Learning how to express and release negative emotions now can prevent pain and violence later

By William Hicks

What kind of torch are we passing to future generations if we don’t make the time and effort to sort out and let go of our own emotional baggage? Illustration by William Hicks

What kind of torch are we passing to future generations if we don’t make the time and effort to sort out and let go of our own emotional baggage?
Illustration by William Hicks

A baby falls, it cries; it sees a funny face, it laughs. When a baby grows, however, it hears such things as “Boys don’t cry,” “Don’t be a cry-baby” or “Don’t giggle at a funeral.” Basically, emotions get stuffed.

So where do all of these stuffed emotions go?

I believe they’re stored somewhere in our bodies and manifest as aches, pains, diseases or abhorrent behaviors that we take on in order to avoid expressing them — and there never seems to be an appropriate time to let them out.

We have all witnessed somebody overreact to a given situation (and, truth be told, we’ve been guilty of it ourselves): sobbing after a movie or a Hallmark commercial, guffawing too hard at a not-so-funny joke.

Then there are those people who are always angry, snapping at the littlest things: “Who left the toilet seat up?!”

These are the fruits of emotional stuffing, of being told that it’s not appropriate to get upset or show emotions in public. What happens is these emotions build up, sometimes for generations — “the sins of our fathers,” so to speak — behind a dam never meant to withstand that amount of pressure.

Without a release valve, something’s gotta give. And eventually something does, through physical problems or negative behaviors. I daresay that extreme cases of way too much emotional build up can reveal themselves as cancer or violent behaviors.

It’s hard not to be aware of the recent shootings in Venice and around the country, specifically officer-involved violence.

We have thousands of boys and girls not allowed to express their emotions, raised by adult boys and girls who were not allowed to express their emotions either. Many of these children grow up playing violent video games, and some join the police force. Many police officers are also ex-military who have witnessed all kinds of horrific things.

So why are we surprised when somebody in uniform finally snaps?

We need to stop being so naïve. Our men and women in blue deal with the worst of the worst on a daily basis, people who are so good at stuffing their emotions that their inner dams finally burst. And dealing with the worst takes an emotional toll.

So where does somebody go to access a release valve and unstuff?

I can only speak of my own experience. I unstuffed in Santa Monica back in 1996 via the human potential training company Lifespring. Fortunately I did, for by releasing my emotional baggage I was ready to meet my lovely wife Elise that same year, as well as many wonderful new friends.

But I’ll be completely honest: Confronting our inner demons can be scary, because to the mind there is no difference between physical and emotional pain.

Founded in 1974, Lifespring stemmed from Erhard Seminars Training (popularly known as EST), an organization founded by Werner H. Erhard in late 1971. Lifespring L.A. was purchased about 15 years ago by Margo Majdi, who renamed it M.I.T.T. (Mastery in Transformational Training) and opened her office at Fisherman’s Village.

I don’t want to come across as if I am “pitching” these trainings; I am merely speaking of my own experience of them and of the research conducted by others. For example, studies commissioned by Lifespring in the 1980s by researchers at Berkeley, Stanford
and UC San Francisco found that around 90% of participants called the trainings either “extremely valuable” or “valuable.”

I also want to clarify that trainings like M.I.T.T. are not intended for those with severe emotional trauma, who require professional help, but rather are for us average stuffers.

What I am pitching, though, is the idea that there is a need for safe environments where people can go to process their emotions.

Police officers especially need someplace to process their emotions. At the very least, they need someone like a counselor to talk to after a hectic day. Some are fortunate enough to have supportive spouses at home who can help them navigate this turbulent sea of emotions, but many do not.

Law enforcement personnel didn’t create criminals, homelessness, traffic, gentrification or economic inequality, but they have to deal with the consequences of them. They are trained to deal with rare incidents of disorder, not epidemics caused by the failure of social, political and economic systems. Many are forced to routinely deal with psychologically disturbed individuals who shouldn’t even be on the street.

The Torch Foundation, a charitable offspring of M.I.T.T., makes transformational trainings accessible to at-risk teenagers throughout Los Angeles.

That makes me think: What kind of  torch or legacy are we passing to future generations if we don’t make the time and effort to unstuff our own stuff in a safe environment?

When I tune into the news, there seems to be a whole heck of a lot of unhealthy releasing going on around here.

But we can do something about that.

“Believing in yourself is what gets you the results,” Majdi says. “Age, race, nationality … it doesn’t matter. As long as you have a vision and you’re committed to having it happen. Nothing stops you but you.”

William Hicks is an author, artist and Marina del Rey resident who writes columns about local politics, the environment and matters of general interest. Contact him at williamraymondhicks@gmail.com