the prison of emotional denial

These last two weeks I’ve been witness to a few rather emotional discussions. Which is not at all unusual for me. However, in these weeks I’ve also been seeing how much push there is to suppress emotion in them – even for discussions of an inherently emotional nature. This kind of reaction seems to be pervasive in our culture. As a society, we’re extremely uncomfortable with emotion, and this shows up in a lack of appreciation of simply allowing it. To take an example, say there’s a conflict between two people you know and like. There are no ‘easy’ solutions in such a situation. Both of them usually have valid perspectives, which are linked to their own emotions, who they are, and their own boundaries. It’s easy to get alienated from such situations because there’s no ‘right’ answer, no “good side”, and it’s easy to feel trapped between the opposing forces. Aligning yourself with one side usually generates more problems. Emotions, therefore, are something best to avoid. At least so many thoughts go.

If we look deeply at the mechanism of suppressing emotions, it’s easy to see why. Who we are, which includes emotions, is actually extremely flexible â???? we can do almost anything we want to ourselves. We can develop ourselves to be almost anything desired, but we can also push emotions, memories, and thoughts away from sight and try to squish them into nothingness. Our training in this culture involving doing such things almost from day one. However â???? and this is the root of almost all ‘problems’ â???? we cannot truly disconnect ourselves from ourselves. There is no way to cut off and discard any disliked portion of ourselves. There is truly no escape from who we are. We can try to surgically disconnect a painful emotion, and we get a reasonable facsimile of this disconnection. But it will not be a true disconnect. Any emotion we’ve tried to shove away is always there, waiting to come back, and in fact pulling on us in every moment.

For the visually minded, I liken this process to a great white elastic band. We can stuff part of ourselves in a box, bury it, and walk away, but we’ll have that ‘pull’ from it. It will exert pressure on us in every single moment, bringing attention to it. The farther we push it away, the more pull there will be. This is why the elastic band image helps. This pull isn’t a harsh ‘you must deal with it’ one, but rather a force of nature that simply wants us to be in wholeness, bringing us back to our greater Self. This elastic can be influenced by others, too â???? if someone else walks through the area of the denied connection, what occurs is the elastic force snapping back, similar to a real elastic band. This is another description of what ‘triggering’ is.

Now in almost everyone there is not just one such pocket of emotion buried and abandoned, but multitudes. Each one exerts this pull back. Try to imagine how that would feel with real elastic bands. Because of the constant pull in many conflicting directions, there’s very little freedom to move in any direction. A little movement can be made, but even small can movements pull against hidden emotion which will then pull back, producing an emotional reaction in response. This can generates fear of any emotional movement at all. Most people are quite literally trapped in a static place by buried emotions. In such a place, life is filled with emotional minefields and geysers waiting to erupt. Words must be watched and controlled in every moment. Walls and wired fences mark off areas where unwanted emotions lie fallow.

inside a prison

Now imagine on top of this picture that you are close with someone else, who also has a huge amount of buried emotions. It would be very easy to get a reaction in that person if you tried to move through any of their “elastic bands”. So in most relationships, there is a general, unspoken agreement for both parties to act in such a way that no one will be triggered. The initial rush of being ‘in love’ at the beginning is usually the time such agreements are formed. It’s quite natural, of course; being triggered is not enjoyable to anyone, and it is normal to demonstrate you’re not going to trigger pain to someone you love. However, this restricts motion even further. After some time, there’s often a realization of how emotionally static such a posture is. This is when relationship questioning happens. It can either lead to greater freedom if both sides are open to questioning or to the end of a relationship if one person blames the other for opening up emotional cans of worms. There was an unspoken agreement, after all!

These unspoken agreements are actually pervasive in all aspects of our society. Social groups often have a number of these. To see this, try to imagine you showing the raw spectrum of an intense emotion without filtering (and without blaming others) to a group you’re part of. If you feel that this would cause a lot of alienation, or you simply cannot even imagine it, that is a sign of unspoken agreements. In such cases, someone not acting in accord with these agreements are the vast majority of the time thought of as ‘the problem’. To someone in a prison, those outside of it can indeed be a problem! Unfortunately, the label of ‘the problem’ sticks far too often to anyone with even a little self-doubt, encouraging further denial of emotions. And thus the cycle continues

The road less travelled, of course, is simply to not push away any emotion that occurs. This applies to both emotions within and emotions in others. Without the network of opposing forces described above, an incredible amount of freedom begins to take root. There are no longer any self-created chains rooting you to a particular emotional landscape. At first this is terrifying, but as the infinite amount of choices now available are gotten used to, the dance of freedom truly begins.

Of course, it takes a good deal of time to reincorporate denied aspects of ourselves back into the fold. Try to imagine trying to rush this process and having many of these elastic forces snap back all at once! It takes gentleness and patience. Nevertheless, each part of Self allowed back into a space of wholeness always adds to your sense of freedom, and brings a greater strength for any further challenges. This is the path of wholeness. When the freedom and joy of this is seen, then there is no need to even try for disconnections from Self. For we are complete, just as we are.


  1. Ron Volkman October 8, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Tremor,

    I love your example of the elastic bands tied to the buried emotions, and especially the part about the silent agreement between individuals not to trigger. That’s a beautiful description and a great way to illustrate that concept.


    • tremor October 8, 2007 at 7:47 pm

      Thank you Ron! Glad to have you aboard!

  2. Chris August 1, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    I love this article. It sums up what I believe I’m going through with a very dear person right now, experiencing a push and pull effect that is incredibly frustrating. Thank you for this. It’s a wonderful help in beginning to understand what is going on and how to move forward. Unconditional love. That’s all.

  3. Robby Frenger January 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it

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