The Power of Presence: Holding Space for Intense Emotions

Have you ever felt rage or despair bubbling up inside you, yet remained frozen and unable to express it? Many of us unconsciously suppress intense emotions, only to have them erupt later when we’re overwhelmed. Learning to healthily discharge anger and other difficult feelings prevents directing them in harmful ways towards ourselves or others.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the origins of suppressed emotions, how to safely process them and why creating capacity to feel our feelings ultimately sets us free.

Where Trapped Feelings Come From

As children, we inherently look to our caregivers to learn how to regulate big emotions. But many grow up in environments unable to support their developing nervous systems. Without modeling, attunement and space to express feelings, we internalize that they’re “too much.”

We quickly grasp that emotion brings consequences, from anger triggering violence to sadness being met with dismissal. Children adapt by hiding feelings to avoid retaliation, rejection or neglect. Suppressed emotions get trapped in the body, causing long-term health issues.

Somatic experiencing practitioner Sophie Kesner explains that around ages 2-3, we develop autonomy and boundaries. If these aren’t respected in childhood, we relate to power and emotional expression through this lens. We either repress feelings to keep the peace or let them uncontrolledly explode.

As adults, we must unravel the roots of our behaviors before shifting them. Otherwise old habits reinforce, despite conscious efforts to change.

The Risks of Catharsis

When suppressed emotions inevitably resurface, cathartic release often backfires. We dissociate from the overwhelming intensity, without actually moving through it. This is why conventional “anger management” tips like screaming into pillows usually don’t create lasting change.

While momentarily relieving, blowing up our feelings can retraumatize us. It triggers nervous system responses formed to protect us in childhood, without providing integration afterwards.

Sophie shares an experience losing herself in catharsis during breathwork training, while unknowingly pregnant. Despite the fireworks, she felt disoriented instead of grounded. She learned nervous system regulation must come before intense emotional discharge.

The Key Is Titration

Safely contacting avoided emotions requires a careful pace aligned with our window of tolerance. Rushing into fury that’s built up for decades can flood our systems. With presence and attunement from a guide or therapist, we “titrate” a little intensity at a time, then integrate before moving forward.

This scaffolding prevents going from zero to 100 into states of activation where we lose control or harm ourselves. With each small release, we enlarge our capacity to healthily feel and express, no longer at the mercy of suppressed emotions.

Sophie uses the analogy of slowly opening a shaken soda bottle instead of allowing it to burst. As challenging feelings diffuse bit-by-bit, we discharge trapped energy that’s ready for expression.

Creating Capacity for All Emotions

While anger and despair can feel intolerable, the truth is any avoided emotion causes suffering when trapped inside. The liberating journey of embodiment involves welcoming the full spectrum of human experience – including the messy, ugly and painful.

This leads to a life where we can feel sad without drowning in sorrow, or angry without destroying everything in our path. Our power lies not in numbing out what’s inside us, but developing skills to ride the waves. With nervous system literacy and resources to lean into support, we unlock freedom to fluidly emote, no longer controlled by that which went unexpressed.

What emotions have you trapped inside yourself, waiting to be freed?

Listen to the full episode for the full story.

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