To Express or Suppress? How Emotions Affect Your Organs

For a long time I viewed emotion as random, volatile and unpredictable. Then I noticed a sequence to emotion rooted in physiology. As I peered more deeply into the pattern, I realized what my predecessors had discerned thousands of years ago, that suppressed emotion affects organ function in a sequence. As I worked with emotionally courageous people in the treatment room or at my workshops and retreats, their breakthroughs followed a consistent sequence of release that had an effect on their physical health.

When I encourage patients or retreat participants to feel with their heart in the middle of a healing session, tears of sadness flow. For those more resistant, anger or passive aggression might come up first, and later, when the patient feels safe, tears follow. For others, to avoid feeling anger and resentment, they become philosophical, their eyes dart up and out of any window in the room to avoid their feelings. For the most part people offer me good reasons to suppress intense feelings of fear. The fear of feeling out of control is a big motivator to keep the lid on emotion.

It is easier to think your way through life, rather than feel. When I work with intellectual people who would rather understand than feel, I ask them to feel with their heart and let go of their need to understand. At first they display a look of confusion, then they often turn beet red as anger surges forth. If they feel free from judgement (their own or that of others), they might reach sadness and begin to hear their intuition.

The first emotion people instinctually suppress is sadness, which impacts the lungs. If sadness is not felt and released, the liver responds with anger. Anger is one of the more uncomfortable emotions to feel. So people substitute worry, which is governed by the spleen. As worry wears down the digestive tract, the kidneys release fear, stimulating cortisol levels and the fight or flight part of the nervous system. Worry is the emotion people are most comfortable expressing because society deems it an appropriate emotion. Excessive worry over a short period of time drains the adrenal and thyroid glands and wreaks havoc on the digestive process. When fear drives actions, many people become emotionally numb. Only when people feel safe to feel, can they own their suppression and grant themselves forgiveness and love.