Expressing those deep, negative emotions that you’ve been holding onto from your past should lead to a release of the emotional energy behind them, and free you from the burden of holding onto the pain.
However sometimes what you express, vent or release isn’t all of it, and you need to dig a little deeper to get to the real pain that’s keeping you from moving on.
In this article, I’ll help you dive into that deeper pain to help you reach closure and healing.
“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.”
This quote reminds us that we spend so much time on the drama of situations instead of focusing on a solution. We don’t typically see an immediate solution, so we instead want to vent and express our irritations to other people.
These other people are usually those that are closest to us. Can you count on one hand the number of times you’ve gotten upset at someone you love because you had a bad day? If so, give yourself a pat on the back because that’s impressive.
Those who feel most comfortable around us are also the most vulnerable to our anger
Think about that for a minute. The people we love and cherish most are usually in the direct path of our anger and frustration.
Why is that? Why would we take our own emotional baggage out on someone we’re supposed to love and treat kindly?
The reason is because we feel safe to do so. The longer you are with someone, the more you get to know them. And the more you know them and they know you, the more safe you feel being vulnerable with them. What that means is that you can open your heart and soul to them and they typically won’t hurt you when you do so.
The more vulnerable you can be with someone, the more you love them. At least, in some small way. It doesn’t mean you love everyone you trust, but loving someone does come easier when you feel safe with them.
Safety comes with trust. The more trustworthy someone is, the safer you feel. The safer you feel, the more you can be yourself around them.
Unfortunately, our negative emotions can come out with people we safe with too. You can feel so safe around someone that when you’re angry at something that has nothing to do with that person, that person can frustrate or annoy you without even trying to. They can look at you a certain way and you might go off on them, yelling at them or worse.
Feeling safe has a responsibility to it. It’s like having all the money you need. You can choose to spend it all on lottery tickets which is probably very foolish, or you can invest wisely and save. More money lets you have the freedom to do more things.
More safety lets you choose the freedom to feel more of your emotions. There are less restrictions on how you can feel, so you allow more feelings to come out.
You know how this works right? Have you ever had a bad day, then your loved one, be it a partner, friend, or relative, comes up and says or does something that triggers anger in you? You might yell or get angry with them, or do something you regret.
But if a complete stranger comes up and does something that triggers anger in you, I bet you’re less likely to respond so hastily. Some people don’t care and will respond the way it needs to come out. But even I can admit that I’d probably treat a complete stranger much nicer most of the time than my own loved ones, at least if I’ve had a really bad day.
I don’t get phased by too much, but I still feel safer with my loved ones, and therefore more prone to be angry with them too.
That’s because as good as it can get, it can also get bad. In other words, I can be very happy and playful with someone I love, but that also means I can be the polar opposite if I’m not careful about what comes out of me on a bad day.
The more balanced you are in your emotions, the less likely you’ll react from your own triggers.
What that means is that if you get super happy and laughing, you can also get very sad and sometimes depressed. This is the condition you see with a lot of people that have bi-polar disorder. They’re emotions go from one extreme to the other.
We all have some level of bi-polar in us, it’s just a matter of how extreme we get with both the good feelings and the bad.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t feel very good without feeling very bad, it just means that we are more prone to feeling worse when our emotions fluctuate so wildly much of the time.
I believe that experiencing the full range of all of your emotions is actually healthy. When you don’t repress anything, you are keeping the gears turning and the system flowing as it should. The problem arises when other people aren’t able to handle the emotions we express. There’s also a problem when we don’t bounce back from the emotions that come out of us.
The first challenge is the people you’re with. How many people do you know will let you scream at the top of your lungs if you want to, without them running off because they think you’re nuts? If you know someone that will let you express all of who you are in the moment without them getting involved in your emotional release, you really have someone special on your hands.
Assuming they are not repressing their own thoughts and feelings about you, by letting you vent if you need to, they are helping you stay healthy.
Then there’s the challenge of not bouncing back. If you’re upset, angry, hurt or something else, and you express and yell or cry, but can’t return to a calm state afterward, then that’s when you become more bi-polar and less balanced.
I’m not saying you are bi-polar, and I’m not saying you’re not balanced if you’ve been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, but I am saying to focus on where you return after you express your emotions. If you return to a calmer state after expressing, you are more likely to have an easier time in life because you don’t get stuck feeling bad.
But if you can’t bounce back, or you feel bad more times than you feel good, then it’s time to turn on your awareness and find out where you go inside yourself, and why.
The “why” is what most people can’t get past: “Why am I so upset?”, “Why am I so sad or angry?” These are the whys I attempt to address in every episode of The Overwhelmed Brain.
Of course, you could ask “why” for years and never know, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start improving right away. And the more you improve yourself, the more the why doesn’t matter because the cause of your bad feelings get slowly overwritten.
Sometimes we hold onto traumatic events from our past, and we can’t even remember what they were. This can happen with severe childhood trauma because of something called dissociation. This is when you turn one or more of your senses off while you’re going through the traumatic event.
I know sexual abuse victims who “turned off” their visual senses while they were going through the trauma simply so they wouldn’t have to experience what was likely horrific and painful. There are people who don’t even realize they were abused because they don’t remember what they saw, they only remember what they felt.
Having dissociated from their visual experience of the event caused them to remember only feelings and perhaps sounds and smells. And those types of memories are given less credit than visual ones, so the trauma can be missed even by professionals who have more degrees than I can count.
This is very difficult, because if you’ve been through trauma and became dissociated in any way, you may only have what you feel as a memory. Substantiating that can seem impossible. Or, maybe you know deep down inside that something did happen in your past, but simply have no proof because you really have no memory of it happening at all.
The “why” of things can be, and sometimes is, inconsequential to your healing and growth however. Just because you don’t know why you feel a certain way, or why someone bugs you, or why you get angry, doesn’t mean you can’t start rewiring your brain to respond differently.
It’s a process for sure, but sometimes I watch people search for that root cause of something, never find it, and feel miserable for much of their life.
If you don’t know the root cause, and you don’t know anyone who can help you uncover it, then it might be time to stop looking into the past for the cause, and start looking into the future for a fresh start on life.
Sure, there might be wrongs done in the past, but by continuously thinking about it day after day without ever coming to a resolution, you’re probably doing more harm to yourself than good. And “good” is what you want for yourself, right? Good is the place to be, and feeling good just… feels good.
Regarding the quote, “It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” tells me that we can direct anger, if that’s what we feel, towards a solution. When we are continuously thinking back about how people have upset us, then we are driving forward while staring into the rear view mirror.
It’s forward momentum in life, but continual reminders of our past also. It’s no way to live. Even if your past was great, looking back all the time can slow you down thinking how great life used to be.
I understand this for sure. I can remember when I was in my twenties. I had a great job that challenged me but didn’t stress me out. I just started a good relationship. And I was outside a lot, enjoying the sun in Florida. This was a great time in my life.
Yet, I don’t really think about that anymore. Sure, the memories give me good feelings, and they’re wonderful to have, but I don’t think of those times as something I wish I had again because I wasn’t the same person back then.
That’s what became most important today: The person I’ve become.
I don’t think about missing out on all the past good times even though I remember them being more easy or more fun. I just think about how I can make new good times.
That’s what I’ve seen people struggle with. Time and time again, they are miserable because they focus on what used to be great about their lives. They are not feeling the same level of joy and happiness as they once had so they think things have gotten worse.
Things always seem worse when all you do is compare the best time of your life with today. Even though five years from now, you might think today was pretty darn good too.
That’s why I choose to remember who I was and who I am. When you can focus on the person you were, you start to realize the level of growth you’ve done. You’ve either improved or not. Or, you’ve stayed the same.
Don’t let all the great times in your past dictate how you’ll feel about things in the present. That can be a very fuzzy perspective and isn’t always true anyway.
For instance, I remember having no worries in childhood. I was free to play all I wanted. I had friends and toys and loved being outside. I didn’t have a job or stress or anything.
For some reason, when I think about being a child in my family home, I tend to forget the many nights I cowered in fear hoping my stepfather wouldn’t hurt me in a drunken rage.
Were those times all that great then? There were many great moments for sure, but did I enjoy being that person who couldn’t take care of himself? Did I enjoy feeling helpless and scared much of the time?
I have certainly changed from that scared little boy. Who I was is much different than who I am now. I have developed personal boundaries and choose to not be in an environment that is harmful to my body or spirit. I may remember the good times growing up, but I’m no longer stuck in the nostalgia of what was.
Who are you now? Can you remember some great times from your past? Do you miss the past at all? Did things seem easier? And, are you the same person you were? Or, have you changed in some way?
These are the questions to ask yourself if you find that you are visiting the past more often than not. If you don’t like who you’ve become, then what would you like?
The past is a memory, and the future can be sculpted to what we want it to be assuming we don’t bring fears from the past into our future.
Focusing on the problems in life, not the people, helps us find resolution.
What are the problems? Something is really only ever a problem if you feel bad about it. I mean, at least on a personal level. You could run out of gas on the interstate and might think it’s a problem. But if you didn’t feel bad about it, maybe you wouldn’t.
Running out of gas is a good time to focus on a solution, not the person who was supposed to fill the car with gas. You can concentrate on that later, for sure. After all, someone might need a good talking to, and there’s nothing wrong with a little accountability now and then.
I received an email a couple months back from someone who went through a traumatic event in their childhood and recently realized she’d been suppressing her emotions for a long time. So she went to therapy and was able to discuss what happened to her, while crying and expressing what she thought were all of her emotions.
I have talked about full release of your emotions many times on this show so I’m glad to hear she’s taking this step.
However, her challenge is that she still seems to have a lot of emotional charge leftover. She has the need to talk about the traumatic event over and over again with people. She wants to get all the negative emotions out, which she knows should free her of the painful baggage, and she thinks she is getting them out, yet she still can’t seem to stop talking about the event.
She wants to know if she needs to dig deeper or if she’s missing a step somewhere.
This is an important question. Whenever you have any type of negative emotion inside of you, and feel it more often than not, there is something unresolved in you.
Usually, you can release unresolved pain or hurt simply by expressing that pain or hurt to someone you feel safe around. Then, the more you express, the more pain comes out. And soon, you’ve released it and feel free.
That’s in a perfect world of course. When I was depressed many years ago, that’s how my healing started too. I had a huge release when I made the realization that I carried a lot of hatred towards my stepfather. This release helped start the process of a two-year healing. And I did heal. After about 2 and a half years, I had no symptoms whatsoever. My depression disappeared.
The reason it disappeared was because of exactly what this letter writer said she was doing: Expressing, crying, venting, and everything she can to release that emotional energy.
However in this case, she’s not getting a release, she’s only getting a reprieve. In order to really focus on the problem, you have to know what the problem is. The challenge is that many people view the wrong thing as the actual problem in their lives.
For example, an abuse victim may see their abuser as the problem. It’s true, the abuser is a problem in some way. Or at least, they were a problem. But, unless the abuse is still occurring, the abuser is usually out of the picture and technically, so is that problem.
But the bad feelings are still with the abused, and that is the problem now.
So an abuse victim could express, cry and vent about all their anger they have toward the abuser, but really get nowhere in their own healing process. I mean, they’ll get farther than they were because these things still needed to be expressed, but overall, the bad feelings can tend to stick around even after they’ve expressed everything they can think of about the person who caused the problem.
So where does the focus need to be after you thought you’ve expressed everything? Well, the one thing you have to remember when it comes to your own healing and growth is that nothing outside of you causes you to feel bad, only you can do that.
This means that the focus needs to be on you. Sure, there are external circumstances and people that can be the main cause for your pain, but it still comes down to how you respond to those external circumstances, which means that what needs to be released are the true emotions you feel about yourself.
Many people who’ve experienced trauma take with them a lot of self-blame. They say things like, “I should have known better”, or they’ll make excuses for an abuser reminding themselves that they had issues too.
It’s true, the people that hurt us have issues too, but the problems start when we invalidate our own feelings and validate their behavior.
Think about that for a second. If someone hurt you in the past, do you make any sort of excuse for their behavior? Like, “Oh, he was drunk so he couldn’t help it”, or “She felt bad and was so sorry for what she did”, or anything similar to that?
I found myself being too forgiving too fast in life, automatically disqualifying people as accountable for their actions. This sounds like a noble thing to do when you first think about it:
Be quick to forgive and you shall be free! But… if you haven’t dealt with the emotional misery you’re in first, then all you’re doing is accepting the full brunt of what happened and putting more of the blame on yourself.
The people that hurt us in the past are to blame. Period. Yes, I blame my stepfather for his awful behavior even though he was drunk. Do I continue to blame him now? I don’t really think about it anymore, so no. But he is still 100% at fault for what he did to me and my family, regardless of his inability to stop drinking.
I know plenty of alcoholics that haven’t done what he’s done, so I don’t blame the alcohol at all. I blame him. This sounds like I am going against my own advice from earlier: Focus on the problem, not the person. But when you just can’t seem to shake those bad feelings, you do need to ask yourself a question:
Am I giving the person that hurt me a break here?
In other words, “Am I making excuses for them?”
What happens is that the more you make excuses for someone else’s behavior, the more likely you are to blame yourself.
And that’s when it’s okay to turn it back around and say, “No dammit, this person hurt me and they are to blame for what they did!”
It’s okay to think and say that! This is only the beginning of course, because you’ll still have the hurt and pain inside you from what they did. But if you’ve been brought up to forgive quickly, you are likely repressing what you really want to think, feel and say.
Repressing is a quick path to unhappiness, which is why it’s always a good thing to express when you can. The person who wrote me that letter said that she was expressing and felt like that was the path to being free from the bad feelings.
But my guess is that there’s a part of the equation that she’s missing. We’ll talk about that in the next segment. But for now, if you really do resist forgiving someone that has hurt you, then start by not forgiving.
It’s the opposite of what you normally hear, but it’s a powerful first step because it does something inside of you: It removes resistance.
If you’ve been repressing anger or hatred toward someone but you feel in your heart that it’s best to forgive them, and you feel a resistance in doing so… then don’t forgive them! Forgiveness is a self-loving process anyway, not an absolution of someone else’s bad behavior.
By letting yourself feel the hurt, pain or anger towards someone you don’t want to forgive, you are allowing yourself true expression of emotion. By forgiving when you’re not ready to forgive, you are creating resistance inside your body. Resistance is repression. Repression of expression keeps the bad feelings inside.
That is the first step: Giving yourself the freedom to feel hate or anger or whatever it is you really feel. By doing so, the resistance to those very same feelings dissolve.
And, as a bonus, after you feel the true emotions that you were originally resisting, those bad thoughts and feelings go away too. So there’s a point where you won’t even have to forgive, because it will come naturally. Once you express what’s true to you, and not what you rationally think you should do, that’s the beginning of deep expression from your core.
The negative emotional energy that builds up in you is always about resistance. When you resist feeling a certain way, or resist saying something to someone, you are repressing. Repressing is resistance, and resistance keeps the bad feelings in.
The next step after not being so quick to forgive is to figure out what is really hurting inside of you. What many of us tend to do is see the first layer and think that’s the problem. In reality, the layer below the layer below the layer below is really where the bad feelings are.
The hard part is getting to that layer. When you express something that makes you cry, you do feel a release. But I bet if you’re telling the same story to different people over and over again, you’ll never be able to fully release the pain.
That’s because when you express the pain you know, the pain you don’t know stays in.
What that means is that if you know what the problem is so well that you are able to talk about it with anyone, then you are really not addressing the problem at all. You are addressing one of the top layers of the problem. And when you only touch the surface, nothing gets released.
A good example of this is one of the first coaching calls I did with Michael a while back. He kept worrying about money and how he was going to pay the bills. For months he got anxiety thinking about not having enough money to support himself and his family.
Sure, not having money does seem like it might be a problem. However, is it really the problem that is causing the fears and anxiety?
Not having money isn’t the problem. Especially if you break down the word, “Problem”. Meaning, what is really the problem with having no money? Think about it from the perspective of an animal. A bird has no money, yet it’s not a problem.
There are a million reasons why it’s different for a bird, I realize. But not having money is not a problem.
A person having no money can be problematic, but it’s not the problem. If you get your leg or arm amputated, it can be problematic, but it’s not the problem.
I’m going somewhere with this, trust me.
When you are unable to release the pain and hurt from what you believe is the problem, then you are not addressing the problem.
It’s that simple, really. If you still feel the negative energy behind the situation or event, and all of your expressing and crying still isn’t releasing the pain associated with that event, then you are not expressing the right things.
When this happens, you need to get under the layer that you believe is the problem. This is the hardest part for most people because they believe they’ve already found the problem.
For example, “If I lose my job, I won’t have any money!” That is a surface layer issue that has a lot of emotion underneath. So as a contributor to our own anxiety, we’ll take it one step further and say to ourselves, “If I don’t have any money, I won’t be able to pay my bills!”
Then we’ll go even further than that and add more to our fears like, “If I can’t pay my bills, I’ll lose my house and I’ll become homeless!”
This line of thinking gets us every time too. But it gets us nowhere near the real “problem” which is this:
The problem you can identify is not the problem. What you fear most as the end result is the actual problem.
I like to walk people through the worst case scenario when it comes to anxiety and fear. When my coaching client Michael said he feared not being able to make enough money, I asked him why that was a problem. He didn’t understand the question, because he assumed that everyone on earth knew that not having money was a problem in itself.
I asked, “Why is it a problem to not have money?” And of course, he gave me his reasons. It’s the reasons we all come up with, but as I was listening, he was revealing things he himself never stopped to contemplate.
One of the things he mentioned was that he would not feel like a provider to his family. That’s pretty big! Not feeling like a provider made him feel less worthy and less masculine. So one of his major issues about not having money was not being able to provide.
This is a deeper concern and is closer to a primal fear than just being anxious.
You know what a primal fear is right? It’s a fear of not being able to survive. It’s when you don’t even meet the basic criteria of survival.
My belief is that all fears come from a deeper primal fear. And when you’re able to ask yourself questions and drill down to that primal fear, you’ll find what needs to be expressed and released.
One of Michael’s primal fears was that he was not good enough to protect and provide for his family. When he realized that this was what needed to be expressed, he was able to release the emotional energy behind it. He addressed a primal fear.
When you get stuck in anxiety, there is a chain of fear under that anxiety that leads to a primal fear. That primal fear is rarely ever visited because you believe you already know what the problem is.
Someone cheating on you can be problematic, but it’s not the problem.
Someone stealing from you can be problematic, but it’s not the problem.
You need to start breaking down all the fears you have underneath these surface layer things so that you can reveal some deeper, primal level fears and concerns.
Whenever you’ve expressed, cried, and vented what you think is everything, but you still feel the pain, hurt or negative emotions inside surrounding the event, you have not reached a primal fear.
So, I know what you’re thinking, “How do I find out what my primal fears are?”
That’s what we’re going to address in the last segment. If you still have the negative emotional residue of some bad things that happened to you in the past, we’ll talk about how to access that part of you next.
So you’ve been to therapy, talked with friends, screamed and cried as much as you possibly can, and you’re still feeling bad about what happened.
This is tough, because lingering negative emotions aren’t healthy. They fester and only make life miserable. How do you really get over things you can’t seem to get over?
Well, let me start off by saying this: Some of the stuff that I’ve heard happen to people are so awful I can’t even repeat them on the air. Some people, and maybe even you, have gone through the worst of the worst, and have been terribly traumatized.
What I’m here to talk about today, may or may not help you if the damage is that severe. But really, you have control of how far you want to go into your own psyche. You have the reigns the whole time and don’t have to go any deeper than you feel completely comfortable doing so.
This exercise can be hard if you’ve never addressed your primal fears. So as we go forward, just keep in mind that you will change only when you are ready to change now, okay?
When you have a lingering hurt of some kind, here is something you can walk yourself through.
- Ask yourself, “What is the problem?”
This is easy. You know the problem – at least the surface problem. Just name the problem.
- Ask, “What about this problem is bad?”
Come up with the main reason you believe the problem is bad. It’s probably obvious, but pretend you really want to know. Be curious about your own problem. Act as an observer of yourself, as if you’ve never had a problem and want to learn all about this problem you’re having – if that makes sense.
- Now that you have an answer for number 2, which is “What about this problem is bad?”, take that answer into number 3 and ask, “What about that is bad?”
If you don’t like the word “bad”, just use the word or words that are appropriate for you. For example, you could ask, “What about that feels painful?”
This is digging a little. Now you’re getting into some deeper level commentary on your problem. When you ask a “What about?” question, you are digging past the top layer and into the next layer so that you learn a bit more about what the problem really is.
You can even go deeper and ask, “Okay, what about that is a problem?” and ask it again and again until you get to the point where you simply don’t have an answer, but only a feeling.
But, before you jump into that, which may lead to a primal fear, let’s dive into the next question to ask yourself which is this:
- How is it a problem?
This one digs even more, because a lot of us usually don’t look past what we believe to be the problem. With Michael, I asked him, “How is not having money a problem?”
And he looked at me funny. I could tell he wanted to say, “What are you an idiot? Having no money is a problem for everyone!”
But I guarantee if that’s where your thought process stops, you’ll never be able to release the deeper stuff. So when you answer, “How is that a problem?”, ask it again just like question 3: “Okay, then how is that a problem?” and when you get an answer you say “and how is that a problem?” and so on. Does that make sense?
These questions are designed to drill down to your primal fear. You’ll know when you’re done when you reach a feeling and can’t seem to put it into words. Or, you can describe the feeling, or the emotion, and that’s when you can start expressing and releasing it.
When you get to that point, step 5 is to…
5. Express and release.
This is where you ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What emotions am I experiencing?”
This is an opportunity for release if you can really stay with it while you express or process in the way you need to process. Whether that’s talking it through in your mind, expressing it to someone safe in your life, or writing it down, or whatever it takes.
Do your best to describe what and how you’re feeling. And make sure to dig even further and ask, “What else am I feeling?” I mean, you might as well dig for more while you’re in there, right?
Now, you may want to express what you’re feeling to someone else, especially if that person is involved with how you feel. For example, if someone made you angry, you may want the chance to express your deepest hurt to them so that they understand what you’re going through.
Of course, sometimes you can’t do that. Sometimes you have a legitimate reason to fear someone and certainly don’t want to tell them anything. But if you really want to practice honoring yourself, that might be something to consider.
You will need to use your best judgment here, as I don’t know what types of relationships you want in your life. But know that when you get to the point of that deepest, primal fear, it needs to come out in some way. The ways I described, like telling a friend or writing it down can and does work, but sometimes you feel the need to tell a specific person what you’re feeling.
This is a choice that you’ll know if you need to make or not. If the person you tell really loves, respects and appreciates you, they will be open to it. If they have their own issues and can’t handle it, well, maybe you might want to think twice about telling them everything.
You certainly don’t want to cause a negative reaction. But, sometimes that’s what causes change to happen too. So, it’s your call.
Now, if you’ve done all these steps and still have those negative, lingering emotions inside of you, all I can suggest you do, which is also quite powerful, is meditate.
Find a quiet place, and be quiet. Get away from stimulus that will keep you busy, because that is what keeps you unhappy. What keeps you busy, keeps you from having to address what’s going on inside of you. It’s a convenient way of pushing aside your hurt and pain.
The busier you stay, the less you think about what hurts. But meditating stops the busy so that the bad feelings can come up and be addressed. The process is easy: Sit and do nothing. Close your eyes, and think about the problem.
But, what you want to do from there is think about every aspect of the problem and how bad it can get. It’s that worst case scenario again. Think about how bad it could possibly get, then think about how much worse it could get from there. And keep letting what could happen into your mind.
Sit with it. Let it fester. Get mad. Get upset. Then sit with it some more. Stew a while. Thinking about bad it can get, and how much worse than that it can get is a great way to lighten up how awful it feels now. You have to try it to understand what I mean.
But really accepting how much worse it could get allows you to reorganize the priorities in your brain and perceive the problems of today in an entirely different light.
Perspective is really what it’s all about anyway.