This Technique Can Help Uncover Buried Emotions You Didn't Even Know You Had
It's common to have unresolved trauma built up in the body and brain—sometimes it's so ingrained, you might not even realize it's there. Spiritual teacher and New York Times bestselling author Gabby Bernstein explained this concept on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast: "Any feeling of being unsafe [can] activate a small-T trauma or a big-T trauma," she says, and it can surface during times you feel out of control (like, I don't know, during a two-year-long pandemic).
Even though you may have internalized these traumas over the years, they can actually have a much larger impact on your mental health. Luckily, there are a few different processes you can do both on your own and with a professional to uncover and heal these traumas over time.
One of these methods is what Bernstein calls a "rage on the page" practice, which stems from a larger EMDR technique (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Allow us to break down all the details below.
First, what is EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a type of therapy used to tap into the unconscious brain. These techniques trigger bilateral brain stimulation, which makes internal associations arise—this, in turn, leads to processing a deep memory or disturbing feeling.
As Bernstein explains, "So you're either listening to a song that has a tone in the right ear, and then a tone in the left ear, or you have buzzers in either hand, or you're looking back and forth. The thesis is that if your eyes are going back and forth, or you have a stimulus in either ear, it's opening up your brain's capacity to reprocess old storylines, and in the present moment, undo that story."
EMDR focuses on past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction, the current circumstances that elicit distress, and imaginal templates of future events. This type of therapy, and the successful studies that have come from it, shows that people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy through EMDR practices. The EMDR Institute, founded by psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., has a plethora of information on EMDR therapy as well as resources if you're interested in exploring it further.
Bernstein recommends seeking out an EMDR therapist if you can, but there are practices you can do at home, too. Enter, Bernstein's "rage on the page" journaling technique.
How to practice Bernstein's "rage on the page" technique.
"Even without an EMDR therapist, you can have an experience of it," she says. Follow along below:
- First, you'll want to put on headphones and play EMDR music (here's a playlist). The music will start to soothe your system, putting you in a good place to start the next step.
- Next, you want to write without stopping for 20 minutes. It's key that you continue to write and disregard whether what you are writing is making sense. Write anything and everything that is on your mind, and spill your emotions onto the page. Remember: It doesn't have to be about the specific trauma you're trying to work through. As Bernstein says, "It can just be about where you are today… In that space of relaxation and having that stimulus in your brain, you begin to open up what's called the 'window of tolerance' to process your feelings."
- Once your 20 minutes are up, you'll then move into a 20-minute meditation with the EMDR music still playing. First, lie on your back and press your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly. "This heart hold is so soothing to your nervous system," says Bernstein. Then breathe: "Deeply inhale and exhale completely, and again—inhale deeply and exhale completely, and just allow your body to settle in the presence of that hold."
As with any sort of therapy or personal work, this practice won't eliminate any unresolved trauma in a single session. That being said, it is a great way to start identifying buried emotions in order to work through them. This sort of practice takes dedication and patience, but the potential joy and relief are well worth the wait. Of course, if you're dealing with extremely intense or debilitating trauma, it's important to see a professional if you're able, but there are many different ways to work through trauma, and for some, this at-home method is a great way to get the gears turning.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.