Barriers to Healing Awareness

Realizing the repressed emotions that could be the underlying cause for your chronic illness is a crucial step in healing.

September 06, 2023

Decades of listening to patients and clinical experience suggest that repressed emotions cause or contribute to very prevalent yet still incompletely understood medical conditions. These conditions include chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases, migraine, and others.

My patients have taught me that gaining awareness of repressed emotions can enable emotional and physical healing. And where awareness is not an option, pharmacologic approaches that would not otherwise be considered offer additional avenues for successful intervention.

In my new book ‘Hidden Within Us’, I highlight the critical first step which is to begin to recognize that we can harbor powerful emotions that we are unaware of and that those emotions can affect us even though we are unaware of them. While repression is likely vital to our emotional resilience, it most definitely affects our health.

This blog post highlights the barriers to awareness of repressed emotions and how these barriers can stand in the way of emotional healing, and as a result, physical healing.

Barriers to Awareness

Paying attention to the unnoticed role of repressed, unfelt emotions offers potential new paths to healing among patients with a range of medical disorders.

It opens a new frontier in trying to understand and address the mind-body connection in medicine. In some patients, the mere opening of the door to awareness, understanding, and self-trust can enable what is virtually self-healing, and improvement in or even resolution of a number of medical conditions can take place.

And this can often occur without the need for long-term mind-body interventions. It is my hope that my book, Hidden Within Us, will bring attention to the unrecognized role of repressed emotions. However, in looking at this new understanding, important questions need to be asked.

Will our unconscious mind allow us to experience emotions now that would have overwhelmed us then? Do we still need the barrier against awareness that we needed then? How do we gain that awareness? In answering these questions, it is important to recognize and consider barriers that stand in the way of a healing awareness.

It is important to acknowledge the barriers to awareness:

  • Lack of awareness of the process and impact of repression and repressed emotions
  • The power, born of necessity, of the barrier of repression
  • In some, the severity of trauma that might require maintaining repression
  • Stress, instability, or lack of emotional support in our current life.
  • Fear, conscious or unconscious, of experiencing emotions that in the past could have been overwhelming
  • The paucity of studies and data regarding healing

A major barrier is the paucity of research, or even awareness of the need for research, concerning the means to promote emotional healing and the role of other treatment alternatives in patients with medical disorders linked to repressed emotions. Few if any studies have looked at the potential for emotional healing in patients who do not have overt psychological consequences or symptoms. The existence of this healing opportunity has never been on anyone’s radar. It is an area that has been almost completely overlooked in mind-body research and needs to be studied more.

Repressed Emotions: Explore or Leave Alone?

A key question that needs to be asked is whether it could be harmful to challenge the barrier to conscious awareness. Might patients be at risk of being overwhelmed upon gaining conscious awareness of long-forbidden emotions? Are there some in whom the protective repression is best left unchallenged? Could the discussion open up a Pandora’s box of emotion that cannot be closed? In bringing up the possible role of repressed emotions in a patient’s medical condition, my experience strongly suggests that the wall of repression that has persisted for years or decades, if still needed, will not collapse after mere words. The problem, most often, is the opposite: even when healing awareness is possible, the emotions remain difficult to access.

In conversations with patients who have never considered the possibility that their medical condition is linked to repressed emotions, I approach this understanding carefully. I believe the most important initial steps are to convey the concept of repression in understandable language and to communicate its value as a strength integral to resilience rather than as an indicator of psychopathology. And I reassure patients that the experiencing of emotions that arise reflects an opening to healing, and is not a sign of emotional breakdown. It is crucial that patients who begin to gain awareness of long-repressed painful emotion realize that experiencing that emotion is not an indication of falling apart; yes, painful emotion is aroused, but it is part of a healing process.

As a physician, I believe it is necessary to tread gently, particularly in survivors of severe trauma, acknowledging that at the time, emotions were repressed for good reason. And the importance of trusting the wisdom of the unconscious. My experience teaches me that there is an important built-in safeguard that resides in the wisdom of the unconscious: if the powerful barrier of repression that was constructed is still needed, it will not abandon us that easily. However, if our unconscious mind allows the experiencing of long-repressed emotions at a time of stability and support in our life, we are likely to be able to tolerate those emotions and heal. And it is my hope that my book will be helpful to readers in opening that door to understanding and healing.

I have come to rely strongly on the reaction of the patient. Some patients quickly understand and stand at the doorstep of awareness and healing. If they can move beyond the unconscious barrier of repression, a door to healing is open. Some might understand but have difficulty traversing the barrier of repression; here psychotherapy can play an important role in approaching those emotions. Some might prefer not to explore long-dormant emotions. And in others, the concept of repressed emotion simply won’t resonate.

I have to keep in mind that patients who are seeking care for a medical condition did not come seeking to explore old trauma or to gain awareness of repressed emotions. They came seeking medical care. And although I might strongly suspect that their condition is caused or exacerbated by repressed emotions, the patient did not come with that in mind. If a patient does not gravitate to this understanding, it is probably best to focus instead on standard medical alternatives. But even here, as I discuss in the book, this understanding opens the door to options in pharmacologic treatment that would otherwise not be considered.

To sum up, the role of repressed emotions in causing or aggravating medical conditions, and the potential impact of gaining a healing awareness, constitute a new frontier. The rapid responses seen in some patients indicate without question that gaining awareness of repressed emotions can have a healing effect. The role of further interventions to facilitate healing awareness needs to be studied.

Beyond Medical Thinking

In my new blog series, entitled Beyond Mainstream Medical Thinking, I will present down-to-earth, valuable information from my new book Hidden Within Us which will be launched on April 21, 2022.

It reflects the art of practicing medicine and is backed by my clinical experience as well as published studies and by what we know about physiology and pharmacology. While rooted in logic and common sense, much of it is unknown to most patients and physicians.

I plan to issue one blog per month with insights from my new book as well as from my ongoing practice and observations from developments in my field of expertise. I believe the information will be relevant to the health and treatment of millions of people treated by conventional medical wisdom who are ready to look beyond the limitations of standardized approaches to treatment. I am confident that you will enjoy reading these articles and find them meaningful.

Physician. Professor. Researcher. Author. Speaker.

Hypertension specialist, New York Presbyterian Hospital - Weill Cornell Medical Center



Hidden Within Us: A Radical New Understanding of the Mind-Body Connection

This award-winning book by Dr. Mann dives deep into the relationship between repressed emotion and illness. Our ability to repress emotions is a vital gift of evolution, but, silently, the emotions we've repressed do persist and can affect our health years later. This recognition can lead to new pathways to understanding, treatment, and healing.