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Interview about Releasing Emotions

By Peter Shepherd

Keenan Lee is a freshman attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He had an assignment to interview someone who is knowledgeable on the research topic 'Releasing Emotions.' Happily he found me! These are his questions:

Q1. How much of a positive effect has the release of emotions had on your own personal life or the lives of your students/patients? For every ten people who study Releasing, how many of them fully complete the process?

A: The emotions one needs to Release are those that are felt to be unpleasant or that stick around long after they were appropriate, originally as a response to one's interpretation (rational or less than rational) of circumstances. Since I was trained in Rational Emotive Psychotherapy (RET), which required considerable experience both as the therapist and client, I have plenty of evidence concerning the efficacy of this process.

In my personal life, I used to be riddled with fears of what people thought of me and so on, which were based on my lack of self-esteem. Timid Pete! This caused plenty of painful feelings in many circumstances and a very limited lifestyle. Releasing these emotions, re-evaluating the beliefs and finally realizing that I can think, feel and create my life quite differently, was a transforming experience. Many students have described similar stories.

Basic to RET is the principle that emotions follow on from one's thoughts, and behavior follows on from these emotions. Releasing of such emotions is fundamental to progress; one can then examine the underlying beliefs, understand from whence they derived, and so be prepared to Release the beliefs as well, which gives a full clearing in the area - one is then able to look objectively in the present moment and feel and act accordingly, rather than being driven reactively by previous decisions and accompanying emotions.

When students buy a personal development course, the most common subsequent actions are either to enthusiastically get on with the course, doing all the exercises and asking questions where necessary; or to be pleased with having bought the course and to proudly shelve it but never actually begin; or alternatively, to feebly attempt the first exercise and decide it's too much like hard work. A few also drop out because they have insufficient basic education to follow detailed written instructions or perhaps they are not emotionally stable enough to do subjective personal exercises.

For every 10 people who do seriously tackle the course, the results are inevitably positive and the releasing of unwanted emotions is an important element in the latter stages of the course - approximately 8 of the 10 reach that stage and benefit significantly from Releasing, as best I can tell.

Q2. I understand that you received training in Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). What exactly is Rational Emotive Therapy? Where did you go for training? Have you taught at any educational institutions or just online via the internet?

A: RET is a form of psychotherapy devised by Arthur Ellis, an American, in the 70's. It's described by me here. I took up psychotherapy in my 30's and did a Diploma in RET at a college in London. I taught courses in person in connection with the company Mental Development, Ltd in the early 90s alongside a psychotherapy practice, and in the last few years have devoted my time to the online project you see at Trans4mind. There is more personal biography here.

Q3. Could you please go over the Releasing procedure step by step. What is different about 'RET'?

A: My personal interpretation of the Releasing procedure is described by me here. Lester Levenson's technique is well known amongst humanistic and transpersonal psychology practitioners. There's nothing unique - there rarely is as it's life we're talking about here, we all have these phenomena within us to observe - and the principles are straightforward, but no one packaged it quite so clearly and in such a focused way before.

RET is quite different from emotional releasing. RET traces back from a painful or inappropriate behavior, to the motivating emotion, the circumstances in which that is triggered, and then looks for the distortion in rationality that causes the emotion, and then disputes that rationality until a more appropriate and objective view is discovered that relieves the thought-feeling-behavior pattern. The release technique just deals with one element here, making the emotion more accepted, with responsibility for it's creation, so that it is easier to see the situation more clearly, with less attachment. The two principles and techniques complement each other, which is why I combine them in my courses. And there are other elements, such as early traumatic influences and deeper handling of suppressed internal conflicts that neither technique really covers, and I include handling for these in my courses too, just as a psychotherapist uses an arsenal of techniques as appropriate for his client, but only as needed, not all at once. And what I do is not psychotherapy - a person needs one-to-one expert care for that - but tools for personal growth and transformation for people who are already happy and healthy. Some of these tools cross over from psychotherapy but some are designed to increase awareness and responsibility in way that one would not expect a person needing psychological help to be interested in.

Q4. Have there ever been any unsuccessful attempts for a person to release their emotions? What problems arose that impeded them from fully completing the process? What can be done to assist those who have difficulty with the release technique?

A: Yes, people can be unsuccessful with Releasing. This occurs primarily through not persisting sufficiently with the technique to obtain the expected result. It may feel like 'nothing is happening', or the technique may re-stimulate a lot of painful memories. These phenomena have to be worked through, and this requires either trust or strong motivation, and without a therapist to guide them, some students may not have enough of either to complete the process. Another factor is when the instructions have not been properly understood or are misinterpreted, so something quite different is actually practiced than the intended technique.

Techniques can be over-done too, in the attempt to achieve an unrealistic goal, which invalidates what is actually being achieved. Most often in personal development it's many small gains that add up to the breakthroughs, and they are easily taken for granted and 'absorbed'. And so one can also fail to recognize even the big changes - though another person may more easily see these changes for the better going on.

Q5. Are there some emotions that you or your students/patients have difficulty releasing? If you are willing, could you please disclose the circumstances that make it hard for you or your students/patients to release that emotion?

A: Emotions can be hard to Release if in some way they are serving the person. We often tend to justify those of our actions that we know to be wrong, by suppressing that knowledge and replacing it with beliefs (and subsequent emotions) that make ourselves right, and the other wrong. So we may be reluctant to let go of hate or antagonism that we are convincing ourselves is deserved. Or before we reach that stage, we may feel ashamed and unwilling to take responsibility for our actions. Releasing can only fully resolve when accompanied by acceptance of our responsibility for (as creator of) our beliefs, feelings and actions.

A fear may seem subjectively rational and justified, so why let it go? Stuck emotions generally seem 'right' and appropriate to us, or we would not stick with them. Releasing aims to get through this barrier by demonstrating that since we can consciously recreate the stuck emotion, then we are indeed creating the emotion, rather than it being caused by past events or other peoples' actions. When we are no longer so identified with the emotion but realize that we are creating it, and can take responsibility for that, the underlying beliefs come into the open and we can see more easily what is appropriate and what isn't.

Q6. What were some of the problems regarding your own or your student's/patient's thinking/thought process that caused you/them to have problems when dealing with troubling emotions?

A: People are naturally somewhat afraid of emotions, in that they can be 'carried away' by them, even to lose themselves and their sanity if they are not careful. It is only really by successfully practicing Releasing that one comes to understand that we are truly the master of emotions and not their slave.

Q7. What is the most difficult part in trying to release an emotion? Which step of the process poses the most difficulty?

A: For many people, the initial stage of creating the emotion deliberately and consciously, is the hardest. We tend to suppress painful emotions to protect ourselves, and it is characteristic of male cultural conditioning in particular to suppress 'weak' feelings. It's not always easy to 'get into' the feeling - and when we have done, we may wish we hadn't, as it may cause us considerable discomfort. Nevertheless, the way out is the way through, these stuck/hidden emotions are ruling our lives and only by becoming master of them can we reclaim our personal power and freedom. This requires acceptance, not resistance as we might have thought.

Emotions can re-stimulate (i.e. cause the person to remember and bring back to life, whether consciously or subconsciously) painful past experiences and if this is overwhelming, the process can feel too painful to continue without support from a therapist, who is able to guide the person to face up to and eventually desensitise these experiences, so their lessons can be learned (which is the primary clearing action).

For this reason, Releasing and other forms of in-depth personal work are not recommended for those persons who feel particularly vulnerable about certain issues and experiences. They should get help from a therapist to clear these issues first - then continue from there to increase their personal responsibility for growth. In practice, however, most often persistence in recreating the painful emotion (in applying the Releasing procedure) does effectively take a person through this barrier, if they have the courage and motivation to do so.

Q8. Why do you say it is also important to release good emotions? Don't humans want to feel good all the time? Why let go of something good? What exactly is this 'higher self' that you speak of? Does it satisfy humans' insatiable needs and desires?

A: To release is not to 'get rid of' but simply to accept as it is and no longer resist or fight the feeling. By realizing that one is creating it, rather than that one actually is (identified with) that emotion, you can release the attachment and experience that feeling when and how you want, rather than in a stuck or reactive way. Why get rid of something good? You aren't getting rid of it, you are removing the attachment to it, you are realizing you are MORE THAN that emotion. This is the spiritual aspect. Who realizes that? The Higher Self. The part of you that is more than a body-mind, which is your connection with or portal to, God.

Q9. Besides RET and the Release technique, are there other ways a person can release emotions? What are your feelings on meditation and other forms of stress relievers? What are your feelings on those exercises that simply block out the negative emotions? (i.e. running to get one's mind off of the stress at work) Would you consider these exercises to be effective 'release techniques'?

A: Any technique that increases acceptance (rather than resistance, which is not the same as blind agreement) awareness and personal responsibility for one's own creation, facilitates releasing emotions. The method of Releasing is only one aspect of my work because we are multi-faceted spirit-mind-body creatures and therefore an holistic approach is necessary for profound growth.

Meditation can be used for opening the mind and accepting and releasing - such as 'mindfulness meditation'. But some types of mantra meditation can create a wall of suppression and actually work against increasing awareness. Same with anything that blocks out reality - it can give temporary relief but not any kind of resolution. That requires viewing what is, as it is, in order to learn the lessons that will free you in that aspect of your life.

Q10. What are your feelings toward people who adopt an 'I don't care' attitude, who never bother to pay any attention to their problematic emotions? Would you consider this to be healthy or unhealthy? Would there be any effects (positive or negative) in the long term as a result of this pattern of thinking/behavior?

A: If you don't care about personal growth, that's OK. You might be quite happy and you will stay that way, until something happens that you don't have the resources and wisdom to handle - then you may go downhill. Or you may get old and wonder where your life went, since you had been living in a safe but limiting cocoon. Or you might be pretending you're quite happy, because you don't want to face that actually you are living someone else's life rather than what you want to be doing, and that you spend considerable effort avoiding things you don't want to confront. Or you might consider that painful emotions are just a part of life that is inevitable, and you can continue to live with this suffering.

Most people do nothing, and so human nature continues to create all the problems that we see in the world, on a personal, familial and social/political scale. But it is possible to 'find ourselves' through releasing the limitations we impose on ourselves as a result of our upbringing and negative learning experiences. Only such a person can fully and freely love - without judgment - their fellow man.

Many people are waiting for technology to advance further and solve the problems of Mankind. However technology is just a tool. It can raise our standard of living. However it's primarily intended to create desirable consumer products that make the rich richer and that profit the few. That's all. The real issues remain - greed, lust for power, intolerance, prejudice - the qualities of the human animal based on a competitive struggle for survival, and all the fears that result.

Improving the quality of relationships is the key to a better world to live in. With tolerance and genuine listening all problems can be resolved - these result from a state of being that integrates mindfulness, compassion and loving service. The qualities of an awakened human BEING... connected with inner knowing, the source of universal truth that is part and parcel of our essential loving nature.

This what the world needs - without all the false dogma and political manipulation we see with established religions and cults. We need to begin living a life of service based on compassion, instead of a selfish life based on a barrage of fears. We need to become conscious of who we really are, as human beings rather than merely human animals. Communicating and creating instead of enslaving and going to war.

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website, author of 'Transforming the Mind' and producer of the Mind Development courses (free to download). Read Peter's biography page and send a message.
More articles by Peter Shepherd in the Counterpoint Article Library as well as the Inside Out Blog, plus listen to his regular Podcasts
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