Dealing with negative emotions—anger, shame, guilt, fear—is something I don’t do very well. In most cases my way of dealing with them is to deny that they exist. I almost always know that they’re unreasonable, or that they’re rooted in some kind of past trauma that shouldn’t be coloring my present circumstances, ancient being that I am.
I’ll put them in the basement of my mind, shove them down the cold cellar stairs until I hear them hit the floor and then shut the door on them. Of course I don’t really do this consciously. I do it by trying to be “positive” in the face of negative emotion. I do it by trying to be a good person, who sincerely wants to create a positive reality. I do it by knowing, for sure, that I am not a victim, that nobody else is to blame for my circumstances. I do it by understanding fully that my anger, directed outward and expressed, might be destructive. I even do it by simply observing them as they arise, incredibly enough.
I once lived in a first floor apartment that had a big old dark, damp basement beneath it, where the landlord stored all sorts of old furniture and detritus, including rolls of used carpeting and area rugs that lay on the floor, continually moist and squishy.
Those rugs, to my surprise and horror, actually grew mushrooms. I have no idea what kind of mushrooms they were, but there they were, growing away in the basement.
When we don’t really know what to do with negative emotions and we side-step them or talk ourselves out of them in order to avoid experiencing and possibly expressing them—in order to avoid allowing them to create a negative reality—they can wind up in the basement of the subconscious mind, having eventual effects.
Negative emotion avoided doesn’t go away. It accumulates. And eventually, if, like me, you tend to be a perfectionist, people-pleaser, it can build up to the point where the door to the cellar is bulging out and the mushroom and mold situation demands attention.
In my case, it demands attention by creating physical symptoms. I experience TMS, or tension myositis syndrome, which is NOT an actual physical ailment. It’s a description of how the subconscious mind tries to distract us from the the dangerous negative emotions it has taken upon itself to keep in the basement where we threw them.
The subconscious mind takes very seriously our directive, which we learned as children, to not express anything unacceptable. It knows exactly what we consider to be a dangerous emotion. It creates pain in the body by disrupting circulation to nerves and tendons, using the autonomic nervous system to tense muscle fibers. The pain of lack of oxygen to nerves and muscles can be quite extreme and chronic.
In doing this, it fulfills its mission of shifting our focus away from the unacceptable feelings, and helping us to stay nice.
Crippled with back pain, headaches, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, tendonitis of every variety, sciatica, and so on, but nice.
This syndrome is also called AOS—autonomic overload syndrome. Same thing.
It feels, when I experience an attack of pain, as though there is something seriously wrong with my body. And western medicine might agree! It would say that I have a ruptured disc, or fibromyalgia, or any number of incurable pain syndromes.
But there’s nothing wrong with my body. There’s no structural reason for the pain. We all have bulging, misplaced discs and all kinds of weird deformities in our spines. They do not cause pain in the vast majority of cases. The pain is usually TMS.
I’m still a beginner when it comes to learning to deal effectively with negative emotions. It doesn’t help to express them. I know perfectly well that expressing my anger is only going to compound the problem by adding shame and guilt into the mix. Complaining is certainly out… it creates a general air of victimhood that creates more of itself. Pivoting away from negative thoughts to positive thinking and positive thoughts can work, but with these kinds of dangerous emotions which we have unconsciously repressed, no amount of positive thinking will have an effect.
So what do we do when expression and suppression both cause problems? People like me who want to be seen as “good” and who are sincere about awakening—who know they create their own reality—often have a basement full of anger, shame, guilt and fear. I can go for months with no pain at all, and then a series of stressors might arise during which I’ve done a lot of repressing, which put my subconscious, autonomic system on overdrive.
Sometimes, when a pain symptom arises, I can actually say, “This is bullshit. I know this isn’t real.” I can ask myself what’s actually bothering me and the answer will pop into my mind and within minutes, the pain will be gone. I have even removed pain in seconds by firmly telling my subconscious mind, “Stop the pain, it’s unnecessary. I’m dealing with the emotions. Stop the pain!” This is a trick I learned here and by golly, it’s magic.
Other times I know that the sheer volume of emotions I’ve repressed will have to be dealt with more skillfully and I’m going to have to sit down and journal—write honestly and allow all the mess in the basement to come spilling out. What am I pissed off about? What am I ashamed of? What am I afraid of? What do I feel guilty about? The healing power of just admitting all this stuff… letting it be seen and heard in the light of day, is amazing. Nobody else has to read it and I can even burn it when I’m done if I want to.
There then might be conversations that it’s obvious will have to happen, or changes I need to make in the way I’m doing things, but those are extremely clear once the dark hoard is out of the basement.
It’s really hard to be human. We’re in animal body-minds that feel strongly. We want to lash out, but we know that for the sake of our civilization and our awakening, we must not. However, we have to give the animal nature its due. I find that writing it out helps relieve the pressure and dissolve the pain. Then I can meditate, or ask forgiveness or whatever else I need to do to soothe myself.
What I have learned is that until I can admit, fully, and really feel—even honor—a dangerous negative emotion, self-forgiveness and the freedom it offers, is not available.
If you’d like more information about TMS: Read any book by John Sarno, MD: Healing Back Pain, The Mind-Body Prescription, The Divided Mind. Take a look at the TMS Wiki — lots of help and resources here, and the success stories are especially encouraging. Pain Free For Life, by Scott Brady, MD, a six-week program for overcoming AOS, which pays tribute to Dr. Sarno—who treated him for pain and later became his teacher—and then somewhat expands the definitions to include a wider range of emotions and self-treatment ideas. There are many, many other books now, but between Dr. Sarno and Dr. Brady, you’ll learn the basics of self-treatment, which are quite simple.