Emotional Release- Is it safe? What does it look like? Why is this common while receiving massage?
Updated: Jan 11
Dr. Laura Markham, my favorite parenting expert says that "the more 'reactive' you are, or the more easily you get 'triggered', the more old emotions you have in your backpack, signaling you that they're waiting to be processed." The emotional backpack is what Dr. Markham calls the unprocessed emotions we've been holding onto in our body. She says that "any emotion that felt too vulnerable to process when we first felt it might be stuffed in our emotional backpack." Now, when she described how we can let go of all of this, it seemed too good to be true. Dr. Markham says, " The key to healing your emotional triggers is to notice the sensations in your body, but resist taking action." WHAT?! It can't be that simple! Well, I have been practicing this in my own life and I do notice that when I am able to notice what is coming up, sit with it, and not react in my typical fashion, it does pass through! I have been an incredibly reactive person so this is huge for me. It isn't easy, though. It is QUITE the process that takes time. Therapy helps, massage therapy helps, but I'm still working on it.
Okay so what does this parenting expert's words have to do with emotional release and massage therapy?
Emotional release is when emotions that previously weren't processed or expressed bubble up to the surface to be processed or expressed.
For example, imagine you've been upset and stressed for days and then someone you love gives you a big comforting hug. This scenario has brought many people to tears. This safe and caring person in your life gave you an opportunity to let out what you had been containing.
It is common during a massage therapy session to see many expressions of emotional release, such as those listed in the info-graphic above and more. Clients may have a release during a massage session or hours later. They may not have this experience at all or it may be so minuscule that you wouldn't even notice.
Emotional release is common during massage for a few reasons:
1. A safe, supportive environment combined with the power of touch may allow someone to feel vulnerable enough to let whatever needs to be processed come forth.
2. Massage therapy can open up tension patterns that have been working as an armor. Constricting certain muscles consistently can lead to what is like a protective wall from pain, physical or otherwise. Relaxing these muscles that we've been subconsciously tensing can feel very vulnerable.
3. Sometimes memories can come up through touch. This can happen because relaxing an area reminds us of just how tightly we were holding on and this may bring up memories of why we were holding on and protecting ourselves so tightly. It may also be that a specific part of the body has suffered from an injury or trauma and even though it hasn't been thought about in a while, the body remembers!
4. Massage therapy is a time that is completely devoted to noticing the sensations in your body. It's an opportunity to notice what comes up, feel the feelings, let it pass through.
An emotional release is safe and can be helpful. I have been learning through Lissa Wheeler's wonderful book, Engaging Resilience the importance of making sure that when a client does have a release or discharge of emotions that they don't feel overwhelmed by the process and that they feel a sense of safety in their body during this experience. Safety comes from having a supportive and non- judgmental practitioner who ensures the client that this experience is okay, they will get through it, and helps them feel grounded and not overwhelmed by the process. It can be tempting to want to have a cathartic emotional release and let go of it all at once but if this process is too overwhelming the body may react by going right back to it's default patterns. A slow and steady approach to the nervous system seems best!
A massage or bodywork session can be a safe space to allow what needs to come up, come up. If someone is very overwhelmed by the emotions or memories coming up for them then it is important that they find a great psychotherapist to help them process what is coming up.
Please let me know if there is more you want to learn,if you have experiences or knowledge on this topic that you'd like to share, or any questions!