Decoding Emotions: How Trapped Emotions Can Hold You Back (And What to Do About It)

Say hello to emotions–all of them. Learn about how trapped emotions can hold you back in life, affecting your physical, emotional and mental health, and what to do about it.

Emotions are some of the body’s most prominent messengers. And, although they serve an important purpose and can be incredibly helpful, they can sometimes get trapped, leading to an array of physical, emotional, and mental health concerns that can wreak havoc on our daily lives. “When you have an intensely difficult experience, the emotions you feel should fade with time, but sometimes they’re just too much for you to handle and your body may hold onto those negative energies in the form of what many call ‘emotional baggage,’” says Dr. Bradley Nelson, a veteran holistic physician, bestselling author, and creator of the Emotion Code technique. According to Dr. Nelson, the negative energies we carry from these experiences are called trapped emotions, which can be released through his Emotion Code technique as well as everyday practices, such as mindfulness, expression, connection and more. 

What Is The Emotion Code? 

The Emotion Code is an energy-based technique that is centered around the notion that emotions are made from energy and each has its own frequencies — which is what you really feel when you feel emotions — and focused on releasing trapped emotions (aka, trapped low-frequency energy), which is known to create physical, mental, and emotional distress, and lead to pain and discomfort that disrupts daily life. With guidance from Dr. Nelson’s book, The Emotion Code: How to Release Your Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love, and Happiness, you can learn to let go of trapped emotions which, “can enable emotional healing and help you feel better after enduring traumatic or difficult emotional experiences, even if they happened many years ago,” he explains.  

As humans, we experience emotions constantly. And, while we are most often able to feel the emotion, process it, and move on, some emotions linger and get trapped, especially if the energy of the emotion feels too intense. These emotions often lead to physical, mental, and energetic imbalances caused by low frequencies that accompany certain emotions such as anger, sadness, grief, and frustration. The Emotion Code teaches you how to identify trapped emotions (including, whether they come from yourself or were inherited by a parent). Once the trapped emotions are known, the method focuses on releasing each emotion, one by one, through a method that involves using sway testing based on the technique’s Emotion Code Chart and swiping a magnet across the body’s Governing Meridian, which starts at the lips, runs up the nose, over the center of the forehead, back of the head, and all the way down to the tailbone. 

The Consequences of Trapped Emotions 

Trapped emotions can manifest in a variety of ways and affect your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This is particularly true for some common mental health concerns, including resentment, anxiety, depression, anger, and even lack of clarity, says Jacqueline Gilmer, MS, LPC-S, LCDC, the Clinical Director at Recovery Unplugged, located in Austin, TX. 

  • Resentment: When we are unable to identify and address emotions, Gilmer says we might begin to feel resentment, whether that be toward a person or a situation that triggered those feelings. “This can lead us to behave in ways that are not constructive or beneficial to ourselves or others,” she explains. 
  • Anxiety: Feeling anxious is another common side effect of trapped emotions, and Gilmer says this can even lead to the physical symptoms associated with anxiety, “such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and muscle tension,” in addition to feelings of panic and fear, which interfere with daily functioning. 
  • Depression: “Unresolved emotional issues may contribute to depression by leaving you feeling overwhelmed and powerless,” Gilmer explains. Feeling overwhelmed and powerless are negative emotions that Gilmer says can over time create a cycle of despair, which can be difficult to break without professional help.
  • Anger: Suppressing emotions through anger is a common way for people to express emotions, but this can manifest in outbursts of rage or aggression. Gilmer says this type of side effect of trapped emotions is not only damaging to relationships but can also have long-term health consequences, which include anxiety, high blood pressure, and headaches. 
  • Lack of Clarity: “When we are not able to identify and process our emotions, it becomes difficult to make clear decisions and take action in our lives,” says Gilmer. Because of this, we might end up feeling stuck and even energetically paralyzed by indecision, making us unable to move forward with confidence. 

The mental and emotional side effects of trapped emotions aren’t the only things that can impair our health. In addition to these consequences, “trapped emotions may manifest as physical symptoms of anxiety, such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and muscle tension,” Gilmer explains. Amira Martin, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist based in New York City, says trapped emotions can also result in stomach issues since the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion, and symptoms such as heartburn, cramps, and loose stools are common signs of stress in the gut. 

How to Release Trapped Emotions, Following The Emotion Code Technique 

The Sway Test

Through The Emotion Code technique, you can not only identify the trapped emotion but also release it through a simple at-home energetic method. To start, identify an issue you are experiencing — it could be physical such as a headache, or mental like anxiety. Once you know what issue you want to focus on, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your hands by your side for the sway test. To conduct a sway test, take a deep breath and try to relax the body, entering a more meditative state. Ask yourself: “Do I have a trapped emotion that can be released now that is contributing to my [insert issue here]?” Give your body a moment and notice whether you sway forward or backward. If you sway forward, the answer is yes. If you sway backward, the answer is no and Dr. Nelson recommends focusing on a different issue and trying again. 

Check The Chart

Next, take a look at the Emotion Code Chart, which is separated into six rows and two columns. Through another few sway tests and the guidance of this chart, you can identify what the trapped emotion is. Begin by standing still with your arms by your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart. Enter that relaxed and meditative state again and then ask yourself if the trapped emotion is in column A. If your body sways forward, the answer is yes and the trapped emotion is one of those listed in column A. If your body sways backward, the answer is no, and the trapped emotion is one of those listed in column B. To narrow it down further, you’ll next focus on the rows. Begin by asking yourself if the trapped emotion is in one of the odd rows (aka, rows one, three, or five). Should you sway forward, the answer is yes and you can then ask if the trapped emotion is in each specific odd row. If you sway backward, the answer is no and you can move forward with the even rows, asking if the emotion is in each even row until the body sways forward, indicating a “yes.” Once you know what column and row the emotion is in, you’re left with just five emotions. Following the sway test again, spend time asking if your trapped emotion is each emotion. Once you sway forward, you’ll know which emotion is trapped. 

The Magnet Test

When you know what the trapped emotion is, it’s time to release it. According to The Emotion Code method, this involves swiping a magnet — a refrigerator magnet will work — or your fingertips along the Governing Meridian. Begin by passing over the lips, up the nose, and across the center of the forehead. Then, run the magnet or your fingertips across the top and back of the head and down the neck, until you reach your tailbone. According to Dr. Nelson’s method, this will release the trapped emotion, however, you’ll want to find out for sure. To find out whether or not the emotion has been released, conduct one more sway test and ask if you released the trapped emotion. If you sway forward, the subconscious mind is indicating that the answer is yes. 

Other Methods for Releasing Trapped Emotions 

In addition to The Emotion Code, there are other methods for releasing trapped emotions or low-frequency energies to gain a sense of relief physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Identify and Expression Your Emotions

A key part of the Emotion Code technique is learning to identify your trapped emotions, and Gilmer says this is an excellent way to begin healing. “Take time to sit with yourself and observe any physical sensations or feelings that arise within you,” she explains, adding that it helps to ask yourself what those emotions are telling you and to be honest about the thoughts and emotions that come up without judgment. “Once you have identified them, it can help to talk to a trusted friend or write down your experiences in a journal so that they do not remain trapped inside of you.”

Move Emotion Through Breathwork

Mindful breathing through breathwork practices can also help you release trapped emotions. “Take several deep breaths into your belly and focus on allowing each breath to pass through your body, releasing tension as you exhale,” Gilmer says. “This practice can help to shift negative energy away from the body so that it is easier for us to process our emotions constructively.” 

woman meditating

Practice Mindfulness

According to Dr. Nelson, mindfulness means that you’re fully present and conscious in the moment, which can have a profound impact on releasing emotion. “Research has found that people who practice mindfulness can have deeper relationships and enjoy life more,” Dr. Nelson explains. To boost your emotional health, he recommends trying a meditation practice, spending more time in nature, or simply putting your phone down while interacting with family or friends. “Focus on being truly present and involved in whatever is in front of you right now, and notice how much richer your experience of that situation becomes.” 

Deepen Relationships

Having people in your life that you can count on can also work wonders for emotional health, says Dr. Nelson. “While being content alone is important too, knowing you can call someone up when you’re having a bad day or share your successes with someone else can be really beneficial for your mental health,” he explains.

Work With a Therapist

“One of the most effective ways to release trapped emotions is through therapy,” says Martin. Therapy is an excellent and safe place for individuals to explore and process their emotions in a supportive environment. “Therapists can also teach coping skills and provide tools for managing difficult emotions,” Martin adds. Dr. Nelson also recommends seeking professional help, especially if you find it challenging to convey your emotions and need guidance on how to express your feelings. 

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