Emotional Blocks -Ezine June/July 2004

This issue is about how to remove emotional blocks. We are all blocked to some extent by the effect of painful experience. I will give some thoughts about how this happens and some practical ideas on how to remove blocks and/or move on.

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What are the issues about “emotion” and “emotional blocks”? 

Most organisations still follow the “machine” or “military” model to a great extent. In this model people have roles to perform that are relatively tightly defined and they use their intellect, logic and professionalism to perform those roles. You help the organisation to achieve its objectives and get paid for it.  

But people are more complicated than that as we have feelings. When our positive feelings of excitement, comradeship, determination and hope run, we can achieve wonderful things. If we feel angry, afraid, powerless, sad, abandoned, ignored and confused, we achieve very little. Difficult experiences now, reduce our performance immediately. Difficult experiences from the past, even the far distant past, can also limit us.  

An example 

Perhaps a small example will illustrate this. As a very small child, I was allowed to ask lots of difficult questions and my parents were always very honest with me when they did not know the answers. They would say, “We don’t know, you will have to find out for yourself”. So, I continued to ask questions when I was at school, and later, and soon got into lots of trouble with teachers and headmasters who don’t often like being questioned! I got humiliated several times for “impertinence” and caned for breaking silly rules. This has left me feeling very uncomfortable about meeting very senior people in organisations as I anticipate that I will be ridiculed and humiliated again. Now there is no “rational” logic in this. I am not going to be caned and am very unlikely to be ridiculed now when I meet the CEO of “Intergalactic Enterprises” but it still feels a bit like that! There is emotional logic. 

Why does this happen? 

What seems to happen is that we literally record everything that happens to us as sensory data, sights, sounds, smells etc together with our feelings. When we have an experience in the present which reminds us of the difficult experience in the past, we feel those feelings again and lose again our ability to think clearly just as we did in the past and may do ineffective things as a result.  

So, I avoid even trying to meet CEO’s because they will think I am an impertinent rebel with nothing to offer – not sensible as I have been working and thinking in the development field for over thirty years!  This is clearly nonsense.

Why is this important? 

All of us have painful experiences that can condition and limit our effectiveness and happiness. All our clients, colleagues and friends do too. So understanding this and not blaming people for being “difficult” or being unhappy will be helpful.  

There is also hope, as we now understand some natural ways to remove these blocks and free our intelligence and thinking. I will give some more detail in the next part. 

Removing emotional blocks

The natural way

If you see a very small child fall over and bang her knee, she will typically whimper a bit and then look for her Mum or someone she knows and run towards that person, be held warmly, kissed better and have a good cry. If the parent allows that to happen, she will cry and cry and then stop and go back to what she was doing full of energy and fully recovered.

This is the natural way we recover from hurts, by finding another person and that person listening, supporting, accepting and helping us express our feelings fully. This can be by talking, laughing, sweating, shaking, crying, angry movements (a “tantrum”).

You will all have done something really silly sometimes, I know I have, and when to talk about it to a friend you laugh and get hot. After this, you realise it was not as bad as all that and that you have learned something valuable that you can use in future and what you did was based on your best thinking at the time. You get new insights after emotional release.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with using the natural process in organisations. The first is that that most organisations do not encourage or accept the free and full expression of feelings. Yet doing so may be the best way to free the intelligence of themselves and their staff. The second is that most of us don’t appreciate the value of paying attention to others and allowing or encouraging other people to express their feelings. It does not have to be this way.

Every attempt we make to listen to people or to help them listen to each other, will help.


“Counselling” is associated in people’s minds with dealing with deficit, illness or personal trauma and so cocounselling may be too.

However, cocounselling not this but a way to organise and enable the natural process of growth, as above. In a cocounselling session one person, the client, works on an issue and the other person, the counsellor, provides the support, attention, closeness and love that is enough to help the client feel safe enough to express all her/his feelings about the topic fully. The client may talk, cry, shake, get angry just as in above and afterwards have new insights and be able to move on. After, for example, half an hour the participant’s have a little break and then exchange roles. 

You can set up your contract with a client to work in these deeper ways one way, if you wish. You are much more likely to succeed if you have had first class counselling yourself first. Otherwise, you will find your client’s pain stirs up your own and it is impossible to maintain your attention.  

You can find out much more about this in the literature on re-evaluation counselling http://www.rc.org/ or cocounselling international http://co-counselling.info


This uses the idea of sharing time and taking turns listening to each other but tends to keep the process at a light and organisationally acceptable level. I have written about it in other ezines and you can read more on my site on coconsulting. Even here, people find the idea of talking to each other about the issues that concern them and actively helping by listening quite difficult. This may indicate that we need to build more mutual trust in organisations. Paradoxically, doing coconsulting or cocounselling together is one of the best ways of building trust that I know. You just have to start!

A few techniques for shifting emotional blocks

Use a “contradiction”

A contradiction is something that goes in the precisely opposite direction to the emotional block. It can be something you ask the client to do or say. An example may help.

I was teaching a counselling course and about to show people how to do it by working “live” with a one of the course members in front of the group. K’s issue was that she liked J very much but was too embarrassed to ask him out. She also did not want to appear “cheap”. I contradicted her fear by asking her what she would like to do if she were totally unafraid.

Eventually, after getting very hot, she said she would like to say, “I really like you and would like to get to know you better”. She liked this, as it was direct and honest. Then we contradicted the embarrassment by her saying this directly, with much laughter and more heat, to the other eight people in the group! Afterwards, she realised she could talk to him and would and any residual anxiety was not going to stop her.

She did talk to J as she planned and the last I heard they were happily married and had two children.

When was the first time this happened?

Emotional blocks can arise quite early in life and still have consequences long afterwards. You still can be very helpful using simple questions and listening hard. An example may help.

Fiona worked in large company and was quite senior and technically excellent. Her manager told her that she would not get any further until she learned how to be less aggressive in meetings. That was the bad news; the good news was that I was available to help her, if she wished. It turned out that she was the youngest of five children, all the rest were boys and the only way she could get any attention was to SHOUT. When she realised that she was doing in the company what she had to do as a child to survive, she changed her behaviour.

What is the worst that could happen? 

Another paradox is that fear is only powerful if we take it seriously. The classic “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers is all about this. The question, above, can help people face their fears and realise they don’t have to be imprisoned by them. Another example follows.

Peter was overwhelmed with work. His health, marriage and work were suffering. We talked about what he could do and realised one possible source of help was his staff. He was a bit scared of involving them, he wondered if they would find him weak and would lose their cooperation. He realised that the “worst thing that could happen” would be that he would then find his job truly intolerable and would leave and that would mean he would have a break to think, spend more time at home and that would be OK!

Peter levelled with his people and asked for their help and it worked wonderfully well. He realised he was doing half of his managers job as well as his own and was able to get rid of this work. He was able to pass on some work to his staff and stop doing some. His team were glad to help because they understood why it was necessary. By being open and vulnerable he created great support and team spirit too.

Please send me your thoughts and experiences about the above.

The ideas above come from on my limited thinking and experience. I believe these issues are important. You will have found different and interesting ways to look at this. If you email me your thoughts and experiences about how to do this, and then I will send something back to the list that will give a richer picture to us all or, if you want the yahoo group, this might be good to share there. 

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I hope you have found the information in this issue interesting and useful. The subjects I might cover in the next issues are: –

Conflict resolution

Designing learning events

Developing your people

Improving working relationships

Stimulating creative thinking

Thinking tools and processes

If you have any particular developmental interests, you would like me to cover, please let me know. I will try to respond if I can.


I enjoy helping clients think through real issues involving people. I sometimes stay in the background as coach or consultant and sometimes work with people to help them design and deliver developmental events.  If you need to know more please refer to www.nickheap.co.uk or give me a call.

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