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Shame and the Unconscious Mind

As human beings, our thoughts, emotions and behaviors are shaped and influenced by both our conscious and unconscious minds.  The latter, mental processes largely unknown to our conscious awareness, serve many functions: storing and organizing memories and emotions, directing the autonomic functions of our body such as breathing, heart rate and digestion, and keeping us physiologically and psychologically safe.

When we perceive a situation as threatening, our autonomic nervous system engages in a defensive response cycle of fight, flight or freeze, priming our body for survival. Similarly, with the goal of self-preservation, emotions and memories can be repressed when an event is too painful or overwhelming to process and integrate. It is an automatic response, shutting down conscious awareness so that the pain doesn’t threaten our capacity to function. There is an internal shutdown of our vulnerability. Overtime, if the conditions of our life do not support the return to feelings of safety, attunement and connection, this can lead to a dulling of emotional awareness, suppression of our needs and authenticity.

When this occurs in a child, it can shape the developing sense of self and impact our relationship not only to ourselves but to others and the world around us.  For some, we unconsciously begin to identify with the experience of disowning parts of the self and a sense of lacking, shame, unlovability, of somehow being fundamentally flawed, may arise.

Unresolved emotional pain at any point along our human journey can leave imprints in both the body and the mind, just as happens if our nervous system remains in a state of chronic or repeated activation of the stress response from trauma or adverse events.  This can show up in a myriad of ways for each of us.

And yet we all long, at some level, to become more fully and truly ourselves, visibly and whole-heartedly. We long to be free from suffering. One of the roles of the unconscious mind is also to present us with negative emotions or memories when it is time to resolve them. The goal of EFT is to safely and gently discharge the emotional intensity associated with such memories, offering a calming sensation and alternative response to the memory. An important premise of this work is the recognition that the discomforts we feel, the adaptations we make, are protective not defective responses and that healing occurs through awareness and acceptance.


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