How To Create Emotional Health

By Jon Terrell, M.A.

Emotional health is when we no longer react to present situations based on what has happened in the past. Most of us are reacting all the time…to the news, to people and situations at work, to something a family member, friend, associate or stranger has said or done...or not said and done! 

A lot of our responses to life is emotional reactivity. Some of it can be appropriate responding. What’s the difference?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be affected to what people are doing and saying around us. That would be an unhealthy numbness due to heavy suppression, or misinterpretation of spiritual teachings. And some people are numb in these way…it’s another reaction to their past.

The key is the difference between reacting and responding. 

Reacting is an automatic response, when A happens we react with B. An example would be when someone around is raises their voices (A) we become scared or angry or sad (B). It’s what psychologists would call a conditioned response, based on past learning.  To fit in, we've learned to suppress parts of ourselves and adopt automatic responses.

And all of us have learned this way of reacting in our lives. We need to  find a healthier way.…to emotional health.

Responding is based on what is taking place in the present moment. When we begin our emotional healing, we react less to others and can pay more attention to what is uniquely happening now. We learn to integrate our past, digesting what we had previously suppressed, and come more fully present with our whole self.

So when someone raises their voice we can observe the person and identify if it is from anger or excitement or joy or ? and then choose to act or not act. We may still observe some body reactions on our part (nervous tension for example) but still able to respond in an appropriate way.

Suppressing Feelings

We start the process of shutting down our feelings very young. Most baby’s are exuberant, joyful one moment, crying the next, and giggling the next. They are in the present, fully alive and responding. They are fully in their feelings, fully in life.

And, once upon a time, not so long ago, so were we.

And then life happens and our young self gradual learns (is conditioned, in the language above) that certain feelings, certain qualities, we have just aren’t welcome, aren’t acceptable:

  • Maybe one of our parents doesn’t like our crying and yells at us, so we swallow our grief.
  • Maybe we shout our joy too loudly for our parent, so we swallow our aliveness.
  • Maybe we were told “don’t be afraid” or “don’t be a sissy”, so we suppress our fears. 
  • Maybe anger isn’t accepted at home, or it is only okay for one person, like our father, to be angry, so we suppress our anger, and instead tense up, and later start having stomach aches.
  • Maybe one of our parents doesn’t like to be disturbed so we learn through their reactions and words not to trust ourselves and to block our spontaneity and creativity.

Sexuality and Emotional Health

Many children were touched inappropriately by a parent or sibling or relative or baby sitter or neighbor. The trauma from this can be compounded if the child reported this and was told they made it all up. 

Many of us pick up our parents’ uncomfortableness with their own bodies, sexuality  or feelings and we internalize it. We may just do it, creating these taboos for ourselves. It may feel like “that’s just the way I am” but as we explore it we realize that we’ve bought into beliefs and attitudes that are destructive to our physical and emotional health.


Each of these decisions push parts of ourselves down below our ordinary awareness…into our bodies and out of the present moment. Each time we do this we lose a part of ourselves, we lose a portion of our aliveness, our humanness, our love.

Emotional healing is the process of reclaiming ourselves. Reclaiming our identity, our sense of self. Reclaiming our body and its sensations. Reclaiming our emotions. Reclaiming our thoughts.

In some cases we learn that most of us is not acceptable…our feelings, thoughts and sensations. This is called toxic shame. We feel worthless. It is a deep wound to our emotional self. 

Emotional healing is the process of coming alive again, of re-claiming ourselves. Of accepting, welcoming, loving all parts of ourselves, all of us.

Retreats For Emotional Health

We offer intensive retreats to help people work through their suppressed and stuck feelings so that they can move on in their lives. The retreats help people reclaim their power and aliveness and joy from fixed reactive patterns. Some of these patterns may go all the way back to childhood.

The retreats are 2-4 days. Participants often comment that the retreats feel much longer. That is because of the depth of emotional healing work that we do.

Each retreat focuses on helping people transform anger, fear and grief, transforming these feelings into love. We believe that all feelings come from love.

Sometimes when it wasn't safe to have feelings and be "me" we end up numb to our feelings and caught up in our heads. 

Sometimes our whole sense of self feels worthless, and we believe in the criticisms we received. This is sometimes called toxic shame.

Sometimes we've suppressed grief to such a degree that we end up depressed.

Either retreat is appropriate for people seeking to improve their emotional wellbeing. Many people attending come because of a specific event...the loss of someone they love or an emotional crisis. Others attend just because they realize how stuck they are.

Go To Grief And Other Difficult Emotions Retreat.

Go To Breaking Through The Old Story, a Shalom Retreat.

Go To Healing Stuck Emotions.

Go From Emotional Health To Home Page

AlicePopkorn / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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