“Intellectualization is a common cover-up for fear of direct experience.” – Carl Jung
One of the biggest blocks I see when people start their healing journey or come for coaching is intellectualization.
Negative emotions are not easy to process especially since most of us were not taught how to deal with difficult emotions growing up. Sigmund Freud believed intellectualization was a way to consciously analyze traumatic or stressful events without triggering anxiety or negative emotions.
The mechanisms of intellectualization include all forms of rational and logical analysis some of which are listed below. The tendency is to ignore the emotional aspects as a way of coping or dealing with negative emotions.
Intellectualization: when people try to resolve their emotional issues in their mind rather than feeling their negative emotions.
Although this is just a defense mechanism to avoid difficult emotions, I do believe that healing does, and in some ways has to start with an intellectual awareness or some form of conscious analysis. To start any healing, you need intellectual awareness that 1) there is an issue and 2) you are at cause and need to take responsibility.
This intellectual awareness can be noticing that you may be stuck in a negative pattern – that there’s something wrong and it needs to change. The second part is to investigate or analyze the issue, research and look into the negative pattern, reflect and discover why you behave in certain ways or why you keep attracting the same situations or people, why you are addicted to certain things and why that is wrong or why that is a problem.
There is a fine line to over-intellectualize.
To truly heal, you must be willing to be honest with yourself about your own behaviour and have a sincere desire for truth to find the cause. I say this because when it comes to childhood trauma, most people are not willing to see or accept the truth about what really happened in their childhood that is causing their current symptoms of depression, anxiety, toxic relationship patterns, self-sabotage, and addictions to name a few.
I’ve worked with quite a few people who would, after the 8th or 10th session, eventually tell me they were beaten by their mother for example, throughout their childhood. And straight after making such a statement would say, but I know she loves me, it’s just how she is, she was doing it for my own good!
Intellectualization is just your way to avoid feeling the depth of your emotional pain.
It’s a defense mechanism.
Avoidance of the truth.
And every time you intellectualize, you dissociate yourself from the core emotional wound. You are distancing yourself from the emotional pain because you don’t want to feel it – because it’s painful, it’s uncomfortable, it hurts, nobody wants to do this type of emotional inner work, including me! But I still had to do it (and still do), and so do you.
Below are some mechanisms of intellectualization you may be using:
– Logical argument
– Shift the blame
– Avoiding by omission
– Analysis paralysis
– Societal / Cultural dogma, thinking & beliefs
– “My situation is different”
– Never-ending research through self-help and psychology books
– Talking your way out of an emotion any time it comes up
Trying to understand the emotion in your mind or process the emotion through understanding it to death is another way.
There comes a point on your healing journey where your intellect will no longer help you. In fact, these mechanisms of intellectualization will hinder your healing, and you will need to make the transition from your head down to your heart.
From thinking to FEELING.
This is the point people get stuck on. I’ve noticed, while working with some clients that an emotion will come up – they may even start to feel something in their body or tears may well up in their eyes – and in a split second, they will consciously or unconsciously choose to intellectualize and suppress or repress the emotion. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, they are out of the emotion and back into their head, intellectualizing.
If you “sincerely” want to heal, it’s in these split seconds that you will need to be fully present, use your will, use your intention and awareness, and consciously notice what is happening in your body and mind and make the decision (to start with) to stay with the feeling or emotion for a little longer…
In an Intuitive Coaching & Emotional Healing Session, my work is to help you stay with the emotion so it can be felt and released safely.
This important part is where you decide to FEEL, to sit with and to experience the emotion and feel it in your body. This is how you begin to take your awareness from your head into your body, where your suppressed emotions are.
Although this is only a start, ultimately the decision to accept the emotion comes from your heart, it’s an emotional desire to feel as well as an intentional shift in awareness of your emotions and feelings rather than what you are thinking. Allowing the emotion to be there without judgement, without making it into a story or making it mean something about you or the situation – just staying with it and feeling.
I’ve found over and over again from my experience that your realizations and understanding of the emotion comes after you have fully felt it.
You cannot think your way through your emotional wounds, you have to feel it.
I see so many people on the self-help bandwagon recklessly reading one book after another, devouring information, doing one course after another, claiming they are healing, barely applying anything they learned and yet wonder why they are still not truly transforming their life.
You can have a lot of information but no knowledge.
You can also have a lot of knowledge but no wisdom.
And you may even have some wisdom but not embody it, meaning it’s not imprinted upon your heart as truth.
Thinking that more knowledge will help you break free from negative patterns and heal yourself becomes a never-ending loop. Don’t get me wrong, logical analysis is great, it can help you develop some emotional awareness, however, it’s the dissociation and isolation of affect (emotion) which is the issue here.
In terms of emotional trauma response, intellectualization is the flight response: you are running away into your mind, to reason, justify, use logic, analyze. Basically, you are running away from the emotion which needs to be felt and experienced.
You cannot intellectually release an emotion.
This is why a lot of people get so frustrated on their healing journey.
Personally, after being on the wrong healing path for 10 years, searching for the next thing and then the next thing that would heal me, avoiding actually feeling the emotion, I felt more lost than when I started. I really felt disheartened with spirituality in general after a while.
Funny enough, I get a lot of clients who come to me after spending 10 years with a psychologist or counsellor, I’ve even worked with a number of psychologists now and a psychiatrist who came to me for healing and coaching. On all occasions, what I saw is a big emphasis on intellectualizing – they partly understood where their patterns stemmed from, had analysed the relationship dynamics or issue to death, and were still stuck in certain patterns.
Interestingly, their knowledge of psychology did not help them break free from certain patterns – this is huge and brings me to my next point that…
“What you can’t feel, you can’t heal”
I also found that they were still unable to see clearly through certain patterns because of their own emotional wounds creating a blindspot for them in terms of perception. They were still seeing the situation through the filters of their emotional wounds, basically unable to see the truth objectively.
This is the problem when you’re still influenced by your unhealed emotional wounds, your beliefs and thinking patterns stem from your suppressed emotional wounds.
To stop intellectualizing, you have to develop an emotional desire to feel.
I talk about how to develop an emotional desire to feel on my blog How to Access and Heal Core Emotional Wounds.
Whatever the reason or justification you are using, that is all in your mind – that’s your intellect coming up with justifications and reasons for not feeling. It really is that simple.
Be aware of justifications such as fear for example. I have found fear to be one emotion that people use to justify anything, it’s almost acceptable in society to justify not taking action or not feeling emotions through fear. Remember that fear is just an emotion and you will have to feel this in order to break from it. In my own experience, I’ve always experienced fear before accessing the core grief – it seems that the fear covering the causal grief was just fear of emotionally accepting the truth in my heart.
Some people use being overwhelmed as an excuse, but here’s the catch: when you process emotions, you will be overwhelmed so you need to get used to this feeling too.
You have to go through it.
The more you resist the emotion, the worse your symptoms will get.
I’ve worked with clients who, through the session when confronted with truths, I can feel emotions start to come up in them and they will first intellectualize and then immediately start getting a headache as they try to suppress the emotion and basically dissociate from it. This is such a painful process because, in essence, you are fighting yourself. You are having an internal battle between your mind and your heart.
You intellectually say that you want to heal but your heart is not ready to emotionally accept the truth.
Injustice is another great intellectualization tactic. Why do I have to feel this when someone else caused it? This again, is just another excuse to avoid feeling emotional pain.
Remember, the point of emotional healing is to feel the emotion, that’s it – not to intellectualize or make it mean anything about you or the other person. So it doesn’t matter who caused the pain, that emotional pain is in you now so you are the one who has to feel it. If injustice is your resistance to feeling the emotion, then you will have to FEEL this injustice before you can access the underlying emotions and causal grief.
Having said all this, when you process a deep emotional wound, you will get lots of thoughts.
When I processed a deep emotional wound of unworthiness, it was super intense, the experience was visceral. I had horrible thoughts about myself and I could feel the emotion ooze out of me through my skin.
Another core emotional wound I was processing felt like death – I literally felt like I was dying. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, horrible thoughts, but I was fully present and conscious throughout the process, allowing myself to fully feel what was coming up for me in my body but not buying into the thoughts, just observing them. This was more of an ego death or I should say a wounded ego death. I know this was all part of the emotional wound’s death .
Depending on the emotion you are processing, you will have different symptoms.
For example, when I was feeling fear, I was shaking, I had very cold hands and feet and was curled up in a little ball in bed.
As you are feeling the emotion, it’s about you willing yourself throughout to continuously surrender at every moment to whatever it is you are feeling and experiencing, trusting yourself enough to process it and go through with it.
Because at the end of the day, it’s just another emotion.
It’s the avoidance and resistance to the emotion that creates more emotional pain and keeps you stuck in negative patterns.
You have to get out of your mind and allow yourself to experience the emotion with no judgment. You have to give the emotion space to exist. You have to have an attitude of surrender to the feeling experience.
You can observe your mind, your reasons and justifications but continue to bring your awareness into your body and heart, staying fully present, conscious and will yourself through it. Will yourself to feel, to allow and to surrender.
And this, my lovely one, is how you slowly make your journey, one emotional wound at a time, from your head down to your heart.
Know that all these suppressed emotions are errors, they are blocking truths, they are false beliefs and disempowering perceptions of reality you bought into.
It’s only when you process each emotion and start accepting the truth of each that you release these emotional wounds from blocking your heart and that you can open your heart to more love, joy, peace and truly living a more fulfilled life.
If you’d like more guidance on learning how to stop intellectualizing and start healing your emotional wounds, check out my Healing Emotional Wounds course below:
If you need support on your healing journey and want more personalized guidance check out my Intuitive Coaching & Emotional Healing Sessions and let’s get you started on getting your life back.
All techniques and information I share are considered coaching, self-help or complementary therapies. I am not a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist or medical doctor, I have a degree in Health Sciences in Complementary Therapies. Everything I write and talk about comes mainly from my own experience in healing myself and the tools, techniques, and resources I learned throughout my own inner journey.
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