How To Process The Heavy Four: trauma, shame, guilt, and grief

By Emily A Francis, author of Healing Ourselves Whole

Through the many years of hands-on body balancing work that I have practiced, through both clinical and energetic massage practice, I have come to understand that the body stores its emotions in a very consolidated way. When it comes to the emotion charts and the feeling wheels, there are a great number of different words to try to identify your feelings through. When it comes to the body, there are, in my opinion, four distinct heavy emotions and four distinct light or fabulous emotions that make their way deep into the soft tissues of the body itself. When I place my hands on someone’s body, I notice one of four heavy emotions as the primary holding pattern. This is why I created the somatic emotion chart. (Somatic is a fancy term for body). The heavy four emotions are trauma, shame, guilt and grief. The fabulous four emotions that also store within the body are happy, joy, connected and empowered. Today we will focus on processing through the heavy four emotions and why we would choose to do so. 

When it comes to trauma, that is basically anything that insults your body and your senses and leaves with it a negative or heavy impression within the tissues themselves. For each person, what was traumatic in their lives vary greatly according to life experiences, but the way that trauma stores goes directly into the muscle memory, the cellular memory and the fascia lines throughout the body. What cognitive therapy refers to as a trauma capsule, or a disassociation capsule, this is when something so overwhelming occurs and we can’t fully deal with it in the present time. So, we basically shove it inside a little bubble or capsule and then drop it down into the body and out of our direct lines of thinking within our minds. From there, most of the time, we walk away from it and forget that buried within the body sits that capsule. From there, it opens itself up and begins to grow roots. Those roots can result in chronic pain, inflammation, sleep disturbances, emotional disruptions, self-medicating habits, or actual dis-ease and a possible diagnosis.

To me the image that comes to me when I am working directly with a body is a carrot. The trauma capsule drops into the body and plants down within the tissues the way that a carrot is planted beneath the soil. What I help people do is learn to locate the green leafy tops that have sprouted above the baseline in order to signal the area of the body that any particular trauma has been planted.   It then becomes our responsibility to learn how to track each carrot down and figure out how to remove it completely, or loosen it up enough that body energy, liquids and more pleasant memories can move around the area without disruption. This requires a lot of internal dialoguing, meditation, visualizations and a full commitment to do the work and face the stories that the body has been holding. The body doesn’t tell tales the way that the mind can. It stores the memories exactly as they occurred and those memories freeze in time from the minute of implant. When someone gets into an automobile accident, the memories around what happened become hazy. You may not remember which way your head was facing or how your body was seated at the moment of impact. That is the gift of the mind to eject itself out from the body and basically white wash a lot of the smaller details. The body has no eject button. Everything that happened at the moment of impact is stored into the body and frozen there from the moment it enters. It does not mature with age. It stays in whatever year and day that was in time. The work to unfreeze the track and help it adjust to the new time and space is something to be done with delicate hands and a patient heart.

As for the shame and guilt emotions, those come in a cycle and rarely does one come without the other. I call shame and guilt dysfunctional best friends. Those are behavior patterns that become an actual physiology within the system. Those track into the soft tissues the way that any trauma does but these aren’t just memories stored in time. Shame and guilt are patterns of behavior and it effects the entirety of the body. When I place my hands on someone’s body who is riddled with shame behaviors, it feels like the tissues are crying. Shame is such a sad experience to the body itself. Every time we exhibit our shame behaviors, the body weeps and the healthier parts of ourselves begin to sink lower and lower the way that a willow tree hangs down. Guilt on the other hand, feels like shattered glass. It’s similar to shame when I touch the body, but it’s harder in its pieces. The tissues feel different than the way shame projects into itself. Shame feels softer and sadder. Guilt feels heavier and sharper. When it comes to processing these emotions, it takes more of an evaluation stance and an awareness to determine the way in which we have taken on these patterns that create nothing but ill health and a depressed mind. 

Grief is something else entirely when it comes to the way in which our bodies store the experience. Grief changes you in a way that will never be able to go backward and return. Grief changes the actual memory tracks within your body and splits itself into parallel lines. From the moment of something that makes you grief stricken (usually from the loss of someone you held so dear; a heart break, a death, a divorce) you begin living in a parallel universe. You now live under the reality of actual time in space and the time table in which the one you lost would be at a certain place in time. For example, if you have experienced grief at the death of a loved one, you now live in your day-to-day reality and you keep a time on what their reality would be had they not died. An example would be: “today would have been my father’s birthday. He would be 70 this year.” He died when he was much younger than 70, but we still age him as if he had not died. That especially rings true in the incredible tragedy and trauma that comes when someone loses a child; whether before they were born or any time after.

The thing about grief is, no one can blame you for the feelings you are experiencing. Grief is not necessarily a healing process that brings you back to what you were before the loss because you cannot get that person back. Grief cuts in a way that is severed and permanent. What we can do when we are processing grief is to discover and acknowledge where in our bodies that the highest level of pain and loss is being stored and then work around that space. This is the case where the carrots that were planted won’t be removed entirely, but loosened up to the place where we can be functional still holding on to the grief that has been buried and planted.

When it comes to grief, no one has any right to tell you how to grieve or for how long. Of all the healing areas, this is the one that is entirely individual to you. The only help that I can offer is that when it comes to that level of despair, that you at least be cognizant of what you are doing internally to your body in not managing the feelings well. This is the place where I ask you to consider not just developing the skills to dialogue within your body, but to seek professional counseling such as EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to help with the freezing in time tracks of extreme pain. Talk therapy might be much more beneficial than you may realize. There are a lot of cognitive therapies out there to help you work through grief and I urge you to explore them until you find the one that resonates best with how you handle your grief. 

The takeaway from this offering is that we can’t just focus on how we perceive and think about any of the heavy four emotions. We have to learn to notice when those emotions get planted within our bodies and then be able to head it off at the pass before an actual illness occurs. Any diagnosis that may come up in your life will never come without its emotional counterpart. Those emotions are not just in how you act and feel, but in how your body has come to hold them. This is the part that if left untreated will inevitably show up somehow in your body. Our goal is to learn the signs early and take control of our internal body health. That is the best thing we can do for ourselves is to become our advocate for health and healing. We all deserve to live free and healthy.