Unfelt Emotions & the Attic
A big theme of my coaching last week was ‘unfelt emotions.’ Unfelt emotions are complex and painful feelings that we store away because they are too confronting to deal with at the time. They can arise from traumas, arguments, abuse, and any sadness or vulnerability that was unacknowledged. We learn to ‘unfeel’ emotions from a very young age, perhaps before we can even remember.
The seeds of our adult life are sown in the unfelt emotions of our childhood and adolescence. In fact, our adulthood is often lived in complete reaction to these wounds. I would go so far as to say that we leave remnants of ourselves in our unfelt experiences and parts of us remain stuck there. So someone with a lot of unfelt emotions can end up feeling like a shadow of their former self, because they have shed parts of themselves in every traumatic experience in their lives.
It is as if we have an attic door within our mind that stores all of our painful and traumatic emotions. We padlock the door and leave a sign that says ‘Do Not Enter.’ But we can’t escape them- they combine into our feeling of heaviness or the dark cloud that follows us around. You know the feeling of returning from a holiday and being weighed down by the routines and responsibilities of your life? That’s how it feels to be reunited with our unfelt emotions. Our unfelt emotions get stored behind this locked door and they come together to form our pain body.
The Pain Body
The pain body is explored in the work of Eckhart Tolle, particularly in his books The Power of Now and A New Earth. Tolle defines the pain body as an accumulation of old emotional pain that has not been dealt with. “Any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is… does not completely dissolve. It leaves behind a remnant of pain.” (p. 142, A New Earth, 2005). According to Tolle, “the remnants of pain left behind by every strong emotion that is not fully faced, accepted and then let go of join together to form an energy field that lives in the very cells of our bodies. It consists not just of childhood pain, but also painful emotions that are added to it later in adolescence and during your adult life.” (p. 142, A New Earth, 2005).
Our pain body is the familiar negative voice and automatic thinking that cause us to habitually feel negative emotions. Because they are so familiar, we identify ourselves with that negativity and see it as an essential part of who we are.
How does the pain body affect our life?
It’s our darkness. It shows up in our body. It’s the cyclical headaches we get. It’s the chronic pain. It’s the habitual fight we have with our partner. It’s our dark mood. It’s the ongoing tensions at work. It’s the destructive relationship. It’s the weight we can’t shift. It’s the patterns we can never seem to overcome.
Some people have a pain body that is characterised by complaining and they try hard to be positive and then they fall back into the pattern of complaint. Some people have a pain body of depressive thoughts. Some people have a pain body of anger and they spend a lot of time dwelling on what someone did to them, or what they are going to do to someone else. Other people have a strong victim pain body and they spend a lot of time feeling sorry for themselves and all of the unfair things that happen to them.
Tolle says that we derive perverse pleasure from our pain body because we are compelled to think and talk about it constantly. It fills a void in our thinking. As long as you make an identity for yourself out of the pain, you cannot become free of it.
What is the retrieval process?
It’s never going to be possible to re-live every trauma that has ever happened to us, mainly because many of our traumas probably happened to us when we were children and too unaware of what was going on to even recall it. However I believe that there is a necessity to retrieve the remnants of ourselves from significant trauma.
This retrieval process involves:
1. Naming the trauma,
2. Re-experiencing the emotions that were felt,
3. Accepting those emotions and
4. Forgiving everyone involved.
It may be helpful to be supported by a professional coach, counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist in this process.
5. We then need sustained conscious attention to sever the link between ourselves and our pain body. Tolle recommends that we accept it is there. Don’t judge or analyse. Don’t make an identity for yourself around it. Become aware of emotional pain and the observer that watches the pain. Then see what happens. Become present as the watcher. This degree of consciousness will change your life and you will feel truly free.