When we were young, many of us learned to believe that certain energies are bad or wrong to feel or experience. These fundamental, natural energies could be called “emotions,” if you define emotion as simply energy in motion. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising energies such as what we call joy, exuberance, or love, and our parents held beliefs that those energies are wrong to express in excess or even wrong to feel at all, they will have attempted to squelch the expression of those energies in us. Likewise, if we expressed energies such as what we call anger or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those energies are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression as well. When we bought into this — that is, when we ourselves began to believe those energies are wrong to feel — we then began to resist or repress those energies whenever they arose in us. The resistance/repression of those energies then becomes an automatic, unconscious reaction whenever they arise in us. And so now, as adults, we are in a situation where we believe (unconsciously at this point) that these energies arising in us should not be there, which puts us in conflict with the reality that they are there. Our resistance to these naturally arising energies (the clash between our beliefs and reality) is experienced by us as suffering. (If you haven’t read it already, please see What Is Suffering? before moving on so you’ll have a context for how I am describing suffering here.)
Often, this kind of suffering takes the form of experiences we might call anxiety, anger/rage, depression/despair, fear, jealousy, restlessness, or any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Actually, quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion.
Why does this distinction matter? Well, if you have been around the block at all in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is on your Healing journey to “feel your emotions.” (In fact, I talk about this in What Is Healing? as a critical part of the Healing process.) But, the problem is if you think that the rage you keep feeling repeatedly, or the anxiety, or the jealousy, or whatever else, are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start happening because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions” again and again! After all, you are feeling these things… over and over and over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now? Even your psychologist might be encouraging you to keep going down these same rabbit holes, but nothing really seems to be changing in the long run.
The issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what you are experiencing (repeatedly) is simply what it feels like when you repress that energy. In other words, the rage, or the jealousy, or the anxiety, or whatever, is not the emotion itself, but is rather what it feels like to resist that emotion. This suffering is the inner experience (how it feels to you inside) of the belief that you should not be experiencing an energy that is nonetheless present.
The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I feel authentic emotion, it is hard for me to even label it because it is so different than what I’ve been experiencing for so many years! A real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave that moves through me. And, in my experience, on a deep level, it feels good to feel it, no matter what “flavor” the emotion takes.
It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, jealousy, anxiety, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. They will arise over and over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” They will probably escalate over time as well, because more and more emotion is being repressed and building up, thus more and more suffering is present in that repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly (usually within a couple minutes, although not always). That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again.
The states of suffering we experience and the underlying energy (emotion) being repressed are often related. For instance, the resistance of naturally arising fear might be experienced as repeating cycles of anxiety or terror. The repression of naturally arising grief/sadness might be experienced as chronic depression or despair. The resistance of naturally arising anger might be experienced as chronic irritation or rage. The repression of naturally arising envy or inspiration might be experienced as overwhelming jealousy.
Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that often escalate over time, they will often be labeled as mental disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, etc. Eventually, they will begin to manifest physically, and are then diagnosed as “diseases” such as digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, nervous system diseases, cancer, high blood pressure/heart disease, etc.
Perhaps by now you can see that these states of suffering (i.e., the resistance to the emotion) effectively distract us from experiencing the underlying emotion, for we become focused on the unpleasant feelings and “diseases” and on trying to rid ourselves of those feelings, symptoms, or illnesses. Because we believe (usually unconsciously) that the underlying energies are wrong to feel, the experience of our resistance to them (the anxiety, rage, physical illnesses, etc.) is designed to distract us away from the experiencing of the original emotion. Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own resistance (the suffering). Thus, we enter into the cycle of suffering. (See What Is Suffering?)
The rubber meets the road in your Healing process when you finally turn toward the aspect of you that is suffering and meet it standing in your True Nature. The rage, the anxiety, the jealousy, the illnesses… when these experiences are met with Love rather than animosity, the emotion that is being resisted and repressed will finally be allowed to flow as it was meant to flow. I have found this to be the crux of true Healing.
In Part 2 of this post (Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 2), I’ll be discussing another way in which suffering arises in a form that we often confuse with true emotion. That aspect of suffering takes the form of protective mechanisms that we create in order to protect us from feeling the soul-wrenching pain of some of our most deeply held (and profoundly false) beliefs. Doesn’t that sound fun? Stay tuned! 🙂