Growing up in Sweden, I learned that emotions should be controlled. Other kids will try to startle and scare you, and if you can't keep your cool and shrug it off, you've failed, you'll get laughed at. The grown-ups showed their mastery in this; I can't remember ever seeing my parents crying, or any adult for that matter. Even laughing was something to keep under control or to the right situations.
Excitement could be put in slightly approving words, like "OK, that sounds like a good idea". But never should you let your feeling of excitement go up into a "WOW HELL YEAH LET'S DO IT, I CAN'T WAIT!". And there too, in kid play culture it was almost systematically suppressed. One kid would offer a suggestion of something really good, and as soon as excitement was shown, it could be laughed at as "Did you really think you could join in?" or whatever the suggestion might have been.
Slowly but surely, before I was a teenager I was quite adept at not showing emotions. Exciting suggestions were met with a "mhmm". Instead of laughter, I mostly had a short inaudible titter through my nose, almost more sounding like a snort than a laugh. Crying was gone completely. Going to amusement parks and riding a roller coaster was basically relaxing, and mostly an exercise in showing how untouched I could be.
I never wanted to stop feeling. I never consciously viewed emotions as anything bad, and I even saw myself as being in good contact with my emotions, but also in control over my expression.
My journey in self development, my spiritual path, and maybe just general maturation as a human adult, at last got me to start expressing more. In the last 3 years, I've started letting go of inhibitions around allowing my emotions to show, and it quickly became so clear that the expression is part of the emotion itself. When I let it express, I let it flow. Laughing out loudly, the joy gets to fill the space and flow through and around me. Screaming and banging in rage takes the tension and blockage out of my body. Crying out and having tears flow down my face, my whole being is overtaken by the sadness, and there is a profound ecstasy in feeling that movement in my body. Sadness, when I can let it move, isn't something to avoid, it is a beautiful intense emotion putting colours to my experience of the life!
But still, often when I relax and allow myself to feel, I notice the patterns of wanting to shy away and suppress the uncomfortable emotions, especially if someone can see me. Often when we have gatherings here at Hökås, circling and sharing intimately, letting down our defences, I have some hours when I face feelings of being unwanted or not included in the group. At the same time I can see myself keeping others at a distance because of the habits of hiding my emotions. I go away to the corner of the room, I put on a neutral face whenever someone is looking toward me. But then, catching myself doing this, relaxing into that it is OK to feel and be seen feeling, I can see the patterns from everything I suppressed when being teased as a kid and all much worse things my mind made up around it.
The emotions come with triggering thoughts, like that I'm unwelcome, unworthy, unwanted, and my mind starts working at plans and strategies to fix it! Maybe if I'm smart enough, if I look better, or can make people laugh, they'll want me to join?
So many emotions had been bottled up during decades of fears and inhibitions going under the fancy names of "self control" and "fitting in". But emotions are energy, and energy that doesn't flow gets stuck, creating tension and blockages. For me, I would guess that the frequent headaches I've had since I was a kid at least partly are due to blocked emotions, leading to tensions in jaws, neck, and shoulders.
In Sanskrit sources of classical tantra and Indian philosophy, they talk about samskaras (संस्कार), stored up impressions in your energy body (both mental and emotional). It is similar to the western psychology of "trauma", but much wider in the sense that this is something we all carry (unless you are fully "awakened" or "enlightened"). Whenever I have an experience that I don't digest in that moment, it is stored up as a samskara. If I experience joy or sadness, but control myself to not laugh too loudly or show my tears, tensing up even slightly, some of it will be stuck somewhere. Even Freud stated this when he said that:
Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways. - Sigmund Freud
So what is it that I do, when I say "open up"? That deserves a whole blog post by itself, but basically, whenever something triggers me, making me uncomfortable, making me want to fix it (from a place of tension), instead of reacting to it or suppressing my experience of it, I relax into it. I let it feel. I relax jaws, neck, perineum, and I breathe through the heart. I've noticed some days when relaxing my neck, then relaxing my perineum, I find the neck tense again. Shifting focus to my heart can make the tensions both above and below fade. Sometimes however it needs to express; I need to move my body, make sounds, cry, scream, dance, run... for it to start releasing. For a short while, it can make my heart heavy and put me in a mostly useless state of mind from an outer perspective. But nowadays I recognize that feeling so well, the feeling of tensions melting like ice, the ice cold waters of emotion trickling by my throat and solar plexus, into and through my heart. It may be heavy for the heart to digest this, but there is nothing wrong with heavy. Just like in strength training, the heaviness just makes me stronger. After a while, it lets up, and the relaxation starts coming naturally. Being left with more energy and more flow afterwards is a clear sign that at least a part of it has been digested. My mind is no longer fixated on fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or even fix, and if still called for, I can now act from a centered place in myself. The techniques and teachings of digesting samskaras and traumas are milennia old, but personally I've mostly received them from authors and teachers like Michael Singer and Christopher Wallis.
In my circle of friends and acquaintances I see several people identifying themselves as "Highly Sensitive Persons" or very emotional, struggling with feeling so much and not being able to keep their emotions in. Some of them recognise it as a blessing though, more than just a struggle, and I can clearly see why. When feeling and letting the feelings show, my life flows and I connect to other people much deeper.
The singer/songwriter Fia has this song called "I Feel It All", where she sings about not being able to keep it in. I know that I can keep it in, but I also know that keeping it in means tensing up, and feeling less. So nowadays, more and more I just WON'T keep it in. I changed the lyrics a bit to fit my journey and will end with this modified version of the song:
I am one of those who won't keep it in, and I feel as if I'm peeling off my skin.
Walking through this world is intense, when I lay down my defence.
You may read me like an open book. In my eyes there's truth if you dare to look.
Sometimes I scare people off by showing my heart from the start.
And I've become so sensitive. Feeling just everything.
For the truth of the matter is that, this is my gift.
When flowing in my brilliance I'm tuned in, tapped in, turned on.
And I feel it all, I feel it all... I feel it all.
Let's dive deep into our human mess. There's no point in skimming surfaces.
No I want to meet you soul to soul, right away, come on let's go!
And I've become so sensitive..
So I still open up to the things that makes me most unique, even though at times it's a pain.
I'm moving through this world, confident and clear. I know why I'm here.