Working Out Emotional Knots

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In Gestalt psychology when people have had something bad happen to them and haven’t really worked through it, when they’re still carrying around the emotional baggage, we call it the unfinished situation. They have to get back to the business of everyday life though, usually sooner rather than later, so they do the best they can to push those painful emotions outside of their awareness.

While on the surface these people might seem even keeled, placid, imperturbable, etc., their external appearance is often, to borrow a psychoanalytic term, a reaction formation, a way to compensate for the emotional turbulence underneath.

Over time the emotional baggage crystallizes into what we might call emotional knots. We like the analogy of knots and here’s why. If you have physical knots somewhere in your body then they’re hindering your free, uninhibited movement. They’re keeping you from feeling as good as you’re capable of feeling. They’re not a pressing concern, you can live with them, you can even go long periods of time without really noticing them.

When you do finally decide to pay them the attention they require through massage working them out really hurts! If you didn’t see the endgame, the fact that you’ve got to go through this brief period of pain to make your body feel a whole lot better, you wouldn’t see any point in getting the massage. You’d discontinue it at the first sign of discomfort. Better to leave those knots alone, life is manageable with them, why cause yourself any more unnecessary pain?

We can think of talk therapy as the emotional equivalent of the ideas expressed above. It’s a way to work out the emotional knots through talking about what happened with an interested, empathetic, knowledgeable party, someone who can help you make sense of a painful, still very much alive past. Talking about what happened hurts. The process is painful but it’s for a good cause, it’s to make you feel a whole lot better. The endgame is to once again allow for the free, uninhibited movement of the emotional system, to put a period on the past in order to make space for the present.