The anatomy of an emotional release

Here, I’m specifically talking about the type of emotional release experienced during a particular type of body-based therapy, such as massage therapy (any modality), chiropractic manipulation (any type), acupuncture, reflexology, even “woo-woo” stuff like chakra balancing, healing stone therapy, biofeedback, Reiki and other energy work, and so on.  The emotional release is like a sudden urge to cry, laugh, both, or even a different phenomenon like sweating, breathing hard, seeing colors or images, hearing sounds, and so on.

For me, the most common response I experience is to cry, sometimes transitioning to laughter.

I’ve learned to become aware of–and accepting of–the process.  After my first one of these almost 13 years ago, it’s happened many times and I’ve sort of become an old hat at it.

I’ve become aware of what it feels like.  It’s hard to describe, but I’ll do my best.

First I feel something loosen.  It sort of jiggles.  It’s most noticeable in my chest but not exclusively localized there; it occurs throughout my whole body.

Then, something wells up inside as though it’s filling to a brim, and washes over me, both from the top down and the bottom up at the same time.

And then the tears flow, usually.  Holy crap, do they ever sting and burn.  I have to blink hard to squeeze them out of my eyes, and I can’t wipe them away fast enough.

Sometimes, there’s sadness lurking there, behind a veil that is usually unseen.

Sometimes, there is pain, from sources I can’t identify.  Those sources may include people.  They may involve memories that don’t surface along with the tears, preferring to remain anonymous and unknown.

Sometimes, when there’s pain, I can tell that the pain is from grief.  Sometimes I can tell that it’s from rejection.  Sometimes I can tell that it’s from significant emotional trauma of another type.

Sometimes, I’ll begin to laugh, either instead of or in addition to the tears.  I might feel euphoric or giddy or liberated, free.

And sometimes…there is nothing.  Nothing but the tears and/or laughter.  No emotion, just the acts of laughing and/or crying.  Tears with nothing identifiable behind them.

Sometimes, I try to figure out what I was releasing and where it came from.  Other times, I don’t.  Maybe sometimes, I don’t want to know; maybe on those occasions, it’s better left a mystery.

The trick here is to relinquish control, to hand oneself over to the moment, to allow one’s being to do what it needs to do.  It’s crucial to let it run its course, to refrain from getting in its way, to step back as though a third party observer, and take it as it comes, letting come what may.

Always, afterward, there is a shaky, vulnerable calm.  If relief hasn’t happened yet, it does after the fact. If liberation and freedom haven’t revealed themselves yet, they do after the tears have slowed.

And then, there’s a vulnerable contentment, during which I may feel like cocooning for a while, surrounding myself with few (very carefully chosen) people, if any.  Many times, I must go off alone.  Other times, I prefer to be in the company of my partner, or perhaps a very close friend or family member (like my mom or one of my two closest longtime in-person friends).

That cocoon stage might last only an hour.  Or it may last the rest of the day.  It all depends.

This whole emotional release thing is a learned skill for most.  I’m not sure if I ever would have learned it, if not by accident one day…

I was in a continuing education class for maintaining my massage therapy license.  The class was Lymphatic Detox/Drainage Massage, which is actually quite gentle and relaxing in its own way.  It’s not a typical muscle-manipulating massage.  It’s altogether a different technique with a different goal.

In the class, after observing a demonstration of the technique, it was time to practice on each other, trading positions as both the providers and the recipients, so that not only could we practice performing the technique, but we would also know what it felt like to be on the receiving end.  I always take great care in choosing my partners; we’re talking about sustained, repeated physical touch here, and I tend to be hyper-empathic.  If I’m going to let someone near me, and especially touch me, they’ve got to be free of psychic darkness.

I partnered up with a wonderful lady about twice my age, who projected a loving and harmless vibe.  Out of all the people taking that class that day, she was the one with whom I felt safest.  Her spirit shone, with a nurturing subtlety.  I couldn’t help but see it, and I couldn’t help but smile inside.

Once it was her turn to practice on me, I found myself comfortable with her instantly, as I knew I would be.  Her talent came naturally to her, as I could tell it would.  It wasn’t long before I was lulled into an alpha wave state, drifting off to sleep…

…until a muscle near my rib cage, or maybe in the side of my abdomen, jumped unexpectedly.  It was painless, and it only lasted a split second, but it was enough to jolt me awake.

I began to cry and laugh uncontrollably at the same time.  Luckily, the instructor was an experienced, accomplished therapist herself, and she had discussed this possibility–and this phenomenon–beforehand, so when it happened, I knew what it was, and I didn’t freak out.  Instead, I rolled with it.

I’m glad I did.  It was an amazing experience, unlike any I’ve ever had.

I had no idea what I was laughing or crying about (and I never did figure it out), but the time had come for me to process it at last.

Afterward, I felt lighter, brighter, and freer.  I felt a sense of relief.  I also felt drawn inward, vulnerable, and I wanted to make my home a cocoon when class was finished.

So I did just that.  I also instinctively knew that I had to be cautious of what I watched on TV or listened to on my music player, for I was incredibly sensitive, more so than usual.  And I accommodated those needs as well.

I was glad to have the company of my partner, but I wanted nothing to do with anyone else that night.

But as traumatic and detrimental as that might sound, it wasn’t.  I was incredibly content.

That first refractory period lasted the rest of the evening.  The following day, I was back to normal, but subtly new and improved.

I’ve been the facilitator of many such releases over the years, and I’ve also gone on to have many more, averaging one or two per month.  For me, emotional releases are as essential as, well, voiding the bowels.  Otherwise, junk builds up; it’s just not as visible.

As far as the emotions go, I can’t always identify them.  I’m not sure if that’s the nature of an emotional release, or if I find it particularly challenging because I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  I’ve never known any other brain but my own, so although I know that neurotypical people are perfectly capable of experiencing these emotional releases, I’m not sure how mine compare to theirs and vice versa.

Either way, they’re amazing.  They can be–and usually are–facilitated by a therapy of some type (usually involving the body or its energy), facilitated by a provider of some type.  It does take a certain type of provider to facilitate one.  The license or certificate doesn’t matter at all; the type of therapy doesn’t matter as much; what does matter is the personality of that provider, as well as my own readiness.  It has a mind of its own, and it has to come on its own time.

The response of the provider to the release is pivotal, as is the environment in which it takes place.  Releases such as these can be very therapeutic, when done under the right conditions, or they can actually be very harmful when handled wrongly by the provider.

I think that my place on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum gives me an advantage here; being hyper-empathic gives me the right kind of sensitivity, the right kind of radar, to detect who would be an ideal facilitator of a healing emotional release.  Seeing through surface appearances and reading into someone’s soul is something that can’t be learned, although it’s a natural inclination that can be developed and fine-tuned.

It’s an interesting concept to wrap one’s head around, but it’s worth it 🙂


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