It is not commonly known that emotions are stored on your body. When an emotional event happens, such as verbal or physical harm, you have a visceral response from the sympathetic pathways of the central nervous system. These responsive pathways can be experienced as an impulse of either fight, flight or freeze.
Using your imagination from your own experience, which one (or ones), fight, flight, or freeze, have you experienced as a result of harmful or potentially harmful events? For example, if someone is being verbally abusive, my impulse is to shut down and not respond (freeze). This impulse, I feel, protects me from an escalation of the situation. I believe that if I stay calm, maybe the aggressor will deescalate or at least not get worse. It is kind of like paying dead when you cannot escape the big scary bear that wants you for their dinner.
Some other examples…
The fighting impulse can look like yelling and temper to keep at bay a potential predator. The flight impulse is when you feel so uncomfortable (social anxiety) that your body wants to get up and run out of the room. These are just a few examples and of course, your sympathetic impulse in response to perceived harm is unique to you.
Whenever you are experiencing any kind of trauma (even the cultural trauma of COVID-19), it is always felt in the body. However, you may not be aware of what happens to your body in these emotional states. But the body remembers. As Bessel van der Kolk postulates (see video below), the body always keeps the score.
So, what can you do? The first step is to pay attention to what the emotion is that you are experiencing in the face of harm. Fear is likely present in the moment. Anger toward the aggressor is the most common after someone has harmed or oppressed you; however, you can be experiencing several emotions at once. The next step is to pay attention to what your emotions feel like in your body. The consequences of not properly processing (avoiding) your emotions from past events are the continuance of your version of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional avoidance causes you suffering and disruption in your daily life. Another consequence of unprocessed emotions is high levels of anxiety, which again, can disrupt your life, your experiences of joy, and prevent you from having or reaching your goals.
Keep in mind, that chronic avoidance of emotions and anxiety can eventually manifest as physical pain or other chronic health issues.
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