
3. The eruption: This is the reaction exemplified by the massacres all too frequently witnessed in contemporary Western society.
This situation applies to some other unexpressed emotions with varying outcomes. When capacity to deal with grief is exceeded it can lead to an emotional collapse (nervous breakdown). When capacity to deal with guilt is exceeded it can lead to suicide or self-abuse. When capacity to deal with fear is exceeded it can lead to hysterical paralysis of body or limbs. Below are some of the most frequent stacks encountered in clinical situations.
- Often we find that we use anger to screen out other emotions. Anger can also screen out fear as, for instance, in the case of a mother defending a child from an antagonist much bigger and stronger than herself. I have been told of the case where a soldier in New Guinea in WW2 pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire became so angry that he vacated the trench in which he was safe and successfully attempted to rush and take out the machine-gun nest throwing hand grenades until he dropped dead with 34 bullets in his head and torso. An observer claimed he must have been dead at least five paces before he dropped to the ground. Rage had overcome fear of certain death.
- If we reduce unresolved emotions to a minimum, happiness will be a frequent intermittent emotion in our lives (the default state of mind).
- Where guilt and fear are temporarily ignored as occurs when enjoying a vacation.
- If, however, we have a plethora of unresolved emotions we will experience very little happiness in our everyday living.
- If we repress our emotions long enough it will inevitably cause a variety of physiological and emotional consequences. It is not to be expected that we live in a state of permanent bliss. However, it is not a bad goal to which we can aspire.
- If we reach a situation in which we have no unresolved emotions, happiness will be a constant and sustaining emotion in our personalities.
Like cream in milk, happiness will rise to the surface naturally.
To summarise, let us consider the options of repressed emotions and imagine a bucket with a finite capacity to hold an emotion. If we express our emotions constantly, the bucket will remain predominantly empty causing no problems. If however we are constantly repressing our emotions, eventually the residue will approach the top of the bucket. In some cases we will let a bit of the emotion out at a time to prevent an uncontrolled overflow. This can be seen where in a work situation and employee may be inappropriately and constantly angry sometimes expressed in cruel sarcasm or practical jokes. Think of this as a slow leakage. The next option which we often observe is when in order to hold down the emotion for the fear or guilt associated with the expression of it we put a lid on the container the energy loss of which option results in depression. Another expression we see of this is in the frequent mass shooting in berserk and violent attacks on innocent people when the lid flies off and the years of expressed anger empties out in one single episode (eruption). Once emotionally emptied in this situation the person involved will often express and unwarranted, guiltless often calm eventuates or the offender takes the ultimate step of committing suicide.
It must be remembered that all emotions are capable of being repressed. Repression is exclusion from consciousness and not to be confused with control.
Repression would temporarily occur if in the same instance I felt no anger consciously but then arriving home late went about by shouting at the children or other members of the family. This situation would be resolved by my wife saying calmly “what’s got into you?” In which case I may be forced to revisit the situation and express the anger rationally and without repercussions of upsetting my family. A less understanding wife would take her anger out on the children who may then be nasty to their pets.
Amongst healthy individuals the only emotion we don’t seem to exceed is happiness. In most individuals our emotions are prioritised in stacks and shuffled in accordance with the prevailing conditions. Anger and fear are the powerful emotions imbedded in our limbic system.
However the stacks ideally should be constructed so that happiness is always the default condition.
The following illustration will show an example of what can take place as a result of the constant repression of emotions. In this case “anger”.
Repression is the process of not admitting to the consciousness and expressing normal legitimate emotions on the spot. Because of the neuronal wiring of our bodies, emotions withheld or repressed over a long period of time can cause malfunction of various neuronal symptoms and bodily functions. See above.
Another likely malfunction of the psyche as a result of repression can be anxiety. In some cases what is known as “free floating anxiety” which exhibits as an attachment of anxiety to almost anything in which the excuse to be anxious presents itself in ordinary everyday life. An example might be to return to one’s abode several times to make sure that all the lights were out or that the gas was turned off (obsessive compulsive disorder). Then there is also the manifestation of the various plethoras of psychosomatic disorders which are those malfunctions of the body for which there is no physical or logical cause.
The symptoms of being unable to deal with stress needs to be treated the same as in any other case of emotional malfunction. It is to be remembered that stress is a natural part of modern living and is always a matter of degree in itself and not disease.
With sensitive hypnotherapy carried out by a qualified hypnotherapist, relief from the symptoms brought on by what could be called emotional overload can be achieved.
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About David Amstell
David Amstell is a qualified clinical hypnotherapist working successfully with most issues.