A brain emerging from a top hat with emotions coming out of it, representing how to release negative emotions from the body.

Have negative emotions been preventing you from living your best life? Do you know how to release negative emotions from the body?

David R. Hawkins argues that the best way to handle unhelpful emotions is to completely release them. Once you learn how to do this, you’ll feel less attached to external experiences and objects.

Here’s how to let go of the emotions you’ve been desperately avoiding.

How to Release Unhelpful Emotions

When you learn how to release negative emotions from the body, you’ll be free to enjoy things without depending on them for joy and fulfillment—if something goes how you want it to, that’s great; but if it doesn’t, you know you’ll be all right. This means you’ll no longer rely on anyone or anything other than yourself to feel happy and at peace. 

(Shortform note: Hawkins’s process of release and acceptance is similar to the Buddhist process of attaining non-attachment. Non-attachment involves letting go of your desires for and feelings about all things, including your thoughts and emotions, relationships with others, and material belongings. This is based on the idea that everything is impermanent, so maintaining attachments inevitably leads to suffering—when the things you’re attached to eventually disappear, you suffer. Mindful practices such as meditation can help with cultivating non-attachment and inner peace. Such practices help you consider your feelings as an outside observer instead of attaching to or identifying with them.)

The Process of Releasing Unhelpful Emotions

Hawkins’s first step for releasing an unhelpful emotion is to recognize the emotion and allow yourself to feel it fully. As you experience a feeling, don’t try to alter it, push back against it, or ascribe moral value to it. Fighting the emotion is what gives it power and allows it to grow. When you release all your opposition toward and associations with an emotion by recognizing that it’s no more than a passing feeling, you allow the energy of that emotion to leave you as well. 

If you start experiencing the same emotion later on, it means that you’re still holding on to some of its energy. You may require a continual practice of release to free yourself from the emotion because you’ve spent most of your life ignoring it or burying it. Alternatively, especially intense emotions are sometimes made up of lesser emotions, and you have to release the lesser emotions until you get to the root. In this case, continue releasing the layers of emotion until you get to the root. 

Additional Strategies for Recognizing and Accepting Emotions

Some people have trouble recognizing emotions. If this sounds like you, start by learning to recognize the physical sensations different emotions produce. Your mind and body are intimately connected, so you feel emotions in the body. For example, you might get flushed and experience muscular tension when you’re angry or feel shaky and sick to your stomach when you’re anxious. Once you recognize these physical sensations, you can use them to identify when you’re feeling their corresponding emotions.

Mindfully accepting negative emotions can also feel difficult at first. If you struggle with Hawkins’s technique, consider following some experts’ suggestion to practice acceptance of negative emotions by watching a movie or a TV show. You may feel safer feeling difficult emotions about the characters’ experiences than your own. As you watch a show or movie, take note of what emotions come up and allow yourself to experience them fully. By practicing on a smaller scale, you can begin incorporating the technique into your everyday life.

If there are negative emotions you persistently struggle to release or that you’ve been holding on to for a long time, you might benefit from speaking to a therapist who specializes in Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT is based on a lot of the same premises as Hawkins’s techniques—namely that avoiding negative emotions harms you and emotional awareness is vital for mental health. An EFT therapist will listen empathetically and ask reflective questions to help you increase your emotional awareness. They provide a safe space and an objective perspective you can use to work through confusing emotions. Finally, they’ll teach you techniques for accepting and regulating your emotions.

Example: Finding the Root of Anger

For example, say you feel anger toward your loved ones whenever you perceive that they’re pulling away from you. This means you often lash out at them, even though you know it isn’t fair. You start by trying to release your anger in these situations instead of acting on it, which works for a while. However, it still comes up sometimes, so you examine your emotions further. 

Underneath the anger, you find sadness and loneliness that comes from feeling like people don’t want you around. You release those feelings as well, but the anger still arises occasionally. Finally, underneath the loneliness, sadness, and anger, you recognize that you fear you’re not worthy of other people’s love. To fully release the anger, sadness, and loneliness, you must release this fear too. 

(Shortform note: If you’re unsure you’ve found the root of an intense emotion, try sorting your emotions into primary and secondary categories. Primary emotions are the first emotion you feel in response to a situation, and secondary emotions are the ones that follow. Therefore, primary emotions represent the root of your feelings, while secondary emotions are the layers you must release before getting to the root. To identify secondary emotions that still need to be released, look for emotions that are protective or push others away, such as anger. These protect you from the primary emotion (such as fear), which is harder to accept. If you’re still experiencing a lot of secondary emotions, you have more layers to release.)

How to Release Negative Emotions From the Body & Mind

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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