Why Does Feeling Your Feelings Reduce Suffering?
“The only way the primal pain and the act-out it generates can be eradicated is through experiencing the memory of the trauma, to make it conscious.” (1) consciously experiencing the memory of the trauma is feeling the feeling of it.
Because the sensorimotor content of a conditioned fear response (imprint) is constantly pushing toward consciousness…and, because our nervous system is always trying to prevent this from happening…we suffer and feel depressed. The way out of our suffering and depression is to let ourselves feel the rising sensorimotor content of our imprint. This requires defeating your ego. It requires a willingness to sit with the resultant discomfort that arises when you stop your thought process. “Feeling the feeling” means bringing the content into consciousness. Jeffery schwartz (2) uses the phrase ‘you are not your brain’ to help us notice and appreciate the mysterious ability that we all have and use to witness what’s going on inside of our brains from a “third person” perspective. It is called “using the mind’s eye”. Remember: imprints are sensorimotor memories, which must be expressed, rather than thought about. It is their expression, which needs to get observed.
Antonio Damasio reminds us that mental images are not just visual. “By the term images I mean mental patterns with a structure built with tokens of each of the sensory modalities - visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and somatosensory”. (3) Bringing trauma-related images in front of the mind’s eye releases the previously trapped imprint material into the high-road sensory process, making “connection” possible. Connection to specific painful data (the content of the imprint) decreases the suffering. It also gives the medial prefrontal cortex access to the sensorimotor elements of the imprint, which enables control over our response to the felt content in the future. To the extent that we can feel the content of our imprinted pain, to the same extent is neurotic suffering and depression diminished.
(1) Janov, A., Why You Get Sick: How You Get Well, West Hollywood, Ca: Dove Books, 1996. P91.
(2) Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. & Sharon Begley; The Mind & The Brain. Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. (New York, Harper Collins, 2002). Https://jeffreymschwartz.com/
(3) Damaseo, A., The Feeling Of What Happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness, New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, p318.
Note: if you visualize a conditioned fear response as something like this: stimulus/response…you see that there is no space between the two for contemplation. Now, visualize the same response after having primalled…stimulus/ /response. You can see that there is now a window of contemplation, no matter how small, in which to alter the response. As more and more fear memory content is primalled, the space between stimulus and response increases. You become more and more able to alter your response. Think of this expanding opening between stimulus and response as emotional freedom space.