Robert J. Burrowes
As ‘mental health’ issues gain more attention, sympathetic and
otherwise, in a wide variety of contexts and countries around the world,
the opportunity for inaccurate perceptions of what causes these issues,
and how to treat them, are likewise expanded.
So if you or someone you know is supposed to have a ‘mental illness’
such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosa or post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), I would like to give you the opportunity to
consider an explanation and a way forward that you are unlikely to have
My first suggestion is that you ignore any label that you have been
given. These labels are an inaccurate and unhelpful way of labeling the
appropriate, diverse and complex emotional responses that a normal human
being will have to emotionally disturbing events. It is inaccurate
because words such as these imply a ‘disorder’ that a normal individual
should not have in response to emotionally challenging events in their
life and it is unhelpful because the term suggests that many different
individuals are having the same (dysfunctional) response.
Human beings have a brilliantly diverse and complex array of emotions
and hence potential emotional responses as a result of the evolutionary
pressures that shaped the emergence of hominids over millions of years.
An extraordinary emotional capacity is one of the defining features of
our humanity and, I would argue, far more important than any other
feature such as our intellectual capacity.
Our emotions or, more simply, our feelings play the central role in
determining our behaviour in any given circumstance. Whatever we do, we
are responding to our feelings. If we are doing what we want to do, we
are doing what we feel like doing. If we are not doing what we feel like
doing, it is because our fear has been triggered sufficiently to
override feelings that would otherwise have us doing something more
functional and enjoyable. Regrettably, human ‘socialization’ (that is,
terrorization) plays heavily on our fear during childhood in order to
turn us into obedient slaves in the forms of student, worker/soldier and
citizen. And this happens irrespective of our level of intelligence. For
a full explanation, see ‘Why Violence?‘
Unfortunately, once our fear has been utilized to suppress our awareness
of how we genuinely feel and what we want to do – which is sometimes
euphemistically referred to as ’emotional regulation’ – we are no longer
able to access these feelings readily and we live our lives
unconsciously and powerlessly submitting to the will of those we fear
and the institutions they control. But the price for doing so is that
our lives are no longer our own.
As a unique individual who has experienced the ongoing violent trauma
virtually all of us experience during childhood you have found yourself
experiencing a level of emotional response that is very appropriate
given your experience but which is both exacerbated and complicated by
the sudden release of feelings that you had been suppressing since
childhood (and which you are probably being told are inappropriate now).
The fear you feel (probably labeled ‘anxiety’, ‘nervousness’ or
something else) in particular (and perhaps virtually all) contexts is
also triggering the monumental fear (of your parents, teachers,
religious figures and other adults) that you were scared into
suppressing as a child.
The anger you feel about how you were treated and/or what happened to
others (perhaps siblings) you know is merely the peak of the volcano of
anger that you have been keeping the lid on since childhood.
The sadness you feel about what has happened to you and perhaps others
you know is only the tip of the iceberg of sadness you have been
suppressing all of your life.
The guilt, shame, embarrassment… you feel, perhaps about those you let
down or for some other reason, is only the latest addition to the guilt
and other feelings you have been suppressing since childhood.
Do you think I am wrong? Then consider this. Were you ever allowed to
show your fear as a child (and to act on it)? Were you allowed to cry
freely and openly? Were you allowed to get angry (at being ‘done over’
or in defense of yourself)? As often as you needed? Or were you
endlessly admonished and, one way or another, terrorized into behaving
blandly (with ‘acceptable’ feelings like love and happiness tolerated in
particular doses and circumstances).
So if you want to deal powerfully with all of the emotional responses
that are causing your so-called ‘mental illness’, here is my suggestion.
Focus on feeling each and all of your feelings. If you wake from a
nightmare, deliberately and consciously focus on the imagery in the
nightmare while you feel just how terrified you are. Focus on this
feeling for as long as you can. It will be horrendous and will take
enormous courage. But, after a time, it will start to fade and you will
feel some relief. When your fear arises again, in any context, pay
conscious attention to it. You have been suppressing it all of your
life; it just wants to be heard and felt so that you can let it go
If you feel angry, instead of trying to suppress it, harming yourself or
harming someone else (perhaps, even, someone you love), express your
anger fully and completely but in a safe way. How? Here are some
suggestions but you will need to decide what will work best for you. Get
an axe and chop wood (thinking about utterly destroying who/what is
making you angry: parents, teachers, religious figures, politicians,
military officers…) until your anger has been vented. Or smash a bat or
racquet into a mattress or cushion. Or scream (into a pillow if noise is
an issue). Or punch a punching bag. If you feel angry you need to exert
enormous physical effort to adequately express it. This might require
several hours for any one session and you might need to do a great many
sessions. Remember, you need to work off a lifetime of anger! If you can
set up a safe space for your regular anger sessions, do so. Whatever you
do, however, don’t waste your time saying or writing ‘I feel angry…’.
And don’t waste a moment of your life in an ‘anger management’ course.
Anger, like all emotions, needs to be expressed, not ‘managed’ (that is,
Another reason why it is important that you express your anger as I have
just suggested is because you will often discover afterwards that you
are projecting your anger. Projection is another of the creative ways
that your mind can use to give you a lead back to some of your
suppressed feelings. Projection occurs, for example, when it feels like
you are angry with your spouse for something she/he has done but, once
you fully express the feelings, you realize that, in fact, while your
spouse did something that unintentionally triggered your anger, most of
the anger is actually about someone or something from your childhood.
You cannot discover the source of the projection without fully
expressing the feelings first. Many people who routinely abuse their
spouse and/or children are trapped in a projection which is why their
anger cannot lead to greater self-awareness. People often project their
fear and sadness too: phobias are the result of projected fear, for
example, while sad films enable some people to access their suppressed
If you feel sad or anxious or ashamed or guilty or in pain or despairing
or obsessive or depressed or hopeless or compulsive or self-hating or
humiliated or anything else, just let yourself feel it, deeply. And let
it manifest in its own way: cry (if that is what happens when you feel
sad), shake (if that is what happens when you feel scared), feel guilty
or hopeless, feel horrible or …. Deliberately. Consciously. For as long
as it lasts or for as long as you are able to do at the time.
If you feel a sensation in your body, such as muscle tension or a pain
or a sense of contamination, focus on where you feel it and how it
feels. Eventually, after feeling the feelings from this sensation (which
might take very many sessions), you will discover why the sensation
originated and learn what it is trying to teach you.
If you feel suicidal it will often be because you are unconsciously
suppressing another shocking feeling that feels beyond your courage to
feel consciously, such as the feeling of self-hatred for something
shameful you have done, and suicide will seem the best way out. The
suicidal feeling might also arise out a sense of hopelessness or a
desire for release from enormous emotional and/or physical pain. Suicide
is an option that no-one should ever take from you, and I would never do
so, but I gently encourage you to focus on any suicidal feeling in the
belief that the underlying feeling – self-hatred, pain or something else
– will eventually be relieved and the urge to destroy yourself will pass
allowing you to keep traveling the journey of healing.
At this point, I should add that consciously focusing on feeling
physical pain (as a result of injuries or otherwise) is an important
element of any comprehensive healing strategy too.
As you have realized by now, this process of feeling isn’t necessarily
fun and my suggestion runs directly counter to our ‘feel good’ culture
which emphasizes ‘positive’ feelings while teaching you to suppress
‘negative’ ones. However, feeling your suppressed feelings will be,
ultimately, liberating and will progressively restore you to a life of
authenticity: a superior version of the life of dignity, honour and
courage that you once had (or should have had).
If new symptoms arise as you travel your healing journey and even if
these involve difficult feelings, it will usually be a sign that you are
making solid progress in uncovering the original sources of your
emotional ‘ill-health’. These symptoms, if any, simply provide another
opportunity for you to focus on how you feel. Take advantage of them
until they fade so that you learn what they are teaching you.
Another suggestion I have is to alter your diet to the consumption of
organically-grown, vegetarian whole (unprocessed) food so that your
brain gets the nutrition it needs to heal and function well. This also
means that you should discontinue using any drugs that are supposed to
suppress your awareness of your anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD…
particularly given that psychiatric drugs might generate new symptoms,
worsen your existing symptoms and/or even cause brain damage. If you are
addicted (whether to psychiatric drugs, alcohol or illicit drugs), you
might consider consulting a natural health practitioner (such as a
homeopath or naturopath) who is familiar with assisting people to
withdraw from drugs and to detoxify their bodies, or consider buying the
Charlotte Gerson book ‘Healing the Gerson Way: Defeating Cancer and
other Chronic Diseases’ so that you can undertake Gerson Therapy at home to eliminate all of your physical drug addictions. Alternatively, you might consult the ‘Mad in America‘ website for other methods on how to safely and easily break your addictions.
In addition, I strongly encourage you to discontinue seeing all of those
psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors and doctors
(unless they qualify as specified below) who are more terrified of the
natural expression of your feelings than are you (and probably only
offer time-limited sessions). See ‘Defeating the Violence of
Psychiatry‘. You need to feel all of your feelings which have been an appropriate emotional
response to the terror of your childhood. It is feeling our feelings
that allows us to move on from violence and trauma to lead a meaningful
life. Evolution is not stupid even if many of its human products have,
indeed, been stupefied.
If you are lucky enough to know someone (relative, friend or
professional) who feels capable of listening to you while you talk about
violent/traumatic experiences (and thus enable your feelings to surface
more readily) and you trust them to do so, I encourage you to take
advantage of the listening. Ideally, this should happen on a daily basis
with each session lasting for as long as you need it.
Talk about your experiences (or don’t talk if you find this difficult)
but spend time focusing on how you feel about these experiences. Choose
an unpleasant memory from your past and focus on the feelings – sadness,
fear, anger, shame, guilt… – that arise as you talk and then think about
that memory. Keep replaying the memory as often as it feels productive
to do so, until the feelings attached to that memory have all been
felt/expressed and the memory is no longer difficult to contemplate. If
the feelings attached to a particular memory feel too horrible for you
to feel now, choose a memory with feelings that feel manageable and
tackle them first. The more horrible memories will wait until you feel
capable of feeling them because the courage you need to feel your worst
fears will gradually accumulate.
The listener should listen in silence (even if you are not speaking)
and, if capable of doing so, occasionally reflect any of your feelings
they can hear ‘beneath’ the words you are speaking; for example, ‘You
sound scared of your mother/father’ or ‘You sound angry that your
teacher forced you to do something against your will’. If the reflection
is accurate, keep focusing on how you feel by imagining what is bringing
up the feeling. If you feel like crying, then cry. If you need to get
angry, do so in the way that works for you (as mentioned above). And so
on. You are the only one who can interpret your feelings, nightmares,
dreams and other emotional experiences and you should ask any listener
to let you do so. Discourage any listener from reassuring or advising
you; deal with the reality of how you feel, finally, and discover your
own way forward. For more detail, see ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep
If you don’t know anyone who can listen without being triggered into
feelings of their own (because they are scared by what happened to
you/them) then you are better off listening to yourself. That means
having regular sessions, preferably on a daily basis, in a safe space
you have created when you allow yourself to deliberately focus on
traumatic experiences and to feel each and all of the feelings,
sometimes in combination, that arise when you do. It will sometimes mean
that you need to abandon what you are doing because something triggers a
sudden rush of feelings that demand your attention immediately. Not very
convenient I know, but neither were your traumatic experiences as a
If you want more information about the process I have described above,
see Anita McKone ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles
How long will it take? For many of you it will take a very long time,
perhaps several years of regular sessions. I would like to tell you
otherwise but you have been lied to far too often already – there are no
quick fixes to the emotional trauma you are suffering – and I won’t
insult you by doing so again. Having said ‘it will take a very long
time’, I will add that every individual has a unique healing journey
and, whatever the difficult feelings involved, each session of feeling
is a session of healing – which might reveal an important insight about
your life – and will take you one step closer to gaining a life free of
mental ill-health and full of emotional power.
In essence, it is vastly superior strategy to provide yourself with a
safe space in which your feelings can arise naturally so that you can
feel and express them, safely and completely, rather than endlessly try
to suppress them (but have them manifest ‘out of control’ anyway).
If you have a spouse or child who has been traumatized by your
behaviour, the information in this article is equally valid for them
too. In fact, it is useful information for any person because,
tragically, we were all terrorized during childhood.
Obviously, I haven’t dealt with every issue – like ‘How do I recover
from my emotional devastation when I need to work?’ or ‘How do I recover
emotionally if I have difficult physical injuries too?’ – so I am going
to have to trust you to work out answers to any unanswered questions. I
am just explaining how you can emotionally restore yourself.
Finally, if your life experience generally leaves you inclined to
believe that humans can do better than inflict mass violence on each
other in attempts to ‘resolve’ their conflicts, then you might consider
signing online ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.
In conclusion, I want to summarize your options, which are the options
open to any human. You stand at the fork of two paths. The first path is
the one that takes you further along the journey that you are traveling,
offering you more of what you have now.
The second path, outlined above, offers you a long journey of difficult,
frightening and painful emotional healing – with regular periods of
relief and rewarding insights about your life – which will, if traveled,
lead you to a vastly superior version of your old life.
The third path, which will only open to you once you have traveled the
second path for a considerable time, will provide an encounter with ever
deeper layers of suppressed fear, sadness, pain, anger, shame, guilt,
anxiety, dread, humiliation, self-hatred … terror, fury … until its end
many years later (although your capacity to cope with such horror will
be steadily growing all of the time). At the end of this third path,
should you choose to travel it and once your final layer of suppressed
terror has been felt, you will become the person that evolution intended
you to be on the day you were born.
Biodata: Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding
and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in
an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a
nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com
Robert J. Burrowes
P.O. Box 68
Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth
Nonviolent Campaign Strategy
Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy
Anita: Songs of Nonviolence
Global Nonviolence Network