Emotions: Keys to Our Freedom

Michael Cornwall, PhD
Michael Cornwall, PhD

Because I have, with curiosity, observed my emotions and the emotions of people I serve as a therapist for over thirty five years, I have come to believe that our emotions are really the basic source of what we can rely on as guiding truth.

Sometimes when we get in touch with an emotion such as sorrow or anger, that has been buried, there is a flood of emotional energy released that can be very liberating.

It seems in those moments we touch down into the wellspring of sincere expression of emotional truth.

But in my work with people and in my own life, I try to foster a stance of trying to be aware of our moment-to-moment emotional truth as much as possible, every moment of the day.

Living in this very complex, demanding, stratified modern society has produced an epidemic of personal alienation. There is often a tragic gulf between our emotional experience and our awareness of it.

The famous age of reason dictum "I think therefore I am" also shows how the role of science and the life of the mind permeates our lives, and relegates emotional experience to the realm of an irrationality that can't be trusted.

I believe that every word, image, dream, hallucination, memory, bodily movement and facial expression is born, is actually created out of the ever present underlying mammalian flow of subjective, pre-symbolized emotional experience.

If that is true, then the accuracy of our symbolic meaning-making processes of word and imagery formation that we develop in childhood, hold the keys to us either truly knowing our second-by-second emotional truth, or experiencing a distorted version of it.

Do the word and imagery stories we tell ourselves accurately capture the emotional truth that has sparked them into life?

How can we for example, tell ourselves and others we are feeling happy when we are in fact desperately lonely or afraid?

We distort and lose our emotional truth when we repress it, bury it, avoid it.

When we self-medicate, it is always to not experience the full force of our emotions.

One in five Americans are now taking a psychiatric medication.

One in four women are now taking a psychiatric medication.

All of those medications suppress, modify, or block emotion. They are designed to do that.

Millions of us take other drugs, both prescribed and illegal, and drink alcohol to numb or avoid our emotions.

We compulsively gamble, eat, work, watch TV, live on Facebook, watch porn, live in our heads, and have unrelated sex to avoid our emotions.

But why?

Fear, shame, guilt, hatred, boredom, rage, grief, hopelessness, self hatred, loneliness, panic, abandonment, and desperation are all emotions we often don't want to experience.

We so often don't want to name, claim, express or endure these so-called negative emotions.

If we consciously run from them or unconsciously repress and deny/distort them, we lose touch with what is true about our lives.

But if we run from them or distort them, we become detached from that emotional wellspring that is also the source of joy, love, excitement, bliss, ecstasy, serenity, peace, wonder and awe.

So, tapping into the flowing currents of our ever present emotional truth takes courage- and self love.

Real freedom is living moment by moment in our emotional truth, because in that deep end of the pool we can say "yes" and "no" to who and what we want and don't want in our lives.

I love to help people be able to more fully feel and express and live their emotional truths. To the extent I can live that way myself, I feel fulfilled. It's a daily challenge.

Life is short. We can get it right for ourselves. One day at a time. Freedom is possible.

Michael Cornwall, PhD

An Alternative Understanding of The Nature of Madness: Dr. Cornwall wants this blog to help deepen our understanding of the mystery of madness and help us learn ways to lovingly self-care when we are mad, and lovingly respond to others when they are mad. He can be reached at his website - "What is Madness?"

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17 thoughts on “Emotions: Keys to Our Freedom

  1. “Real freedom is living moment by moment in our emotional truth, because in that deep end of the pool we can say “yes” and “no” to who and what we want and don’t want in our lives.”

    I couldn’t agree more, Michael. My healing and life experience speak to just this. I feel so fortunate and grateful to have discovered this life-changing truth along my journey. Makes all the difference! Thank you for saying it.

    Best news of all, I feel, is that once this awareness has clicked in, it doesn’t go away. I feel that this focusing on this level of emotional self-awareness is the key to self-healing and manifesting. It’s a whole new world…

    • I agree Alex, once we commit to really seeking and prizing the reality of fully experiencing our ever present emotional truths, no matter how painful, then the pay-off of feeling real and free becomes so valuable, that we don’t want to lose it. But we often need allot of loving support when powerful emotions caused by trauma well up in us, the power of those intense emotions can also sometimes be the source of extreme states. Thank you for your wonderfully validating comment about your journey!

      • Indeed, creating loving support for ourselves is vital. I also feel that it’s during those times of extreme feelings and states of being where we can best practice and learn to feel trust, permission, and our ever-shifting experience of our own humanity. It’s an eternal process, always present-time oriented, which we can all learn to navigate safely and passionately, to our liking. I firmly believe that no one at all is exempt from having this opportunity, should one choose it.

        • Wonderfully said Alex! At the medication-free extreme states sanctuaries I served at, we counted on the deep emotional releases that people experienced to be transformative, because we received them with loving care.
          I wrote about that here on MIA, in an essay called- “Remembering a Medication-Free Madness Sanctuary.”
          Thanks again, Michael

  2. Michael,

    “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” – Helen Keller

    I agree, we need to *fully* experience *all* of our emotions, to grow and *become* who we were meant to be.

    Your brother,


  3. Such a true article, Micheal. Yeah, our culture is very alienating and people are taught to be afraid of emotion. It’s a strong trend in our culture already, so no wonder so many people think numbing themselves out with drugs is the way to go. Too bad that the average psychiatrist is so terrified of motion himself. What a mess.

  4. I think that denying our emotions is unhealthy but I also think that it is absolutely essential to take and feel in control of them and not let them lead us down the wrong path which can happen so easily: not all emotions are positive; they can be destructive.

  5. “We compulsively gamble, eat, work, watch TV, live on Facebook, watch porn, live in our heads, and have unrelated sex to avoid our emotions.”

    No, no, it’s a lie.

    Ok, I was wrong, it’s not a lie, I just don’t’ want to admit it.

      • glad you enjoyed my joke Michael.

        I’m completely spaced out today due to conflicts in committees and a friend who is having a major crisis whose behaviour is doing my head in.

        Burying my head in the internet is one way of dealing with it all between slowly thinking things over, taking to people on the phone and in person and slowly making headway

  6. Michael,

    For many years I went to great lengths to avoid, suppress and numb my emotions. When I finallly stopped my methods of avoidance, the emotions flowed in – guilt and shame lead the way. I painstakingly worked through the emotional pain and amazingly started to feel peace and real joy. I use to have to go to extremes to feel what I thought was joy. Now I just sit peacefully on my deck reading a book or watching my dog chase leaves. And when shame and guilt creeps in – I now know that if I allow myself to experience the emotions they will be transient.

    Thank you for writing such a great article. You definitely got me thinking. And feeling!


  7. I covered a lot of pain with daily cannabis use. About 8 weeks ago I stopped cold turkey. I was able to stop because I consciously chose. Daily I wrote and said aloud ‘I choose to stop smoking daily’ a few days of saying this intention worked. Within a few days of stopping I felt no call to use it any longer. I did however begin to eat like crazy. Again I set the intention and I feel the peeling away of this addiction.

    Instead of picking up a new way to cover up the problem I am consciously choosing to get to the source. This article is one of those blessings of support that just sort of crossed my path perhaps because of my deep desire/intention to really overcome all the emotional pain I eat or smoke to cover up.

    I really dig and feel inspired by what your putting out thank you. And also I want to add I really enjoyed your talk on Madness Radio. Good stuff.

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