by Deepak Chopra
Emotions are mysterious and often dangerous things. Thirty years ago, mind-body medicine made the connection between emotions and illness. The so-called cancer personality had its vogue, preceded by the Type A personality linked to early heart attacks. Despite advances in drugs for depression and anxiety, toxic emotions are taking the same heavy toll as ever, playing their secret part in causing all manner of illness.
The most toxic emotions are hostility, anxiety, stored-up resentment, guilt, hopelessness, and depression. What makes them toxic is that they disrupt the immune system and drastically alter hormone levels. Researchers long ago proved that lab rats raised under conditions of high stress are much more prone to sickness and early death. But human beings have much more control over the toxic effects of their feelings.
The cycle of all emotions always goes back to the mind-body connection. Some people make it; others refuse to. I’ve found that there are definite steps anyone can take to heal this connection, and when that happens, the flow of emotions – good and bad – is restored to its healthy state.
1. Own your emotion and take responsibility for it. You can’t blame your feelings on anyone else; they are all yours. If you become enraged with bad drivers, the cause isn’t with them but with you. The external stress is far less important than how you deal with it and people who look to themselves as the source of their own feelings have made the all-important step toward healing. Instead of saying to someone, “You made me angry (or jealous or afraid or resentful”), change your reaction to “This situation is causing me feelings of anger.” It’s not just a formula – it’s the truth.
2. Focus on the sensation of the emotion, not its content. All emotions have physical results; that is why they can make us ill. But we all tend to focus instead on the who, why, what, when and where of a feeling. This is called rationalization. Fortunately, the mind can’t pay attention to two things at once. If you stop thinking about who stressed you out and why, but instead put your attention on your body, feeling where the discomfort lies, you break the cycle of obsessive thinking that makes a toxic emotion keep on going, long after it should. You don’t need to figure out your emotions so much as dissipate their harmful energy.
3. Label your emotion on two levels. The first level is obvious: we all know when we are angry or unhappy. But anger is the easiest emotion and unhappiness doesn’t end just by letting it run its course. At a deeper level, there is always a second emotion. If you are habitually caught in a situation that makes you feel stressed, ask what lies behind the mask of your first emotion. Are you feeling unheard? Is your anger a cover-up for insecurity? Are you secretly afraid? Until you get to the second level, you aren’t dealing with the toxic part. In my experience with hundreds of patients, if they trace their feelings somewhere in the body, inevitably the second level of emotion lies in the heart or the stomach. This is where the emotional glue causes negativity to stick to you. Just as inevitably, the second-level emotions are recurrent – people have been carrying around resentment or anxiety for many years; it is their own personal drama. When you see that your patterns have been with you for a long time, it is easier to see that they belong to you, not those whom you blame.
4. Express all your emotions, without exception, but do it through a healthy outlet. Emotions want to move; their natural flow is halted by denial, repression and ‘holding it in.’ Keeping a journal of feelings every day has proved extremely helpful for many people, since no one lives in an environment where all emotions can be expressed outwardly. In any event, don’t aim your emotion at anyone. If you feel terribly hurt or mistreated by someone else, write down every detail of that feeling in a long letter. Don’t leave out any scrap of resentment, hatred, jealousy or hurt. Edit the letter tomorrow to make sure it is complete then throw it away. You need to express your emotions to yourself first of all, not to others.
5. Release your emotions in a significant way. In other words, don’t just pass them off. Your body wants to know that you are aware of your feelings. Talk to it; say that you are going to deal with a sudden outburst of negativity, even if you have to postpone your reaction until later. And keep your promise. If you need a walk outside, time alone or a few moments to vent in private, carry out those intentions. The important thing is to discover your own process or ritual for releasing an emotion. Choices might include vigorous exercise, praying, getting a massage, laughing, deep breathing – the range of possibilities is very wide.
6. Share your process with a loved one. This is the crucial step that makes all emotions positive. As soon as you find the lesson that your negativity wants to teach you, it becomes positive. Perhaps you feel deep down that anger is always wrong or that guilt must not be faced. It is your belief system that makes these emotions ‘bad’ and therefore toxic. Every emotion you deal with makes you a healer. Share that with your spouse or closest friend. Let them into your process and you will find that negativity begins to lose its grip much more quickly.
7. Celebrate yourself. When you take one step toward healing a toxic emotion, you have made a step toward personal freedom. Instead of your emotions using you, you are learning to use them. That is cause for celebration and you shouldn’t skip the moment of victory. Nature abhors a vacuum. When you let go of negativity, fill the space by congratulating yourself and allowing healthy pride, satisfaction and self-esteem to fill in the gap. You have restored the mind-body connection; now, let the good things flow across it. This is just as important as getting rid of the bad things. When you can see your emotions as the best part of yourself, you have become a true self-healer.
Join Deepak Chopra and David Simon for a week of self discovery and transformation in Whistler, Aug. 23-29.