The 3 pillars of emotional thought cycling that keep us stuck

Have you ever wondered why your thoughts keep looping in circles, seemingly out of control? Like a stampeding herd of wildebeests circling the plains of Africa. Or a tornado in full fury, following you around cyclical, whirling, with no end in sight.


The best way I have found to explain this is the three pillars model from Integral Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT), originally designed by Andrew Austin.

What is Integral Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT)?

IEMT is a rapid transformation therapy that is incredibly effective in giving clients an exit from their looping emotions.

The principle is based on emotions such as anxiety, worry or stress not being emotions at all but an over-arousal of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) caused by underlying emotions. When these emotions are resolved, the over-arousal is significantly decreased facilitating rest and digest (Parasympathetic nervous system).

Another way of putting it is that the underlying emotions cause instinctive responses such as fight, flight, freeze, fold, vomit, numb, and dissociate. Most people recognised the fight, flight, and freeze; FFF for short (Sympathetic nervous system), but these do not accommodate for the other three instinctive responses.

There is almost always a predictable pattern to these underlying emotions that create the over-arousal of the ANS which triggers the instinctive response.

  • The three pillars place the outcome of anxiety, stress or worry in the centre pillar.
  • Future emotions of fear, panic, temper, anger, and frustration are placed in the pillar on the right.
  • Past emotions of regret, remorse, guilt and shame are placed in the pillar on the left.

For example, someone may feel guilty about declining an invitation to a night out with friends because they are tired. They then panic about what their friends might think about them. This then causes worry, stress or anxiety. They may repeat this pattern several times that night, the next day and even for weeks to come.

IEMT is an excellent way of breaking this cycle, giving you an exit out of the loop, there are also several things that you can do for yourself to end the cycle of destructive, negative and limiting thoughts.

Here, I explain what you can do to stop your emotional cycling so that you can feel happier, calmer and more content. Being in the driving seat of your own mind is a wonderful thing.

As mentioned above the ANS (autonomic nervous system) is a functionality that helps keep us alive, but it can also a little bit too easy to fire off. False activations can become a regular occurrence, a bit like a faulty fire alarm that sounds very loudly even though there is not even a hint of smoke let alone fire. 

Why? There are many considered responses to this, I'm not sure that anyone has the definitive answer and I would personally say that there are multiple factors and usually a combination of several of them. Here are some that many of my clients may express when coming to see me with cycling emotions that they can't seem to escape or stop:

  • Long-term stress, usually low-level (this has to be the most common).
  • Feeling out of control of one's own future.
  • A sudden significant event that has shaken your belief in yourself.
  • Trauma or abuse, both past and present.
  • Grief or loss, this extends to jobs, accommodation and relationships, not just death.
  • Criticism, or negative judgement from others that have cut you to the bone.

There are many other factors, and patterns of chronicity, such as the compare and despair of social media, learnt behaviour from parents or other significant people in your life or simply that a cycling of emotions started off as a small and insignificant habit, and as time went on, became worse until they became life-limiting.

Whatever the reasons or the why, the important thing to consider is how to change it?

My top tip...

Is to learn how to reconnect to your senses. These are powerful allies in your fight against cycling emotional stuckness. We have seven senses. Visual; auditory; kinesthetic (feeling); gustatory (taste); olfactory (smell). Most of us favour the first three and by using these you can stop the cycling emotions in their tracks.

Connecting with your senses has powerful results:

  • It soothes the Autonomic Nervous System.
  • It switches your brain from FFF (Sympathetic nervous system) to Rest and Digest (Parasympathetic nervous system).
  • It calms both mind and body so that you can reset.

I have a library of techniques that I teach my clients, here is an overview of a few to get you started and you can download some of them from my website for free:

The 321 game

Close your eyes and think of three things that you could see in the room, if your eyes were open, pay attention to three sounds that you can hear, and connect with three things that you can feel.

Wiggle toes

Place your feet flat on the floor, chest open, spine and head straight, and close your eyes. Focus on your toes, really pay attention to your toes and begin to wiggle them, be curious to notice all of those sensations of wiggling your toes.


Place your feet flat on the floor, chest open, spine and head straight, and close your eyes. Listen to the sound that is farthest away from you, listen intently. Now hear the sound that is closest to you, really pay attention. And if you haven't already heard your breathing, hear your breathing now.

  • When you practice these techniques, you learn how to still your mind.
  • You learn how to quieten, slow and still the tornado, the cyclone, the stampeding herd.
  • To begin with, it will feel like an almost impossible task, but be patient with yourself.
  • Forgive yourself for the many times that your mind wanders back into the emotional cycling, it is entirely normal.
  • As long as you maintain an awareness of your thoughts and take proactive steps to stop them, connect with your senses and move away from cycling thoughts, change is bound to occur.

Our brains act like a muscle

The more you exercise a way of thinking, the stronger and more capable it becomes. This is often why things like anxiety and depression seem difficult to escape from. Your brain has little preference what it becomes good at, if anything, your brain has a negative bias so there is work to be done to keep our minds healthy and happy.

Rest assured that given time and consistent practice of recognising when your thoughts are entering an emotional cycle, stopping them by connecting with your senses, then redirecting them to something more useful, you will place yourself in the driving seat of your mind, your thoughts and your behaviours.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

Having spent the majority of my life not really knowing how to be resilient to life's ups and downs, I discovered NLP, hypnotherapy and coaching. I've found this invaluable in my own life and now use the skills I have learnt and the experiences I have had to help others change their thoughts and behaviours to achieve health and happiness.

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