Removing Emotional Blocks to Success

We are all blocked to some extent by the effect of painful experience. I give some thoughts about how this happens and some practical ideas on how to remove blocks and/or move on. Emotional blocks can get in the way of us being both happy and successful. They can be shifted.

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

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 had left me feeling very uncomfortable about meeting very senior people in organisations as I anticipated that I would 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 like that! There is emotional logic.

After removing the block

I put up with this for far too long, and then had a session with my cocounsellor (see below) and shifted the painful emotion associated with being humiliated. I became free of it and soon established a very close and trusting relationship with the COO of a large organisation. I found working with her easier than with less senior people. She appreciated my approach more, and if she decided to do something, she had the authority to do it.

Why do we get blocked?

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 had avoided 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 forty years!  It was 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 is helpful.

There is also hope, as we now understand some natural ways to remove these blocks and free our intelligence and thinking.

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”) or yawning.

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 their staff and thus improve the organisation’s ability to deliver. 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  is 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, sweat, 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 can have a little break and then swap roles.

You can find out much more about this in the literature on re-evaluation counselling or cocounselling international


This uses the idea of sharing time and taking turns listening to each other, but tends to keep the process lighter which may be easier for some organisations. I have written about it here coconsulting. Sometimes 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.

F 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.

P 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!

He 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. His staff offered to do some of his work. 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 let 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. Please let me know through the comments box that is on this page below this piece.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick