Emotional Wellness: When it comes to detox, most people think of physical detox. Today we explore a less understood but equally important aspect of health, which is emotional toxicity. We’ll touch on the root of emotional toxicity, top ways to detox from it, and the impact of emotional wellness on whole-body health.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
The Three-Legged Stool
This analogy helps us understand the three pillars that must be present in conjuncture to generate whole-body health. Like any stool, knock one (or more) of the three legs down, and the chair falls over.
The three ‘legs’ of this proverbial stool are:
- Stressors (Physical, Chemical, and Emotional)
- Gut/ Microbiome
Together, mindfulness around stress, gut and microbiome health, and the bio-individual needs to cater to your DNA are the fundamental aspects that keep you healthy. Genetic pre-dispositions and the field of both epigenetics and gut microbiome have blown up recently 1. Everyone’s talking about gut health and the importance of turning off our genetic pre-dispositions through lifestyle choices. When it comes to pillar one: stress, many people understand that physical toxins are harmful.
The missing link with this stool analogy for many is the emotional stressor component. This intangible impact (we cannot see, hear, or touch emotions) generally relegates it to be less important than the more physical and scientifically explored stressors.
Trapped emotional trauma is no different than biochemical toxicity 2. The body stores these traumas in the physical body, and as they build up with time, we begin to see the harmful effects of these emotional traumas on both mental and physical health.
Emotional Wellness: The Root Causes of Emotional Toxicity
The root causes of emotional toxicity vary wildly. There are more conventional types of trauma, like war and sexual or physical abuse. Still, these are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the various situations that can cause emotional toxicity in the body.
The stored emotional toxicity is not more or less depending on how ‘bad’ we perceive the situation to be looking back on it. What matters is how it was perceived at the time 3. For example, we may think that PTSD from warfare is ‘worse’ than experiencing bullying for dyslexia as a child. Still, the level of emotional trauma could be the same (or even worse) for the dyslexic child, totally depending on how they perceived it at the time.
Typically, children have fewer tools and life experience to understand situations, promoting a trauma response 4. If someone makes a mean comment to you as an adult, you may be able to see that it’s more of a reflection of the person speaking it than of you. You may notice that the roots of their comments are jealousy or fear, and you may have cultivated a capacity to forgive and move on (rooted in your sense of self-worth). For children, comments are more typically taken on as identity and form deeper neural pathways reinforced over time, and we eventually store this emotional toxicity in the body 5.
The trauma can be one single instance (like parents divorcing out of the blue) or chronic and ongoing (like seeing parents argue for years).
Some examples of early childhood events that may store emotional trauma in the body include:
- Witnessing a family member or pet die.
- Witnessing parents argue chronically or divorce in a painful way
- Getting bullied by peers or siblings
- Hitting puberty early or late
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, a parent with a mental illness, substance abuse, or incarcerated)
- Being physically separated from parents at too young an age
- Not getting enough physical touch and affection in the first few years of life
- Stress caused by poverty
- Sudden and severe medical condition
- Violence (at home, at school, or in the surrounding community)
Some of the more highly complex emotional issues are rooted in developmental trauma. Developmental trauma can be overlooked because there are generally no memories associated with it. They occur during the first years of life, from ages 0 to 4, and are typically caused by a lack of bonding. Not getting enough human touch and affection (kisses, cuddles) can traumatize a baby or toddler, which will affect their behavior for life unless they address it 6.
Having a vivid or even partial memory of trauma does not mean something traumatic has not impacted you. Instead of digging for experiences, it can be helpful to simply see if you have symptoms of emotional toxicity.
Emotional Wellness: Symptoms of Emotional Trauma in the Body
All emotions are valid and normal. Experiencing anger, anxiety, sadness, or frustration in isolated periods is healthy and a part of the human experience. What becomes problematic is when our emotions feel trapped or are chronically keeping us feeling inadequate.
One of the problems with trapped emotional trauma in the body is taking over how you think and operate without even realizing it. We can become too desensitized to our thinking and acting that we don’t realize that there is a way out.
People often accept their state of being to be ‘normal’ because they’ve been in it for so long. This response s especially true for childhood-related trauma because the way you’re operating can be the only way you remember being. People think “I’m just an angry person” or that chronic anxiety is just a part of their personality.
Emotional trauma can show up in many ways, including 2-6
- Inability to feel emotions
- Feeling emotions in extreme ways
- Having no boundaries
- Negative self-talk
- Poor self-esteem/ self-worth/ self-image
- Don’t feel worthy or deserving of the things you want
- Overthinking everything (dwelling on past or future)
- People-pleasing (always saying yes, even when you mean no)
- Feeling trapped in negative states chronically (including sadness, anxiety, depression, frustration, anger)
- Fear of commitment (that prevents you from engaging in ways you want)
- Fear of abandonment (that prevent you from leaving situations no longer serving you)
Symptoms of emotional trauma vary, but one benchmark is that you would like to operate in a certain way in your mind, but the body seems to do something different. You may want to have emotional wellness and a healthy, loving relationship— but you’re only attracted to emotionally unavailable people. Or you want to be able to have great friendships, but you find yourself riddled with anxiety and unable to communicate when around other people.
Emotional trauma affects identity in a significant way. If you’re not entirely comfortable with who you are and how you operate, odds are there is some trauma lingering from the past that needs emotional healing.
Emotional Wellness: Emotional Healing Strategies
Like with biochemical detox, most of the mainstream or common forms of emotional detox are very superficial. No different than the detox green juice powders sold at the supermarkets, many emotional detox strategies do nothing at best and can often cause much more harm.
Before delving into the best detox strategies, let’s highlight a few that don’t work.
- Numbing/ distraction: Using numbing or distraction techniques do not heal you in the long run and keep you away from achieving emotional wellness. Ignoring or suppressing reality will only amplify the trauma in the body. The longer you wait, the deeper the neural pathways that reinforce the symptoms of emotional toxicity.
- Think positive: forcing positivity when you’re not feeling positive is called spiritual bypassing and does not work in the long run either. You have to feel it to heal it!
With emotional healing, just like cellular toxicity, we can’t just treat the symptom; we need to go after the root causes. The goal is to have the memory still and no longer have the emotional charge or response. This emotional response puts stress on the nervous system, so all the techniques below work to unwind the bodily response to trauma so that you can remember a situation without the emotional weight.
Healing from trauma or anything else and moving towards emotional wellness will always start with awareness. It is being aware that when something is not operating optimally, opens up the doors to healing it. When it comes to emotional trauma, almost everyone is experiencing harmful effects on health and happiness. You should not feel any shame around this topic; it is so prevalent and normalized that people think it’s a part of who they are—when, in fact, it is holding them back from inner peace.
2. Havening 7-8
Havening technique is a psycho-sensory modality. With this technique, you stimulate the receptors on the skin that act directly via the nervous system connection on the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions.
Typically when we experience stress or go through a traumatic experience, the brainwave activity is high. By stimulating the receptors on the skin through havening, you are able to change your brainwave activity. You can bring it right down to delta level, which is the same level of activity that we experience in a deep sleep, which of course, is when we heal.
This technique is an incredibly accessible, free tool that both adults and children can use. You can use havening for severe trauma, but also as a management tool. For instance, if you go into a meeting and have a speech to give, you can use it to manage anxiety. Havening also combines very well with other modalities.
To get to the root cause of emotional toxicity, and achieve emotional wellness, you can use havening to work on a specific traumatic memory. The key is to target a memory of something you experienced that’s still causing an emotional response. Access the memory (close your eyes and go there), and then the moment you feel the emotions arise, start havening straightaway. You can pair it with other relaxation techniques like humming, imagination, and eye movement.
Go to [35:08] of the interview for a video demonstration on using havening on yourself.
3. Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping) 9-10
Emotional Freedom Technique (or tapping) is an alternative method to havening that also acts to dispel a traumatic emotional response through touch. EFT focuses on meridian points to help restore the body’s energy systems. The method simply requires you to put light tapping pressure on specific points while experiencing a traumatic emotional response.
The tapping sequence follows nine major meridian points:
- Karate chop: small intestine meridian
- Top of head: governing vessel
- Eyebrow: bladder meridian
- Side of the eye: gallbladder meridian
- Under the eye: stomach meridian
- Under the nose: governing vessel
- Chin: central vessel
- Beginning of the collarbone: kidney meridian
- Under the arm: spleen meridian
Paired with the tapping is a phrase that you repeat either in your head or out loud. Generally, it will have an element of self-acceptance and an acknowledgment of the issue you are processing. For example: “Even though I am experiencing anxiety, I deeply and completely accept myself.” You would repeat this phrase throughout the tapping sequence of all nine points.
4. BrainWorking Recursive Therapy (BWRT) 11-12
Brain Working Recursive Therapy (BWRT) uses natural psychological processes to recondition neural pathways in the brain that lead to unwanted behavior. Unlike psychological approaches like talk therapy, BWRT does not require discussing anything and focuses on how you currently feel and how you would prefer to feel.
BWRT deals with the “freeze” trauma response and uses a technique called “recursive loops” to condition how the brain responds to unwanted triggers. A BWRT practitioner will guide the individual to create a new narrative and new neural pathway to establish and strengthen the welcomed new behavioral and sensory response.
5. EMDR 13-14
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that alleviates the distress associated with traumatic memories. Like the previous modalities mentioned, there is no need to go into a discussion about the trauma. An EMDR practitioner will work with a patient. At the same time, they recall the memory in question and use various external stimuli, including eye movement, hand-tapping, and audio stimulation, to eliminate the emotional distress associated with the memory.
6. Hypnotherapy 15
Hypnotherapy can address trauma, giving patients the ability to restructure their actual memories to favor an outcome that gives them more sense of control and empowerment. Hypnosis can create positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for the future. Hypnosis can help patients face and bear a traumatic experience by embedding it in a new context.
Emotional Wellness: Summary
Emotional toxicity impacts the body and your health in similar ways that chemical toxicity does. Rooted in emotional traumas, this sort of toxicity is often underestimated for its negative impact on health and how identity influences how you operate in the world. Both conventional trauma and unconventional trauma can be just as damaging; it’s all about how you perceived it at the time. Some modalities that can help address, heal, and release this trapped emotional toxicity include havening, EFT, brainworking recursive therapy, EMDR, and hypnotherapy.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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