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Emotional repression and acne – a terrifying topic for me because it is very personal. But it is also real science. There is a proven connection between our minds, our emotions and our skin. In fact, there is a whole field of research called psycho-neuro-dermatology that is devoted to studying this mind-body relationship.
Emotional acne is proven. Managing emotions properly is a real solution to acne, and it is not my strength. I am working on it. Whenever I talk about emotions, I get a little bit panicky inside and I want to run and hide my head, so believe it or not, this is really difficult for me to do.
Let’s talk about the law of conversation of matter and energy, which states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. Emotions are a form of energy and if we do not express emotions in a healthy manner, those emotions will be trapped in our body, desperately trying to find a way out. And for many people, the skin is the outlet for releasing this emotional energy. It is different for everyone – some people might experience back pain, hair loss, stomach problems or joint pains. For me, it is the skin.
Unfortunately emotions cannot just sit stagnant in the body and be forgotten. There have been so many emotional events in my life that I would have preferred to repress without consequence, but I am very sad to say that it cannot be done. Our body communicates with us – sometimes it whispers and sometimes it screams. Eventually, we have no choice but to listen.
It is not easy to listen to and change our emotional patterns. Diet changes and topical protocols are much easier, but often these therapies do not address the real root cause of a problem.
My emotional story is fairly common. Growing up there was only one emotion allowed in my house, and that was the emotion of happiness. If I was sad, angry, fearful, or anything other than happy, I was quickly forced to either assume happiness or be shamed.
This is the coping mechanism that my parents learned as children and passed along to me and my siblings. And so, I learned very early in my life that any emotion other than happiness was to be hidden away if I wanted to be loved. That was the message. As irrational as it sounds, that is how I grew up thinking, and I stopped emoting. I stopped feeling. I pushed everything down to the point where I developed a condition called alexithymia.
Alexithymia is a condition characterized by difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions. Some studies have shown that acne patients do not necessarily have alexithymia, but one study that was published in May 2015 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows a link between alexithymia and acne. This doesn’t mean if you have acne you have alexithymia, but if you have alexithymia, you have a higher risk of developing acne. And that is my case.
For the first 40 years of my life I had no idea how I felt. Other than miserable. I just couldn’t feel my emotions, and it didn’t help that I went on to marry two alcoholics (not at the same time LOL) and I became a co-dependent in those relationships.
If I felt things that those men didn’t want to know about, I stuffed it all inside and tried to be what they wanted – sweet, happy, cute and blonde. Inside I was fucking dying. I can’t even tell you. My skin was on fire and for 10 years I did not sleep. All my emotional energy was trapped inside me, percolating. And eventually at the age of 40, which is really young, I suffered a heart attack. That is the strength of emotional repression. Mine was extreme, but hopefully an illustration that emotional repression is real, and so toxic.
So, what did I do? Still on the journey, sisters! It’s long and difficult, but it’s essential if I want to be around for my children and teach them how to become emotionally intelligent. I’m learning all the time and I want to share with you what I’m doing to help cultivate awareness of my emotions, because if I can do it, anybody can do it.
- Group and Individual Therapy – I spent a full year in ACA, which is Adult Children of Alcoholics. My parents were not alcoholics, but they did come from alcoholic families, so patterns of emotional dysfunction were passed along. And – you don’t have to come from an alcoholic family to go into the program. Basically, they say 97% of all people can benefit from deeply exploring your childhood, and understanding what caused you to get to the place where you’re at. And it was a really enlightening year. I loved it. I also did a lot of individual therapy.
- Meditation – I did the MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program which taught me how to give myself space to feel, because that is what I could not do. Even though meditation can be really uncomfortable for me, it forces me to sit with who I am and what I feel. The quietude that has been forced upon me has been my greatest gift, and the deepest medicine that I have ever encountered.
- Journaling – Science has shown that journaling once a day gives you insight into how you are feeling and it helps you to explore your inner feelings and start expressing your emotions.
- Expressive arts – Research has shown expressive arts such as drama, music, and dance are all very helpful in cultivating emotional expression. My favorite medium is something called ecstatic dance. It is held in a huge old ballroom in Toronto, and a few hundred people gather to dance barefoot to a different DJ every week. It is a sober space. No talking allowed. No judgement, either. We just dance for two hours. It is so cathartic, an excellent way to move and release excess energy in the body.
- Hypnosis and relaxation training.
- Reading novels – A surprising therapy, but reading novels is a great way to learn expressive language, and develop your own narrative.
The above therapies have been scientifically proven to help cultivate emotional expression. Hopefully you can find one that is helpful.
Emotional repression is so important to talk about. It’s deep, it’s difficult and it can be at the root of all your health issues, including acne. We repress our emotions because they are painful, but in order to conquer the pain we need to move into the pain.
We have to lean in and face our emotions. Feel them. There really are no shortcuts. It’s the journey. You can remove all the right things from your diet. You can take all the right supplements, and that will help, but getting to the deep dark root of the problem is the most liberating way to treat your acne. That is the way that you will find true freedom and true happiness.