When I first went into my own psychotherapy 40 years ago I was immensely emotionally blocked.
What does that mean?
It means that I spent a lot more time in my head than in my body, where feelings occur.
I had experienced so much pain in my life, with no way of processing it, so I shut down emotionally. It’s like wearing a suit of armour.
The armour tightens you against the threat of life and not much can touch you, but you get to lose touch with emotions.
In the psychodynamic literature it’s called using an intellectual defence.
Perhaps the most famous and simple example of this comes from one of Aesop’s Fables.
It involves the fox who is trying to eat grapes from a vine that are out of reach, too high up and so he rationalises saying, “They aren’t desirable anyway.”
In essence he is using his mind to rationalise away the pain, the sense of loss.
With the intellectual defence, when we feel sad, we jump into our heads and create a story around the sadness to avoid quite simply, feeling sad.
It’s called repression, suppression, denial and rationalisation.
Being emotionally blocked is experienced as a numbness, a disconnection from feelings, not knowing what one is feeling, or simply not being able to feel or respond to other people’s emotions with emotion. My clients will say to me, “Someone is upset and I feel nothing, it scares me!”
Relating From Our Stories
I have often reflected that one of the greatest difficulties in intimate relationships is that we don’t relate to each other from what we feel, but rather through our stories about what we feel.
I’ve had many clients come to me over the years saying, “I want to feel more,” but very few of them are able to go through the work that requires them to connect with their feelings.
The reason for this is that it’s not an easy process, they block and intellectualise their feelings because they are so painful in the first place, so it makes sense that they should not want to revisit these very difficult emotions.
Everything is double sided.
To live blocked and in one’s head means one feels less, but the cost is a lack of fulfilment because ones whole emotional world is closed off and the beautiful realm of intimate emotional connection with self and other, is completely lost.
When I went into therapy those decades ago, it was unbelievably important for me to reconnect with my emotional world. Without truly understanding it I simply knew that to not do so would leave me with a life only partly lived.
My therapist would point out how I was intellectual blocked. What I worked out on my own was that I needed simply to connect with my feelings more of the time.
I did this by listening to one particular song and reading one short story, over and over and over again. They softened and open me to my feelings, to my ravaged heart.
The song was by Michael Franks called Lotus Blossom.
So empty like sky
Without any sun
Lotus Blossom, don’t cry
You and I were meant to be one
And though we’re apart
It won’t be for long
I come to you
In my song
So happy we two
Like sparrows in spring
Lotus Blossom, it’s true
Me and you like bow upon string
I live for the day
My journey will end
So I can touch you again
I remember so clearly now how those words would shred me to my core and I would cry and cry knowing that I was learning to reconnect with the tender source of my true being.
The Snow Goose
I would also read a passage from Paul Gallico’s short story, The Snow Goose in order to connect with this blocked pain.
The book had been given to me by my mother.
It was about a man named Philip Rhayader who lived in an abandoned lighthouse. He had withdrawn from society because of his “mis-shapen body and dark visage. For he was hunched back and his left arm was crippled, bent at the wrist, like a claw the bird.”
People hated him but he hated no one. He loved greatly including all of nature. He took care of many wild geese.
One day a 12-year-old girl named Frith brings an injured goose to Rhayader to use his magic to heal the bird. He does and the bird is set free, but continues to return over the years.
Frith flees from Rhayader because she feels the pain and longing and loneliness in his eyes.
As she grows older she returns and they become friends again, she, Rhayader and the goose.
Rhayader is called to take his little boat to save men from the beaches of Dunkirk and the bird follows him. But he dies there and the bird returns…
“She came running to the sea wall and turned her eyes, not toward the distant Channel whence a sail might come, but in the sky from whose flaming arches plummeted the snow goose. Then the sight, the sound, and the solitude surrounding broke the dam within her and released the surging, overwhelming truth of her love, let it well forth in tears.”
This passage dissolved my armour, “the dam” I had erected against my pain, in the most extraodinary way.
As I am re-reading this story now, the tenderness and beauty of it, so spectacularly fragile and deep, touches me again and I notice and wonder at how our lives are so often a cold and hard as steel, armoured protection against the pain, the stress the struggle, the violence of it all, that we lose contact with this incredible sensitivity deep within us.
Interestingly, as I feel the pain now, it is different, it has changed. There is a deep loving inside of it, seeming to hold it, to soften it.
It is not all that I am.
To open our hearts to the agony and ecstasy of life is not easy. Mostly we want the ecstasy but not the agony.
But to shut down on the agony is to lose forever, the ecstasy and the Love that we are and the possibility of finding that pure Stillness that great Love, that lies at the source of it all.
If you would like to meet face to face or via Skype to work with any issues raised in this blog, mail me at email@example.com