As most of us are aware, emotional repression — the conscious or unconscious suppression of painful impulses, desires, or fears — leads to, at its least, defensiveness and, at its worst, disease. The list of ailments is a long one but for starters stress, depression, short-term memory loss and addiction are commonplace.
Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychiatrist, conducted investigations into the correlation between emotional make up and physical musculature. He generally found that his patients with repressed emotions evidenced this in their body structures through tightened, contracted muscles. Various emotions, which were “held in”, related to specific muscles. If the tensioning of these muscles was not released by other means, muscular rigidity set in place, and, with continued suppressive behavior, became permanent. Reich termed this phenomena “muscle armoring”, an analogy to the metal armor of a medieval knight. Reich saw the contractions of muscles as an “emotional armor” protection created by mind and body, caused from emotional defensiveness. Gary Meale
Beyond the many physical and mental ailments associated with emotional repression is the added loss of creative energy. When the mind, body and spirit are held captive by channeling all their energy into repression, there is no space or vitality available for inspiration, creation and transformation. And it is exactly these qualities that are critical for navigating the inner and outer uncertainty and chaos in which we all share. The conundrum we are faced with is — How do we transform from suppressors to expressers? By the way, this is a global phenomenon. No one culture or nation has the suppression market cornered. Around the globe, we are all equal opportunity repressors.
As humans, many of our emotional stories (wonders and wounds) entered our lives when we were infants (birth to 5 years) and were unable to express our experience adequately in words. I often say to my clients who are struggling to understand their own conditioned childhood emotional repressions, “children are great observers of life, but poor interpreters.” As children, we had neither the experience nor the language to help us discern what was truly happening. These childhood reactions to our experiences when left unattended and misunderstood become embedded in our psyche as conditioned responses to similar events.
As an example, a child who has a frightening experience with a dog is likely to generalize this fear to all dogs unless we take corrective action. Add such messages over the years as — “Little boys don’t cry.” “If you show your feelings, you show your weakness.” “There’s no place in business for emotion.” — and the result is a society fearful of feelings.
A true measure of this outcome is the ‘culture of conflict avoidance’ experienced in today’s families and places of business. Interestingly, if we are unable to allow and express conflict, we also inhibit innovation. Our ability to innovate by coming up with new solutions correlates directly with our ability to adapt to our rapidly changing global circumstances. Coming up with new solutions to the new problems of today’s world occurs through constructive conflict. Challenging the status quo begins the process of releasing old beliefs and patterns of behaviour and exploring new ones that better serve our current needs.
The true blessing Life bestows on us, often in spite of our best or worst efforts, is the fact that we are whole beings (spiritual, physical, intellectual, communal and emotional). When we ignore any one aspect of the SPICE of living, we fall out of balance. And when we are out of balance, we fall sick or run into roadblocks. Illness and dead-ends are nature’s or Life’s way of telling us to seek balance. Keep in mind we are always given early warning signs which alert us when we are tipping the SPICE scale too much in one direction. (If you are interested in a free SPICE assessment, you will find it under my Joy Tools to the left of this blog.)
A truth that I now take to be self-evident is repression never remains silent. As humans, we are wired to release from our beings what causes us dis-ease so that we can be co-creators in our world. I wrote the poem below as homage to this deep, programmed desire for creation.
Like lava pressured to the surface
from the earth’s core, every act of creation
uncovers what wants expressing.
It wills to be released.
It wills to be known.
The stuff of life is contained deeply within
but no thing can remain forever hidden.
First, come the internal stirrings
of calamity, chaos and confusion. All
energize awareness, wanting acceptance.
Then, if allowed, the birthing of an idea
breaks through and a union with mystery
reveals the once unknowable
expressing such beauty as the stars.
With awareness and creative practice, we have the potential to know the unknowable. However, knowing requires us to accept what shows up in our lives no matter what feelings or fear arise and then to use this ‘material’ to understand and create what is needed. Creativity requires regular practice in order for us to continually express what lies buried deep within. Without a creative practice, we continue to withhold expression, which impacts all aspects of our being, and thereby removes spice from our lives.
What creative practice do you most enjoy? How often each day or week do you allow yourself this expression? What would it take for you to make this a weekly, even daily practice?