“Emotional baggage” is a term you’ve probably heard before.
It’s a term that’s occasionally used to explain the phenomena of carrying prior trauma or “bad experiences” into one’s life, relationships, or job.
You could notice this in someone’s posture, as if they’re bearing an unpleasant burden. It could even impede them from progressing in life.
To some extent, everyone carries unprocessed emotions from their past experiences. Emotions that aren’t dealt with, on the other hand, don’t simply vanish.
They may have an impact on:
the way you think about yourself, how you respond to stress, your physical health, and your interpersonal interactions
After all, emotional baggage does have a name, doesn’t it?
Let’s peel back the layers of how and where emotions become lodged so you may let go of what’s holding you back.
What does it mean to have emotions that are “trapped”?
Perhaps you’ve heard of people crying during yoga, massage, or acupuncture sessions because of a vulnerable place that, when activated, causes an emotional release.
Though some people talk about trauma being “stored” or “imprisoned” in the body, this isn’t a scientific term.
Traumatic stress symptoms, on the other hand, might appear physically.
This could be because the brain subconsciously identifies this region with a certain memory.
According to Mark Olson, PhD, LMT, owner and director of the Pacific Center for Awareness & Bodywork, activating certain parts of the body may awaken these memories.
“Emotions are constantly generated – subconsciously or consciously — in response to the reactivation of memories or unmet aspirations,” adds Olson. “A simple touch to the X area is a reliable stimulus for reconstructing the pattern associated with that traumatic event.”
Touch can elicit emotions, or a memory can trigger sensations in a specific section of the body. While this is normally linked to a physical location, Olson believes it all takes place in the brain.
Others, on the other hand, think that trauma and painful emotions can become lodged energy in the body, despite scientific proof to the contrary.
Trapped emotional vibrations force adjacent tissues to vibrate at the same frequency, which is known as resonance, according to Bradley Nelson, DC.
“Each trapped emotion resides in a specific area in the body, pulsating at its own special frequency,” Nelson says in his book “The Emotion Code.”
He believes that this will cause you to attract more of that feeling, resulting in a build-up or blockage.
Nelson’s position, however, will remain speculative until more research can be done.
What causes emotions to become trapped?
However, studies dating back to 1992, as well as more recent research, backs up the mind-body connection, or the idea that a person’s mental and emotional wellness affects their physical health.
Fear is a famous illustration of this.
When you’re terrified, your body activates the fight-flight-freeze reaction, which causes your body to react physically.
When a person experiences an emotion, three things happen, according to Nelson.
We create an emotional resonant frequency.
We are aware of the feeling, as well as any connected thoughts or physical sensations. This is where the connectivity of the mind and body comes into play.
By digesting the emotion, we are able to move on from it.
Emotional processing takes place in the limbic areas of the brain, according to Olson and other research .
We’re continually taking in information, which triggers autonomic nervous system responses that we’re not aware of. This activates the relevant feeling by sending a signal to the body.
In other words, your “feeling” is based on the information provided by your nerve system.
When the second or third stage, as indicated above, is disrupted, the emotion’s energy becomes stuck in the body, according to Nelson. You may have muscle tension, soreness, or other symptoms as a result.
The more intense your emotions are, the more prone you are to become imprisoned.
“The term ‘trapped emotions’ usually refers to the genuine self wanting to express something that the fake self doesn’t want us to,” Olson explains. “In psychology, we think of the genuine self as the part of us that is born open, curious, and trusting, whereas the false self arises as a set of adaptive methods to deal with suffering and loss,” says the author.
This repressed negative emotional energy can manifest in the following ways:
- Self-sabotage and overreaction as a result of poor decision-making heightened tension and anxiety.
Kelly Vincent, PsyD, a mind-body therapist, compares suppressed emotions to carrying a huge rucksack. It makes us feel heavy, affects our mood, and saps our energy.
She also mentions that it can harm biological tissues and inhibit organs and glands from functioning normally.
“It’s like a huge motorway gridlock,” Vincent explains. “It’s difficult for energy to flow freely.”
Emotions that have been bottled up and trauma
It’s impossible to talk about repressed emotions without talking about trauma, especially how the brain reacts to it.
Trauma affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives.
According to a 2015 study of nearly 69,000 adults across six continents, over 70% of respondents said they had been subjected to a traumatic event, with 30.5 percent saying they had been exposed to four or more.
Trauma can be caused by a variety of life events, including:
- A breakup is a significant life shift.
- a loved one’s death adultery in a relationship job loss an encounter with violence, bigotry, or racism
- Trauma can have an impact on cognitive functions.
It has a particularly negative impact on memory processing and the ability to retain facts, or explicit memory. As a result, the painful memory or experience is not correctly “recorded” in the brain.
“When the brain is confronted with an incredibly overpowering experience, such as a trauma, the traumatic memories are encoded as pictures or physical sensations,” Vincent explains.
When the brain is stimulated, it can become detached from reality or recreate the traumatic event in the form of a flashback.
Dissociation, or psychological disconnect, is the term for this.
These sensory pieces linger in the mind, interfering with the brain’s natural healing process.
Unprocessed events can lead our mental and bodily processes to fail, as Vincent compares traumatic memories to a virus in our encoding system.
Trauma that isn’t processed or resolved on its own might persist long after the event has occurred.
This is common in patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that develops when a person has experienced frightening or life-threatening situations.
According to research, people with present PTSD have a smaller hippocampus, the brain’s emotional and memory centre.
The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress, and it is a part of the fight-flight-freeze response.
Long-term stress affects the hippocampus, according to 2011 research, which might manifest as aberrant blood flow or shrinkage. As a result, even if you’re not consciously recalling the horrific event, your body may stay hyper vigilant.
What is the location of trapped emotions in the body?
Have you ever felt a tightness in your chest when you’re in a stressful situation? Or do you find that stretching your hips feels pleasant after an emotionally draining day?
Where one person feels tension or sensitivity in their bodies may differ from where another feels tension or sensitivity.
Some research, on the other hand, establish a baseline for where people’s emotions are most commonly felt. However, further research on this topic is required before solid conclusions can be drawn.
A 2013 study led by a group of Finnish biomedical engineers tried to explain where emotions are perceived in the body.
They used colour to map body reactions to emotions in roughly 700 people, asking them to colour in areas where they felt reactions were rising or decreasing as a result of various stimuli.
They discovered that various emotions were linked to various physiological sensations that were largely the same for all subjects.
Anger, fear, and anxiety, for example, were associated with greater activity in the chest and upper torso.
This could explain how phrases like “hot-headed” and “bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders” came to be.
These emotions can also activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing the body to react quickly. When you’re apprehensive or stressed, you may notice your heart pumping or your muscles contracting.
In a follow-up investigation, the same researchers discovered that the intensity of a feeling was directly tied to the intensity of bodily and mental sensations.
They divided feelings into five categories:
- unpleasant emotions including worry, rage, and shame
- homeostatic states, or a balanced, regulated internal state diseases and somatic states positive, such as happiness, love, and pride cognition, such as attention and perception homeostatic states, or a balanced, regulated internal state
- Feelings change all the time, thus this study could be useful for people who have problems comprehending their emotions.
Emotions that have not been processed
Unresolved emotions may be held in your unconscious, affecting your body posture.
“When you’re confident, your head is in a different posture than when you’re puzzled,” Olson explains. “When you’re defeated or successful, your spine takes on a different shape.”
People may unconsciously default to certain postures that inhibit their awareness of painful experiences, according to Olson.
He explains that “muscle tension occurs to generate and sustain postures that keep oneself secure or unconscious of unpleasant feelings.”
Certain postures and gestures also have emotional and social connotations. Consider the difference between a warm embrace and folded arms.
This may explain why some people assume that tension in the body is linked to specific locations. Olson, on the other hand, recommends against utilising this to generate broad narratives.
“As they defer to a [list] rather than what they can find within themselves,” he continues, “this imposes a very narrow restriction on how far one can explore.”
How to Get Emotions Out of Your Body
Have you ever been compelled to cry, scream, laugh, punch a pillow, or dance your feelings out?
We’re taught to bury our sorrows and carry on. This can result in repressed emotions, often known as unconscious avoidance, over time.
Emotional repression has been linked to a reduction in immune system function, according to research published in 2019.
Here are a few options for releasing repressed feelings:
- expressing your emotions
- overcoming adversity
- attempting shadow work, making deliberate movement, and cultivating stillness
- Recognize your emotions.
- The more you know about your emotional world, the better you’ll be able to process your emotions in a healthy way.
The first stage is to understand and connect with your emotions. People who have repressed emotions may have difficulty identifying their sentiments, which is why speaking with a mental health expert can be beneficial.
According to a study published in 2007,
According to Trusted Source , naming your emotions can reduce their strength.
You can do this by utilising psychological tools such as the cognitive distortion categories or by experimenting with different methods to organise your emotions in order to better understand them.
Working through prior traumatic experiences
Things from our youth are frequently carried around with us for years. Here are some examples of prior trauma:
- neglect, such as mental, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
separation from a parent or caregiver bereavement at home bullying dysfunction
Childhood trauma can manifest in a variety of ways, including:
- Self-blaming, blaming others, depression, and withdrawal from social activities
Olson argues that in order to move past trauma, you must grieve the fact that you may never get what you wanted or deserved years ago.
You can recognise the adaptive approach you evolved as a result once you’ve allowed yourself to grieve.
For example, you might have established an individual coping style that eventually leads to feelings of loneliness. You can believe that people are alienating you if you don’t recognise your plan.
If you understand your isolation is due to your adaptive approach, on the other hand, you may pinpoint the source of the problem and adjust your strategy to better suit your true needs.
Work in the shadows
Shadow work is similar to analysing childhood trauma in that it allows us to explore different aspects of ourselves that we keep buried, usually out of shame or inadequacy.
People tend to conceal the aspects of themselves that they consider to be undesirable.
When you were a kid, were you ever instructed to “cool down” or “stop weeping” because you were upset? This emotional invalidation may cause you to be ashamed of or downplay your emotions.
Shadow work can be done in a variety of methods, however working with a therapist is generally suggested.
A few shadow work activities can be found here.
- Movement that is done on purpose
Somatic experience (SE) is a technique for addressing any unresolved tension or emotion in your body.
- To address symptoms, SE takes a body-first approach, with the belief that releasing repressed trauma can help with emotional healing.
According to Vincent, one way to accomplish this is by deliberate movement.
“When we move with intention, we may generate a sense of safety in our bodies that we may not have felt before, especially for people who have accumulated trauma,” Vincent explains.
The following are some examples of deliberate movement:
- Shaking martial arts yoga
- contemplative walking qi gong tai chi
- Exercises for belly breathing
- Intentional movement, according to Vincent, releases any stored energy while also assisting the brain in distinguishing between stress and relaxation.
Developing a practise of quiet
Being still allows us to be present with our thoughts and feelings.
It works by tapping into the brain’s default mode network, which occurs while your brain is briefly inactive. This causes “self-generated cognition,” which includes activities such as daydreaming and letting your thoughts wander.
People can better connect with their inner thoughts, feelings, and aspirations by temporarily disengaging from external stimuli, according to research.
“We live in a culture where quiet isn’t respected or practised nearly enough,” Vincent adds, “yet it can be so beneficial to our brains and bodies.” “It also creates room for emotions to enter… consciousness.”
Stillness can be practised in a variety of ways, including:
- breathing exercises for meditation
- relaxing in nature while listening to soothing music
- affirmations again and over
- muscular relaxation that is progressive
Last but not least
It is possible for an emotion to become “stuck” in the body if it is not fully digested.
Emotional processing, on the other hand, takes place in the limbic structures of the brain. While some parts of your body may be tense or related with an emotional event, the brain is ultimately responsible for rebuilding the emotion.
You can learn to move on from past traumas and relieve the related body tension by using ways to work through your emotions, such as counselling, mindful movement, and shadow work.