By Sandra Cooper
“We numb our minds and heart so one need not be broken and the other need not be bothered.” ~Peggy Haymes
Feelings are important, no doubt about it. They communicate all sorts of information to us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve preferred to ignore some of that information. Raise your hand if you would much rather feel the good feelings and just jump right over the not so good ones.
Okay, so it’s unanimous. We all prefer the good, happy feelings. I expect we are all experts at finding ways to avoid the uncomfortable ones. But maybe we can share some avoidance techniques and try something new.
I like to eat. Food has been synonymous with love in my world. It comforts… until it doesn’t, right? Alcohol? Well, thank heaven I was spared addiction, because, but for the grace of God, there go I.
Running and exercise were at least a healthier alternative to dealing with my feelings, and I did feel a little better about myself, so that was justifiable, I’m sure. Oh, and let’s not forget a good movie, or even a bad one is a great distractor. Binge watching is even better.
So, let’s add to the list. What do you do to avoid those uncomfortable feelings? Just take a minute to think about it. What are your avoidance techniques? Okay, time is up.
Do you shop for stuff you do not need?
Are you constantly on the go?
Do you peruse social media incessantly, call or text anyone available?
Do you eat, drink, and be merry?
Spend more time with Match.com than you do with yourself?
Do you clean your house, obsessively making sure everything is in its place?
Lose yourself in a book?
Surround yourself with so much chaos that you can hardly hear yourself think?
Or maybe you avoid certain places or people or being alone.
Do you work long hours?
Get a front row seat into the life of someone that appears messier than you?
The list could go on and on. So, pick your favorites and have at it.
But before you do, I have to tell you that, in hindsight, I was one of the lucky ones.
I was lucky because I could not keep avoiding those uncomfortable feelings, no matter how hard I tried or what avoidance technique I used. They were like a bad penny that kept showing up.
If you want to know how that made me lucky, read on. If you prefer to just add some avoidance techniques to what you are already doing, then you can stop reading now.
So, why was I lucky?
Because, you see, my feelings ended up being my North Star to the life I wanted.
First, some education: Feelings, and the emotions that go with them, like absolutely everything else in life, are energy. Energy, by its very nature, has to keep moving. Unfortunately, too many of us learned, at a rather young age, to stuff feelings down deep. Until expressed, those feelings still live on in our bodies.
We often stuff them so deeply that we don’t necessarily know they exist, unless we are paying attention. Whether you recognize it or not, I assure you those feelings are still having a profound impact on your life. They follow you around in your relationships and in your interactions with yourself and others.
Your feelings don’t keep you from being all that you can be. They don’t keep you from getting what you want. Your avoidance of them does.
They show up in the tweak you feel inside when someone says something you don’t like. Or when the voice in your head is saying something different from what is actually coming out of your mouth.
Maybe they make themselves known when you are driving in traffic or when your child is not obedient.
How about when your spouse doesn’t help around the house the way you want or when your friends let you down?
Maybe it shows up in the jealousy or envy you feel for others.
And let’s not forget the way we tolerate inappropriate behaviors from others.
The invitation can be subtle. Listen for it. Watch for it. It is always beckoning.
Feelings left unresolved in our bodies result in dis-ease—mental, physical, and spiritual.
At some point in my life, despite running, literally and figuratively, the feelings I was trying so desperately to avoid caught up with me.
I had been running from feelings left over from childhood. I was angry. I was sad. I felt unloved. My self-worth was in the toilet. I tried not to notice.
Having never learned my value, I unknowingly invited further abuse in my twenties. Running helped me deal with the emotional energy and irritability without my processing the feelings in ways that would permit resolution. In fact, I did not know feelings could be resolved. I thought, “I guess I will always feel this way.” I was wrong. Thank God I was wrong!
So now, like one of those 5k races, I had run out of steam and I could not outrun my pursuer. So, unable to avoid any longer, I instead began to befriend those difficult feelings. Admittedly, I begrudgingly befriended those feelings, but befriend them I did.
And I am forever grateful for having done so.
I learned to be present to my own pain.
Life is a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many of us have experienced some degree of childhood abuse, bullying, neglect, or trauma. The truth is, even in the best of circumstances, we have painful experiences and loss.
As kids we were powerless. We were dependent on the adults in our lives, unable to fend for ourselves. That left us pretty vulnerable to our environment. As kids we were also pretty ingenious, finding phenomenal ways to defend against situations and feelings we could not handle.
I became an extension of my dad, trying to be as agreeable and as like him as possible. If Dad was happy, I was better off.
The problem is, I became the agreeable one in my adult relationships, denying the essence of who I was. I was taking care of the people around me better than I was taking care of myself. I hid who I was assuming it was not acceptable, since in childhood, it was not. What worked in helping me survive childhood ceased to serve its purpose in my adult relationships.
In fact, those survival skills impede us from being whole, accomplishing our dreams, and having the healthy, intimate relationships we actually want. Unresolved feelings can leave us feeling depressed, anxious, physically sick, and any other number of symptoms. I had them all.
I remember sitting in my family room one day, thinking. I probably don’t have to tell you how dangerous thinking can be! It’s one of the things we are often trying to avoid. I sure was. The next thing I knew, I was wiping down an already clean kitchen counter. As I regained consciousness from my obvious lapse, a light bulb came on.
I realized that I did not like what I was thinking about, because it made me feel something I had no interest in feeling.
Without any conscious awareness, I had gotten up and moved to the kitchen. Now, having woken up from my sleepwalking, I said to myself, “I keep moving to avoid my feelings.”
That awareness was a turning point for me, as I began to pay closer attention to the ways that I was avoiding myself, my thoughts, and my feelings.
As a result of my newfound awareness, another light bulb moment happened one day while driving. I was entering the highway from a two-lane ramp, when a huge dump truck decided to cut over in front of me. I, having little choice, hit my brakes; otherwise, I would have hit him. Man, was I ticked!
This was not a new experience for me. Trucks cutting me off always left me angry. That was the invitation. I had ignored it long enough. This time I was paying attention.
Having a history of being pushed around by men, I had learned to be very quiet and compliant, in my attempts to avoid their wrath. Their unresolved anger was taken out on me and being smaller and weaker, I had little choice but to endure.
Those unresolved feelings still festered inside, and every time a vehicle bigger than me “pushed” me into another lane or forced me to relinquish my right, those feelings got triggered.
Now, I had something to work with. I needed to be angry. I needed to be sad and I needed to cry. I also needed to feel the powerlessness that had been mine.
This was just one of many aha moments I had on this journey of self-discovery. Feelings of anger, grief, sadness, and loss showed up in so many ways and for so many reasons. I finally allowed them to express themselves.
So, yes, I was lucky. I could not avoid my feelings any longer.
Through this process, I began to get more comfortable with the pain. It ebbed and flowed like the tides. I found the support I needed and could trust. This is not something we can often do alone.
I chose to take myself to a psychotherapist, and that turned out to be one of the best things that I ever did for myself. “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”
I also began to deal with my self-esteem issues. My inner voice was harsh and judgmental. My feelings about myself were pretty hateful. Each feeling led to the next, taking me deeper into my own experience, and like the proverbial onion, I peeled it back.
I was being invited to heal. And heal I did. Had I not gone through it myself, I would not have believed that my own transformation could take place in the way that it did. I was made new.
Learning to sit with my feelings freed me from the need to live in avoidance mode day in and day out. I was no longer fearful. I was better able to go with the flow of life.
As feelings showed up, I processed them by giving them voice and expression. They were leading me somewhere, and although I was not certain of the destination, I began to trust them.
As the old feelings began to find their rest, I began to feel better. I was less depressed and less anxious, until I was neither. I enjoyed myself more. My relationships began to be easier. I was more comfortable in my own skin.
Weeding through those difficult feelings was not easy, but neither was the way I had been living my life previous to having them. I had been afraid to speak up. I had been afraid of being ridiculed. I didn’t like myself. I was more uncomfortable than not. My relationships were distant and disconnected. I was living beneath my potential.
The avoidance of those feelings controlled my life in more ways than I had been aware.
We all avoid; it is human nature. We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid we will collapse and never get up again. We are afraid of spiraling out of control. We are afraid of what change means. We are afraid of what others will think. We are afraid of so many things. And so we avoid.
We tell ourselves, “It was in the past” or “It happened so long ago.” And lets not forget the “shoulds”: “I should be over this.” “I should let this go.”
People would tell me, “Let it go.” I would think, “Don’t you think I would if I could?”
People would say, “Get over it.” I would wonder, “How do I do that?”
I would think of the people who hurt me, “They did the best they could. What’s wrong with me?”
I realize now that those telling me to “let it go” or “get over it” were not dealing with their own feelings. And telling myself, “They did the best they could” may be true, but it did not eliminate the fact that what they did hurt me. It was just another way for me to avoid the hurt.
There was nothing wrong with me. My feelings were about me. No one else. It wasn’t about blame. It was about acknowledging myself and listening to my pain.
Unexpectedly, I began to trust myself. I learned what it meant to take care of myself and to follow my heart. I made myself a priority. I finally understood what it meant to “let go,” and I could. I made peace with my past, began to enjoy the present, and started to look forward to the future. I was excited about the possibilities.
Don’t let anyone else tell you how it is. Don’t wait for someone else to make it okay for you to do what you need to do. Don’t minimize your own experience.
I want to invite you to wake up. Dig in. Lean in.
Know yourself, understand yourself, learn to love yourself. Pay attention. There are buzzwords like meditation, mindfulness, and self-awareness. Pick one and put it into practice.
It’s okay to be scared and uncertain. It’s okay to find the support you need. Be your own best friend. Let those feelings have their day. Release them from your body. It will change your life in ways you cannot even imagine.
You deserve to be free. You will be amazed at your own transformation. You deserve to have all that your heart desires.
Sandra is enthusiastic about plunging the depths of the universe and she believes that starts by plunging the depths of her own inner world. She believes that healing and loving ourselves is the key to a joyful and free existence.
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