This is Part 3 of a series on Distress Tolerance. Part 1| Part 2

We can think of the emotional body as sitting between the physical body and the mental body. The limbic system, which is the emotional body’s command center in the brain, is nested above the brain stem (main command center for the physical body), and below the cerebral cortex (command center for the mental body). This is a massive oversimplification, but works as a rough map/metaphor/model.

I share some bottom up tools in my first post on body-based tools and some top down tools in my second post on thought-based tools. Working with the emotional body tends to involve a little bit of both, and has its own quality, which is about feeling (not the body’s felt sense, nor complex cognitions such as “I feel you have done the wrong thing here” but rather the pure quality of emotion itself).

Emotional tools are best used with the same kind of gentleness you would apply when getting to know a youngish child, in other words, in a spirit of play, desire to connect and understand their world, and without any pressure or agenda.

Here are some ways in.

Letters

1. Write a letter you won’t send, to the person you’re angry at, hurt by, feel guilty towards, etc. Please don’t try to be too mature, because they literally won’t be able to be offended, devastated, or horrified by what you say or how you say it because you won’t send it to them.

2. Write a letter to your future self asking for help. Your future self is someone wise and cool, and they totally get you, completely. They remember this moment of your life and how you got through it. They’ve also lived other experiences & have wisdom and understanding and comfort to share.

3. Write a letter to your current self from your future self, providing mentorship, encouragement, affirmation and “seeing”.

4. Write a letter to your inner child/past self from your current you. This past self’s feelings about the world often have much more influence on our current experiences than we realize, because it is in these years that we form our maps and models of the world, which then are the basic conceptual frameworks for understanding everything that happens. Our core beliefs are shaped here (and can be healed here).

5. Write a letter from your inner child to your current adult self. It is suggested to use your non-dominant hand to write this out in your actual handwriting, rather than using a computer.

In general, letters are best done by hand, like a good old fashioned pen pal and I feel it’s fine to fill them with details & be outmoded with them, treating them like an epistolary novel. The expressiveness and real-life contact that happens with an object such as paper and pencil is especially important now when so many of us are inundated with artificially-generated electromagnetic frequency signals and the inner child suffers from “too much screen time”.

Psychic De-Clutter

I made a visual guide to an art therapy version of this one which can be fun to play with. But either way this is the basic process:

  1. Get it all out. Set a timer for at least 12 minutes, and write down all fears, resentments, guilts & shames that have been piling up on separate scraps of paper. For fears and angers, you may like to identify unmet needs if you like and put those in too (for a guide to that, check my other guide on how to be kind to anger.) For example, if you write down I’m angry at John because when he called me out about my spelling error in the meeting I felt embarrassed, & like he was getting in the way of me meeting my needs for approval, respect & dignity, etc. then you can also write down and add “need for approval” to the pile of paper scraps.
  2. Surrender it. Set your intention to release all of these topics/ scraps of paper to the zero point field, some kind of higher power, or other type of neutralizing, friendly trustworthy force you can release these to. Anything bigger than the normal everyday-you-personality that feels healing. It can be “nature” “the ocean” “Mrs. Fisher from 2nd grade” or a person who loved you a lot who has passed on, perhaps. It helps to literally place these papers in some kind of symbolic container, as a way of physicalizing your choice to surrender them for transformation.
  3. Let it be. Once you have released these into the container, give them some kind of gestation time to be dissolved, like a week.
  4. Clear it forever. Then empty out the container into the paper recycling, being done with it all once and for all.

Of course, you can use your own creativity to come up with a way to do this that you prefer!

Side comment about this: My experience with psyche’s issues is that some things come up over and over again, but that we are still releasing distinct pieces of a pattern even if it feels like “Oh my goodness, THIS again, how on earth is this happening to me still”. Repetition is normal, with most healing processes happening in a kind of spiral pattern around a few core life themes, as though your psyche’s experience is like a symphony and certain themes need to be returned to for the piece to be beautiful.

In spite of the feeling of repetition, at a certain point of surrendering something over and over again, psychic help does arrive from your chosen source of aid, and there is a lightening process which takes place. So what sometimes feels like a circle in a loop is actually an upward spiral.

One exception to that is if we are trapped in addiction, in which case it will be a downward spiral. For more about addiction, I have some other posts which might be interesting if you’re wondering if that’s affecting you.

But generally speaking, as long as destructive, addictive patterns have not captured our life force energy, then we will experience gradual unburdening, removing weight from our psyches one feather at a time.

Parts Dialogues

Consider the common “trauma parts” that get created as semi-autonomous sub-personalities, and which come out under duress:

fight self (angry, mistrustful, judgmental, controlling)

flight self (avoidant, distancing, ambivalent, fleeing the scene)

freeze self (frozen, terrified, wary, phobic, panicky)

submit self (depressed, ashamed, self-hating, passive, self-sacrificing, caretaking)

attach self (clinging, fears abandonment, fears rejection)

Remember, when you “see”/sense/notice a part, you are the Bigger Part that sees/you are the Seeing/witness/observer/space, not that which is witnessed

Journal on the following questions:

1. Who within me is reacting, responding right now? Is there a name for this character?(Eg “Doom & Gloom Holly”)

2. How old are you? What chapter of my life are you from? When were you formed?

3. What’s going on? How are you feeling? What’s your perspective on all this stuff?

4. What is your highest potential purpose in my life? If I listened to you more, if I respected you more, what might you be able to do or become?

5. What gets in your way?

6. How can I help you with your highest purpose?

7. What would it take for you to be completely healed, safe, relaxed, able to let go and feel deep trust?

8. What do you need?

If you really resonate with this exercise, it segues very naturally into also drawing the inner characters you come across. If it is very frightening material, you may like to draw a container, such as a post-it-sized box, for that character to be drawn within. More on this style of approach in the future.

Reference for learning more about inner parts: Internal Family Systems Reference for learning more about trauma subpersonalities: Janina Fisher

Play

I’ll get more into this in Part 4 (creative tools), but in general it’s good to know that the emotional body loves symbols, colors, real life objects & materials, music, and that whatever you can do to cheer the inner kid up will help, and to give yourself that permission (versus suppressing & judging the emotional body, which further marginalizes and depresses it).

A good hint for activities to do with the emotional body is what you liked as a kid and what kids like in general. It might be baking cookies, making salt dough “clay” & making little dolls or action figures, drawing pictures of cars or mermaids, making presents and cards for people, singing songs from the Sound of Music soundtrack, Playmobil, Lego, making dumplings, whatever it was that you actually did indeed enjoy to do as a child (though it could also be something you always wanted to try).

Very important is to have zero expectations for yourself and to make sure that you do not have any conception that this is about being productive. Please protect your emotional body from the inner critic. Play, with kindness, and your emotional body will start to feel more loved, important and connected, which is more than half the cure for struggletown.

Hope these ideas & exercises help a little bit. Hang in there, humanity!