Research Essay

By Lisa Waldhart, 2010

TOPIC-“Our Feelings Speak to Us – We Should Listen”

“Stress and negative emotions aren’t just in the head; they are stored throughout the body. Many of us don’t understand emotions and we don’t like how they feel. So, we suppress them, holding onto them deeply in the muscles, tissues, and organs of our bodies, which make us vulnerable to disease. Physical symptoms are frequently emotions calling out to be heard, acknowledged, and acted upon. When emotions are embraced and their message is headed, a significant step forward is made in promoting optimal health and mental wellbeing. Reconnecting with our emotions and feelings helps us to reconnect with our bodies.”


Feelings are natural and universal among human beings. The only “bad “ feelings are the unresolved, misunderstood ones.

“A goal of spiritual/ human evolution is to realise the gift present in the feelings experienced in every interaction or situation. The first step towards that goal is being willing to allow ourselves the experience of the situation – even when it feels nothing like a gift.”


What are feelings for?

If you ask people, “What are vehicles for?” they’d probably answer, “To transport people and things from one place to another.” If you asked them, “What is a vacuum cleaner for?” they’d answer, “To pick up dust and dirt.” But if you were to ask them “What are feelings for?” most people would have difficulty answering.

(BANYAN,2003 P7)

Our feelings are nature’s built-in guidance system. This system is designed to let us know which of our needs aren’t being fulfilled and to motivate us to take actions that are necessary to fulfil them. These unexpressed, unresolved emotions can be in response to a recent event in our lives, or to a deeply buried past event, i.e., one which is out of our current awareness, being stored in our subconscious mind and no longer readily accessible to us. When we ignore our feelings, our basic needs remain unmet. Our lives become filled with frustration and stress, and eventually with depression, physical pain, illness, and disease.

(BANYAN, 2003, COLBERT, 2003, PARKHILL, 1995).

How are we taught to handle our emotions?

As a society we have a long tradition of suppressing feelings. Criticism and emotional abuse often follow when children express feelings that a society says are “wrong. Boys are told that when they express sadness and cry, they’re acting like “little girls.” Such criticism may lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame, which they soon learn must be squelched. Girls are told that expressing feelings of anger is unattractive and to cry too much is to be “a cry-baby.” Children quickly learn that to express and acknowledge emotion is socially unacceptable and disapproved of. Furthermore, our society tells us that if we become depressed, we are mentally ill. So, in an effort to appear normal, we bury our feelings and deny ever having felt them.

Some of us have grown up in environments where expressing sadness or showing signs of anger or fear is punished. An often-heard example is someone more powerful, telling a crying child to, “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about!” Immediately, the child is trained to stuff his or her feelings down to avoid punishment. As a result, he or she may end up denying having ever felt pain. Children are good at pretending that they don’t feel bad, and at forgetting the events that have caused the emotions: this is often simply their way of coping with feeling bad. This forgetting and pretending provides some temporary relief, but the memories of those experiences are stored in their subconscious minds, along with the emotions attached to them.

This kind of denial can lead to suppression or repression, resulting in emotional pressure that will eventually find a way to the surface, usually in the form of addiction, obsession, or compulsion – and even as pain and disease.

(COLBERT, 2003, BANYAN, 2003, PARKHILL, 1995).

Parkhill (1995) explains that we are products of our environment, and that our earliest years are the most important when our parents provide most of that environment. No matter what their conscious intent may be, parents can’t pass on what they themselves don’t have. So, two love-starved or criticised or abused people who come together and bring a child into the world may have the conscious intent to shower that child with the love that they didn’t get when they were young. However, if they haven’t gone through their own awareness-raising and emotional cleansing, they often end up giving that child what they themselves were subjected to when they were that age.

Many children of love-starved parents experience distance and criticism. Repressed emotion becomes intergenerational, because unresolved emotions in our parents become the filter through which they raise us and interpret their children’s behaviour. Sometimes the anger coming from mum or dad toward the child has nothing to do with the child: it is the product of the unresolved pain and suffering still percolating within the parents. A child cannot be perfect in the eyes of a parent who is programmed to be critical.

If it’s how we perceive the events in our lives that cause us pain, then we are at most risk when we are children. No matter how perfect and loving our parents were, childhood is problematic when it comes to misperceiving events around us due to our limited life experience, our heightened suggestibility, our inability to rationalise, and our reliance upon external validation and approval from which we define ourselves. As a consequence, children take everything personally. The younger the child the more they are at risk of contamination from negative perceptions about themselves. When we repeat a negative thought over and over it becomes a profound belief that incorporates a negative perception of ourselves, a reality resistant to change, and a filter through which we live our lives. A passing comment from a parent under stress can have devastating consequences.

When young children perceive that their parents, teachers, coaches, siblings, or others in authority don’t value what they think or feel, they tend to minimise their own value and shut down their emotions.

The feeling bad distraction cycle and addictive behaviour

We often carry all our childhood misperceptions of events and the negative beliefs about the associated pain and ourselves right through our adulthood. As Adults, we need to develop a coping strategy to deal with our stored pain, all of the old emotions of childhood piled up inside us, as well as the new, unsatisfied emotions of the present.

We typically handle unpleasant feelings by deliberately distracting ourselves, i.e., by consciously re-focusing our attention onto something else, something such as food, alcohol, or drugs. These distracting and often harmful behaviours can become quite unconscious and automatic once the strong association is made between the ‘bad’ feelings and the relief the behaviour provides. A bad habit is anything we do too much of. Habits that are designed to feel good often become addictive. While we are doing whatever makes us feel good, we don’t have to experience what feels bad, i.e., the underlying pain from which we seek relief. Most of the emotions are attached to long-forgotten childhood memories that have resulted in unresolved pain and lie below our consciousness.

Distracting behaviours such as eating, drinking, and blaming, aren’t directly related to the issue that is causing the painful feeling and therefore, they can’t satisfy it. The feeling-bad-distraction cycle can lead to secondary feelings of frustration, and eventually to feelings of hopelessness and depression, if the reason for the feeling has not been acknowledged and therefore remains unresolved.

As well as leading to depression, the distracting behaviours themselves can lead to further stress on the body and cause illness. According to Dr. Colbert, “Not only does the stress associated with unresolved emotions predispose the body to heart disease, but the behaviours that are often adopted to cope with these emotions also contribute to heart disease. For example, a hostile person often turns to nicotine to calm down, to food or comfort, or to alcohol for relaxation, rather than addressing the toxic emotion at the root of his life. He is only compounding the consequences associated with the toxic emotion.” (Colbert, 2003 p42)

Medical consequences of suppressing toxic emotions

There is much compelling evidence to suggest that what we feel emotionally becomes HOW we feel physically. When we experience a painful memory, even long forgotten memories from the past, our bodies often experience pain. Our body’s complex hormonal system responds to everything that we think and feel; emotional pain can produce real pain. When we relieve our emotional pain, we relieve our physical pain. Emotions that become trapped inside a person seek resolution and expression. That’s part of the nature of emotions – they are meant to be felt and expressed. When we refuse to let them out, emotions just ‘try harder.’ Emotions do not die – we bury them – but we are burying something that is still living. When we repress anger or fear we feel the normal tension, but the tension is turned inward instead of outward. The body transfers this to the deep muscle groups. The “ouch” goes unexpressed…for a while. Eventually, we awaken with that stiff back or that painful neck and the “ouch” has another outlet for expression.

(COLBERT, 2003 P58)

According to Dr Colbert. “People become experts at not feeling (acknowledging) what they feel. They become pros at pushing down any feelings that are painful or that others do not accept. What happens when we do this – when we hold in expressions of frustration, anger, or rejection, when we refuse to cry or to voice our inner pain? Our minds perceive that we are experiencing danger.” The negative emotions we are feeling, which cause us pain, become emotions that we try to avoid or reject. A negative cycle begins: the more the pressure inside us builds, the more our minds perceive that we are in a dangerous situation, the more we feel we should flee (shutting down our emotions further) or fight (railing against the emotions). The result can be an inner rage, fear or anxiety that boils just below the surface of expression for years or decades.

When a person begins to pack powerful and devastating emotions into the closet of his soul, he or she is setting himself or herself up for trouble. We all have a junk drawer or cupboard or room at home where we stuff things that we don’t know what to do with when we’re in a hurry, until one day we can’t get the doors closed. The same is true for our emotional lives. If a person keeps ‘stuffing’ toxic emotions year after year, the day will come when those emotions come pouring out. The result is a bad state of health marked by a weakened immune system, heart problems, and premature aging. (Pearsall, 1998 p66)

The initial process of learning to ‘stuff’ is conscious. A child has to resist the feeling of being scared when someone threatens to hurt him or her. Over time, the process of stuffing emotions becomes subconscious – it takes less effort and is almost an automatic instinctive response to anything negative.

The evidence is too extensive to dismiss the existence of mind-body diseases or psychosomatic ailments. Medical research is showing more and more that there may be a mind-body connection to most diseases and ailments, not just a few.

(COLBERT, 2003 P25)

Psychiatric diseases that have been linked to long-term stress include generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The manifestation of long-term stress may also be in the form of a physical ailment, floating pain, or disease. Chronic stress from unexpressed, unresolved emotions places nearly every organ system of the body at risk. Unmediated chronic stress has been linked to a long list of physical problems. These include the following:

  • Heart and vascular problems (hypertension, palpitations, arrhythmias)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (reflux disease, ulcers, indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease)
  • Migraine and tension headaches
  • Skin problems (psoriasis, eczema, hives, and acne)
  • Genitourinary problems (frequently urinary tract infections, chronic and recurrent yeast infections, chronic prostatitis)
  • Inflammation (chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome)
  • Lung and breathing problems (chronic and recurrent colds, sinus infections, sore throats, ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma)
  • Immune Impairment (chronic fatigue, chronic and recurrent infections, allergies, lupus, Grave’s disease, multiple sclerosis)

The Immune system impairment that prolonged stress causes may manifest itself in a host of other ways.

Cancer cells are common in all people, and for the person with a strong immune system, natural killer cells of the immune system attack cancer cells before they can form a tumour. So, an important defence against cancer is to have a strong and balanced healthy immune system, which stress cannot corrupt. (Colbert, 2003 pp25-29)

Dr. Sarno, a professor of clinical rehabilitative medicine at New York University School of Medicine, has treated thousands of patients with back pain. Sarno has found that 88% of his patients suffering chronic back pain had a history of tension-induced reactions. The back pain sufferers also tended to experience the following: (p49-p50)

  • Tension headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Eczema
  • Colitis
  • Ulcers
  • Asthma
  • Hay fever
  • Frequent urination
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Dr. Sarno concluded that painful back spasms and chronic back pain resulted from chronic tension, stress, frustration, anxiety, repressed anger, and worry. He theorised that tension impacts on efficient blood circulation to the muscles. Tension caused the blood vessels supplying the back muscles and nerves to constrict, thus reducing the blood supply and oxygen to the tissues. The result is painful spasms. This condition may eventually lead to numbness, the sensation of “pins and needles”- and to decreased strength in the muscle.

Chronic constriction of the blood vessels produces another negative consequence – an accumulation of metabolic waste in the muscles. The circulation system is designed to carry waste to the kidneys, bowels, and skin for removal from the body. When blood vessels are constricted waste backs up, filling muscle tissue with metabolic waste.

The lower back is not the only area affected. The muscles of the neck, shoulders, buttocks, arms, and legs may also be impacted. The result may lead to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, fibrosis, myofascitis, repetitive stress injury and other conditions. Dr. Sarno named this condition of chronic pain, ‘Tension Myosis Syndrome’ or ‘TMS.’

Prior to his findings and naming of TMS, Dr. Sarno had been treating his chronic back-pain sufferers according to whether their pain was related to a herniated disc, arthritis, and so forth. Overall, many of his patients had shown relatively little improvement, which is not uncommon with people with chronic back pain.

The findings of this research changed the direction of treatment to include treating underlying emotional components related to back pain, in addition to correcting structural abnormalities. As a result, his patients began to improve dramatically. He experienced an astonishing success rate, and more than 95% of Dr. Sarno’s patients were cured permanently, meaning that they very rarely developed recurrent back pain. (Sarno, 1998)

Just thinking about previous deep emotional hurts can cause the body to respond as if those hurts are occurring in that very moment. The brain doesn’t distinguish, biochemically, whether a memory is short-term or long-term. Once the idea of a memory is released into biochemical code, the body responds to the chemicals.

(COLBERT, 2003 P24)

The longer we dwell upon old hurts and wounds over time, the more we build a mental habit into our minds, so that the stress response occurs more quickly each time we allow the old emotions to resurface. Every time an individual recalls the memory of the unpleasant event, the body experiences the painful emotions involved as if it were actually happening. The body suffers the pain again and again and again. This is why it is not uncommon to develop disease, even years after a severe life crisis.

Hypnotherapy and age regression as a preferred method of treatment for dealing with toxic emotion.

If ever there was a valid application for the use of analytical hypnotherapy, particularly age regression to cause and inner child, this is it.

The evidence examined so far strongly suggests that freeing emotional expression can prevent disease, relieve pain, and even heal the body.

Hypnotherapy, particularly inner child regression work, aims to facilitate this expression and the healing that is then possible. In this light, an ‘abreaction’ can be seen as a cleansing of the body through the expression, removal, and resolution of toxic emotions.

This approach aims to find and eliminate the underlying cause of problems, rather than just treating the symptoms. Dr. Colbert rightly identifies that stress is not about events and experiences so much as it is about a person’s perception of the circumstances that have occurred in his or her life. A person’s stress level has to do with what a person believes.

(COLBERT, 2003 P21).

Hypnotherapy is an effective means with which to change these perceptions. Colbert further asserts that the kind of emotional pain that truly becomes a lingering physical ailment is emotional pain that a person has suppressed from childhood.

If in fact it is the long forgotten suppressed emotions that cause most of our physical ailments as Dr. Colbert suggests, then hypnotherapy’s effectiveness lies in its ability to help clients to access deeply buried emotions by uncovering uncomfortable memories and events stored in the subconscious and body mind, and then to seek a satisfying resolution.

According to the ego-state therapist, emotions and sensations experienced in the body are the voice of the troubled parts of us crying out for help. These feelings and sensations are the underlying ego-state’s way of communicating with us and they become markers for unresolved emotional pain.

Hypnotherapy treatment works at the subconscious level to effect rapid and long-lasting change to alter previous unhelpful and unwanted perceptions and behaviours. In hypnosis, a client can be directed to go back in time and to re-experience an earlier event or memory which may be otherwise inaccessible.

A well facilitated hypnotic regression conducted by a professionally trained hypnotherapist allows the client to get directly in touch with a past memory or event and to relive it, so that emotions can be expressed, and childhood misperceptions can be addressed in the light of his or her subsequent life experience.

Because of the heightened suggestibility that occurs as the subconscious mind is accessed, insights can have a much greater impact than they would normally have. Major events from childhood and infancy, both positive and negative in nature, can have a tremendous impact, and expectancies that result from these experiences continue to affect us in our lives. Events in extreme cases can serve as an imprint – a powerful single-impact learning experience that greatly influences our ways of experiencing ourselves and the world. Hypnotherapy is more about ‘de-hypnotising’ ourselves from the limiting influences of significant negative experiences from the past.

We carry traumas from the past with us into the present, and we filter our experience of ourselves and the world through the lenses of those past experiences.

(CHURCHILL, 2002,P19-20).

“The value of regression is not in working out the past, but in working with information from the past that is still affecting an individual in the present.”

(CHURCHILL, 2002 P61)

The intention of all regression therapy is to improve the quality of life in the present so that the past can be left in the past.

Perceptions and thoughts cause feelings. All ‘regression to cause’ techniques have the common objective of working with the emotional mind to revisit and to correct misperceptions that occurred in infancy or early childhood. Pain and symptoms experienced in our current lives are seen as patterns repeating themselves. Old events and negative beliefs reinforce themselves by continuing to be played out in our lives, in different ways. These negative beliefs will continue to be played out and reinforced over time until the source of the original pain is addressed, and the misperceptions are corrected. These beliefs are the truth to the subconscious mind, which will continue to seek confirmation of that perception. These beliefs or truths are protected within the subconscious mind and are therefore resistant to change, until that truth or belief is exposed, re-examined, and modified by the client with the help of hypnotherapeutic intervention.

Revisiting the past whilst in hypnosis is effective because the subconscious mind has no concept of time, and therefore it perceives the reliving of the event as happening in real time. So, it’s like a second chance for the client to help him or herself to revisit an old pain and to reinterpret a traumatic event so that he or she can gain insight around it, with the support of their wise and experienced adult self. The client gets to see the situation in a different light and is able to enlighten the confused and hurt inner child. When the inner child gets to be heard and to express his or her feelings fully, and the adult gains insight and understanding and then shares this with the child, incredible healing becomes possible, not only within the psyche of the client but often within his or her body.


Banyan, C.D.,2003. The Secret Language of Feelings. Abbot Publishing House Inc. St-Paul Minnesota.

Churchill, R., (2002) Regression Hypnotherapy Transcripts of Transformation .Transforming Press, CA.

Colbert, D., 2003. Deadly Emotions: Understand the mind-body-spirit connection that can heal or destroy you. You can overcome the deadly emotions that could trigger the disease process. Thomas Nelson. A division of Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville.

Parkhill, S., 1995. Answer Cancer. Omni Hypnosis Publishing. De Land, Florida.

Pearsall. P., 1998. The Pleasure Prescription. Broadway Books. N.Y.

Sarno, 1998. The Mind-Body Prescription Warner Books. N.Y.

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