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Emotional Detox

by Louise Smart(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 66 - July 2001

Typically, people who embark on a detoxification process do so because they want to feel purified, clear of toxic wastes and because they enjoy feeling the effects of lightness, freedom and increased energy. These qualities are sought after primarily as a bodily experience, by fasting, juicing, and eliminating certain foods, drinks or stimulants.

Those accustomed to regular detoxification do so not just to purify the body. Experience teaches them that both the process and the effects of detoxification can positively impact the mind, emotions and spirit. Indeed, many who resort to detoxification to support their bodies when they have illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, allergies, obesity and physical pain, find that benefits beyond those of the body come as a pleasant surprise.

The question is how much do we want to detoxify and find a greater sense of wholeness? Most would agree that you cannot feel truly light and free if you are suppressing anger or fear for example, however much you fast or juice. Similarly, however much you meditate to purify spiritually, if your body is full of toxins from eating, drinking, smoking and abusing substances, and you are holding onto old resentments, the benefits of meditation fall short of their potential. There is greater potential for our wholeness and well-being when we make an effort to detoxify all the aspects of our being, that is mind, body emotions and spirit, respectively.

How Do We Emotionally Detoxify?

There continues to be an ever widening scope of therapies and practitioners available to us and it can be a bewildering process to find appropriate help. The difficulty with emotions is that they are not easy to articulate, hence the debatable efficacy of merely sitting and talking to a therapist. Talking, whilst it can be helpful to a degree, tends to keep us in our heads rather than in the emotion. In fact talking about feelings related to trauma, abuse, violence or unspecified unhappiness can implode the situation. It is a bit like sweeping dust from one end of the room to the other. It does not shift anything permanently, it just moves things around and upsets things. We can be left feeling much worse. Therefore the kind of therapy needed is that which can help us to contact, re-experience and then let go of suppressed emotions. Some good, relatively deep techniques include breathwork, visualization, hakomi, Reichian therapy, Gestalt psychotherapy, psychodrama and holistic counselling.

Emotioal detoxification

Acceptance of Feelings

Many of the problems we experience emotionally are due to our beliefs about them. Parents who withhold from emotional expression out of fear of appearing weak teach us that emotions should be suppressed, including positive emotions like love and its expression of affection. Therefore we do not know how to experience strong feelings without resistance. Similarly, we do not know how to be comfortable or support others when they are emotional. We are in danger of passing on this unnatural behaviour to our own children. Staying present with a feeling, accepting it and allowing it its natural momentum are crucial to emotional detoxification. This frees us from our past, our conditioning, and enables us to be authentic in the present. It empowers us to be who we really are.

Emotional Suppression and Illness

Countless people have been brought up to believe that anger and expressing anger are wrong. This attitude does not stop the feeling; it merely stops it moving through and out of the body as a natural course of action. Over time, with habitual suppression, often with food, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, individuals cannot express any anger naturally and it can accumulate as blocked energy. Suppressed emotions, specifically anger, are widely accepted to be major contributors to depression, clinical stress and all its implications including high blood pressure. In her book You Can Heal Your Life,[1] Louise Hay writes, from her own experience of cancer, that her anger was a major factor. Recognizing the need for a holistic approach, she also worked on detoxifying her body, using reflexology, special dieting and colon therapy. Inner work to clear underlying suppressed emotions is fundamental to total healing of illness. When stored anger and guilt about anger are released, we regain energy because it takes energy to suppress emotion.

When stored anger is out of the way or when it is released as and when it occurs without abusing others, then it is healthy. Otherwise we just keep anger alive and ultimately get sick or take it out on someone else and the reactive cycle of anger is perpetuated.

Emotional Detox and Self-Esteem

If self-esteem is low, we will deny ourselves what is good for us and what we want in life. The original limiting and usually unconscious belief causing such denial can be "I am not important" or "I am not good enough". It is most often a learned response from childhood, when parents, teachers, and people with power over us give us less than positive loving support. When young we are vulnerable and easily influenced by others' beliefs, always seeking approval as we shape our identity. Unless the toxic belief is made conscious and challenged it will limit us all through adulthood, negatively influencing our behaviour through fear, self-loathing and guilt. When the limiting self-belief is replaced by one that is unconditionally loving and self-supportive, our reality can begin to look very different.

Guilt and Self-Punishment

If we have a core belief from childhood that we are not good enough, then the internal response is associated with punishment. We act this out in our adult life by not expecting or giving ourselves what we truly want because we feel we are not deserving. We unwittingly punish ourselves or allow others to punish us with abuse, which can be as commonplace as taking us for granted. Punishment can take the form of self-sabotage, for instance never quite achieving the rewarding job by missing deadlines for interview applications, allowing others to use up our time and energy, using obligations, family ties and friends' needs as excuses not to get our own needs met. We also self- sabotage by being late, losing things, being untidy and getting sick.

Resistance to Self-Love

The healing process is not always a smooth transition to unconditional love for the self. If our present reality is one lacking in loving relationships or friendship, or our job is unfulfilling and we hate where we live, then there is a lot of inner work to move through. People need evidence and cannot last out on hope and positive affirmation without getting results. That is why the work has to be deep without being too disruptive, and it takes sensitivity, much skill and good sense of timing on the part of the therapist to ensure that the process keeps moving. Resistance in the form of doubt has to be challenged, because you cannot overlay unconditional love on to a mass of contradictions. We have to be willing to challenge our negative self-beliefs constantly to keep the process alive between sessions. Our systems simply will not put up with negative suppressed emotion if the positive is allowed to come in strongly and consistently enough. The therapist has to be alert to the possibility of strong feelings emerging outside the therapy room and show us how to handle them. When the old emotion is finally allowed to be released we emotionally detoxify. Like body detoxification it is not always a comfortable process. But if we want the results enough, we persist.

Case Study 1

A 47-year-old woman is complaining of extreme upper chest pain and constant anxiety. Her breathing is very shallow and difficult. Her past reveals grief related to two major losses, her father and a partner, for whom she has not properly grieved. People have always looked up to her as being strong and she feels that showing emotion is weak, so she has always suppressed her feelings even to herself.

Breathwork is physically painful at first but lessens by the end of four weeks. Persistent awareness of deepening her breath profoundly helps her to accept and release strong feelings of grief that are close to the surface but held inside. Silent tears are followed by sobbing. Breathing helps her as a tool to relax and combat anxiousness and allows her to be present with her emotions as they occur instead of suppressing them by distracting herself. She is learning to love and accept herself and her changing emotions. The pain in the chest has stopped and anxiety is intermittent instead of constant.

Case Study 2

This 40-year-old female client grew up with a mentally disabled brother. Her parents showered her brother with affection and attention, and she felt lonely and unappreciated however much she contributed. She suppressed the emotional pain by immersing herself in her very physically demanding dance career, and when she gave this up she started to experience depression and feelings of worthlessness compounded by unfulfilling relationships with men who took much more than they gave. Exploring her feelings brought up the sadness at always feeling not good enough. She was encouraged to feel the intensity of the sadness and to allow herself to cry. She had never really looked after and fed herself properly and now makes the effort to nourish herself with food and also seeks to be with people that nourish her emotionally. She confronted her parents with her feelings of being neglected and the relationship has now improved. The depression has lifted.


1. Hay Louise. You Can Heal Your Life. Eden Grove Editions. Great Britain. 1988.


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About Louise Smart

Louise Smart, GCP, ITEC, is qualified in holistic counselling. She worked at a stress management unit in a London hospital for five years and runs personal development courses for companies. Her emotional detox therapy involves breathwork, visualization and holistic counselling. Her practice is in the west end of London and she is contactable on Tel: 07973 780 852, or you can visit her website at

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