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Head. Heart. Repeat.

We can restore contact with our emotions even after years of them being buried. Psychological suffering, symptoms, and even character armor (the tough defenses we erect to protect ourselves from vulnerability and hurt) can be reversed because our brains are pliable. We have heard much in recent years about neuroplasticity.

Contacting emotions is not enough though. We need to utilize them as a catalyst for change for the better. On our own or with a therapist, we can transform our shame, guilt and anxiety and begin again to sense our core emotions (sadness, fear, anger, joy, disgust, excitement, sexual excitement).

There is perhaps nothing more healing than experiencing an emotion that had been totally blocked in the presence of a calm, caring person who is completely accepting, nonjudgmental and makes no effort to fix you. When core emotions like sadness, fear, joy, and even anger are experienced in this way the brain rewires itself for the better.

Repeating this healing experience again and again, over time we become comfortable being our true selves with all our thoughts and feelings. Being in touch with and comfortable with all our core emotions is the route to calm, peace of mind, authenticity, vitality, resilience and a host of other benefits that affect the key aspects of life: work and love.

I do not suggest spending all day living in vulnerable and emotional states. We need to think and perform at our jobs and we need healthy defenses to move away from emotions at appropriate times. A healthy balance between living in our heads and living in our hearts is what is required. It is absolutely possible to build the flexibility to move from thoughts to emotions as needed.

Want to experiment? Let’s move from the head to the heart and back again:

Focus on your thoughts. What are you thinking right now? Can you answer out loud or in your head as if you are talking to me?

I am thinking right now, for example, “I hope people like this blog and that my communications are clear and understandable.” Now you try. What are you thinking?

Next, focus on your heart for about 10 seconds. Just stay right there, noticing. Can you describe either an emotion or physical sensation that you are having? Calm, relaxed, tense, stressed, warm, cold, happy, sad, scared, excited, bubbly, or empty. These are just a few of the words that describe emotions and physical sensations. Try to put your own language on what you sense in your heart. If nothing fits or you feel stuck, I offer many possible words on the wheel of emotions chart linked below that you can try on to see if they fit.

As for me, right now, I notice a little flutter in my heart, which tells me I’m a bit nervous to post this (but I’m going to be brave and post it anyway.)

Finally, focus on your thoughts again. Ask yourself, “What did I think of this exercise?”

Now ask yourself, “How did it feel to try this?” and then listen to your heart again. Notice the difference? Congratulations! You just practiced moving from your thoughts to your feelings and back again. Well done! A+ for trying!

For Further Reading

www.larisanoonan.com/sensations-list/

Wheel of Emotions

Man with hands on heart photo available from Shutterstock

Head. Heart. Repeat.


Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, is author of the book, It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self (Random House, Feb. 2018). She received her BA in biochemistry from Wesleyan University and an MSW from Fordham University. She is a certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor. She has published articles in The New York Times and professional journals. Hendel also consulted on the psychological development of characters on AMC’s Mad Men. She lives in New York City. For more information and free resources for mental health visit: https://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com/.


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APA Reference
Jacobs Hendel, H. (2018). Head. Heart. Repeat.. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/head-heart-repeat/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.