What is Emotional Metabolism?
Metabolism is a word that so many of us use, but we seldom know exactly what it is. It sounds scientific, it sounds important, and most people know that they want a better, hotter and higher functioning metabolism. But what exactly is it?
Here’s a simple definition: Metabolism is the process by which we take the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and all the substances that enter our body – and transmute them into needed fuel and building blocks for biologic survival, while neutralizing whatever it is that’s toxic to human form and function.
So yes, it makes perfect sense that we would want more of it.
Well actually, we do have more metabolic power than we realize. Not only do we have our biological metabolism, we also have a lesser known one:
Our Emotional Metabolism.
Most of us experience emotions as something that happens to us.
Emotions – meaning feelings, come and go. Some of us are more emotional. Some less. Some of us have difficulty controlling our emotions. Others keep them under tight control. Sometimes, our emotions get the best of us. Other times, our emotions reflect the best of who we are – our care, our compassion, love, courage, faith and so on…
The term “Emotional Metabolism” affirms that we are constantly experiencing a flux of emotions generated from within, and we experience emotions that impact us from the outside – the feelings of others. And emotions must be processed just as we need to process any food that enters our system.
Our emotional metabolism is the part of us that does it’s best to take in the emotions that work for us, while protecting against the kinds of emotions that bring us down.
In other words, feelings of all kinds must be digested, assimilated, and if they don’t serve us – neutralized and excreted.
Have you ever felt stuck clogged up, frozen, or in a bind? That’s your emotional metabolism being a bit constipated.
Have you ever felt that someone came at you with anger or judgment that was unjustified, and you walked away feeling assaulted or stunned. That’s emotional metabolism feeling beat up – kind of like eating a bad meal.
Have you had times in life where it felt that the stars were all aligning for you, you were in a great mood, in a flow, humming along, and nothing could bring you down. That’s your emotional metabolism running, super high and efficient.
Here’s the point:
It may be just as important to pay attention to emotional metabolism as it is to nutritional metabolism.
Both are not only essential to life – they ARE life.
Like nutritional metabolism, emotional metabolism requires attention, study, constant scrutiny, and curiosity. Both can have us experiencing constipation, weakness, fatigue, over activity, under activity, and more.
Just as we can walk through life eating junk food and unknowingly harming our health, so too can we go through life constantly generating and taking in “junk food emotions” – endless worry, jealousy, judgment, fear, unwarranted anger, self attack, disappointment and more.
My suggestion is this: we need to make emotional metabolism a conscious process. We need to actively and intelligently participate in the regulation and experiencing of our own feelings. Just as it’s a great idea to elevate your nutritional understanding, we need to do the same with the eternal ebb and flow of our feelings.
This is actually not some fanciful notion.
The late great scientist Candace Pert wrote a groundbreaking book called Molecules of Emotion. Her work demonstrated that essentially, every thought and feeling has a chemical equivalent in the body. And indeed it must. We are biochemical beings. And all chemicals in the body are involved in the overall process of metabolism. Some common molecules of emotion include serotonin, dopamine, PEA, oxytocin, estrogen, testosterone, acetylcholine, the endorphins, enkephalins, and a long and still to be discovered list of peptide molecules.
Here’s a very simple way you can put the concept of emotional metabolism to practical use in your life:
Oftentimes, we hold back our emotions. After all, who wants to be all out there and upfront about the anger we’re experiencing, our rage, depression, hurt, grief, fear, or disappointment. These are emotions a lot of us tend to hide or suppress. We might even choose to mask our feelings of love, desire, and intimacy – simply because they intimidate us.
The result is emotional constipation – a sluggish emotional metabolism. We experience an artificial buildup of emotional content in our system that needs an outlet. Oftentimes, when we’re emotionally constipated and can’t or won’t express our feelings, or even admit them to our own self – we look to alleviate the stress of holding back our emotions with something that gives us comfort.
For example, food.
The act of suppressing one’s emotions is literally a physiologic stressor for the system. It’s no different than needing to take a pee and holding it in too long. It’s not natural, it’s not necessary, and it hurts.
The stress that comes along with emotional withholding always seeks an outlet. Again, food is one such common outlet. For many people, overeating, binge eating, and emotional eating – are indeed our emotions calling out for some airtime. Our feelings want our attention. And when they can’t get our attention, they can make us have all kinds of unwanted eating behaviors – which then get our attention in a big way.
Feelings are meant to be felt. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to act on every single feeling. When a feeling is felt, it then has a natural lifespan and our emotional metabolism regulates it in a natural way.
So here’s the remedy: start to feel your feelings. Be honest about them. See what’s beneath them. Listen to what they’re asking of you. Let them wash over your body. Stop fighting them. Stop trying to hide them. Stop pretending that you’re not having those feelings. Be real. Be authentic. Be rigorously truthful with yourself.
The result will be a better emotional metabolism, and a much happier relationship with food.