Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, taught that unexpressed feelings never die; they will eventually come forward in uglier ways. Sigmund Freud made the same declaration over a century ago. They were referring to the price we eventually pay when we stuff our feelings down deep inside rather than honestly facing our emotions and allowing them to move through us. In this post I am going to introduce you to a tool called Release Writing—a powerful process that will help you experience more peace and emotional freedom in your life.
Release Writing is an easy and effective technique to help us identify and release negative emotions and unexpressed feelings that we have buried inside ourselves. Oftentimes these buried feelings have been there for a long time, and we may not even know they exist. Which begs the question—If we don’t even know they are there, why bother looking for them? Here’s the problem: Whether we are consciously aware of them or not, these unexpressed negative emotions can surface at inopportune times, often sabotaging our goals and interactions, making life harder than it needs to be. So it is an important and worthwhile practice to take some time to find out what toxic emotions are buried so we can release them and let them go.
Burying feelings has become so second nature to many of us that we don’t even know we are doing it. In addition, most of us are unaware of the destructive consequences that result from these cultural habits. But, whether we are aware of them or not, buried feelings can take a toll on our health, our relationships, and the overall quality of our lives.
Release Writing is an excellent tool to help us uncover those toxic feelings. Sometimes the buried feeling is anger, or sorrow, or fear, or betrayal. Oftentimes it is the feeling of shame that gets buried; shame is one of the least discussable emotions and yet one of the most common. Release Writing enables these feelings to surface and release in a private and safe environment.
To practice Release Writing all you need is a notebook and pen. Then simply write continuously for at least 10-15 minutes or until you fill up at least three pages. Notice I said “write continuously.” This is necessary in order to bypass our conscious judging mind so we can tap into our subconscious where these buried feelings usually reside. This technique is particularly helpful in the moment when we get triggered by an event, an unpleasant conversation, or a painful memory that stirs up some visceral emotions. Strike while the iron is hot and take a few minutes to Release Write while your emotions are running high. As you do so, you will find the process to be very therapeutic and freeing.
Release Writing provides us the opportunity to pause and consider putting our best foot forward rather than being reactive in the moment. When you feel your emotions getting triggered, all you do is simply write about the troubling event in vivid detail and get out all the ugly emotions on paper. Turn off the judging part of the mind and don’t worry about your penmanship, grammar, punctuation, propriety or whether you can even read your handwriting. Through Release Writing you are allowing your busy mind to relax—you are no longer editing, no longer thinking critically about what you are writing. This kind of fluid writing allows access to your deepest emotions, desires, and insights.
As you go through this writing process you will find themes and key emotions begin to surface that you can then see in a clearer light. When these feelings are exposed to the light of day you are in a much better place to deal with them honestly and thoroughly.
Once you become more aware of what has been brewing below you can unhook and release these unwanted feelings once and for all. When this happens it is such a miraculous and freeing process! If you have seen the movie The Mission you may remember Robert DeNiro’s character trying to climb up the slippery face of the waterfall with a huge bag full of “junk.” Carrying this heavy pack around his neck was his own self-inflicted penance for an earlier misdeed. At one point along the journey one of his traveling companions finally cut the strap and the pack fell to the ground. The burden of carrying this huge weight was no more. In that moment relief and great emotion showed in his face as he was finally set free from his baggage.
Doing this kind of release work is like putting down a heavy backpack that you didn’t even know you had been lugging around. You will literally feel lighter as your energy moves to a higher level.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 16 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.