Joy Ignites Success

Unexpressed Grief

By - Tuesday, May 05, 2015


One of the basic premises of Dance/Movement Therapy is that all feelings have a beginning, middle and end. When a feeling is uninterrupted it will sequence through of its own accord in very little time. If you’ve been around a well-parented child, you may have seen them move from anger to laughter in what seems to be no time at all.  A car accident is often traumatic because it interrupts the natural and instinctive movement sequence of the body. 

The way I explain this to my clients is not complicated. I say “for various reasons, as children, we learn it is not safe to feel our feelings. (Whether there’s abuse, a narcissistic parent or a sick sibling.) We need to do something with those feelings, so we store them in our bodies for safe-keeping, until we find a safe person to share and process them with. You were doing the best thing you could do at the time, but now that you have more resources, you can let them out.” I might add that unexpressed feelings can lead to physical ailments. 

So, emotions are held in the body. What does that look like? For me, when I get angry and don’t express it, it feels like there is a vice grip around my neck. Many of my clients report a gripping in their belly or heaviness around the heart. In my book, there’s a chapter devoted to the chart of emotions, moving thru apathy, grief, fear, lust, anger, pride, courage, acceptance and peace and how each feels in the body. You may be familiar with Louise Hay’s famous book, What You Feel You Can Heal, which is a wonderful starting place for people to become curious about thoughts and emotions, but it is important to remember that we are each unique and have our own different spins on how and where we feel things. 

I was working with a young teen many years ago. Her parents brought her in because she said she wanted to die. Having met both parents, it didn’t really make sense. But as I asked Jenny to tell me what she felt in her body as she stayed with the sadness, she said she felt like her heart was really heavy. I had her imagine a picture to go with the sensation. She told me there was a box in her heart. When we opened the box, her dead cat was inside. She had stored up her grief and it was weighing her down. As we processed the grief, we were able to free the cat and the depression lifted.

The unexpressed grief felt heavy and unmanageable. But as we tapped into the true feeling, it moved very, very quickly. All too often, my clients are afraid of feeling grief, anger, fear, sadness; believing they will get stuck in the feeling. The opposite is what is really true. When you don’t allow the feeling to move, is when you get stuck in it. 

If you are not used to feeling emotions and it seems scary, you might try an experiment. Give yourself just 5 minutes to truly feel the feeling and if you don’t like it, put it aside. You may be surprised by what just 5 minutes will do.


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Melanie Smithson Institute is dedicated to enriching lives through embodied education and training; using movement, play and releasing to connect with innate wisdom and joy.  

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