Are you Avoiding your Feelings?

IMG_0007Do you find yourself shopping when you don’t need anything and spending more money than you have? Do you eat when you are not hungry and past the point of being full? Do you need a drink in order to face your day, or perhaps several? People do many things to distract themselves from their feelings. If you do anything habitually, that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing as much as you do, you may be trying to avoid your emotions.

Emotions can be uncomfortable things. Most people enjoy the good feelings of love, happiness and enjoyment–but not all. The emotions that most often cause us to reach for the icecream or the credit card are usually the negative ones like anger, fear and hate. These are uncomfortable feelings. When we are young, emotions can be overwhelming and painful and we all learn ways to avoid feeling them. As adults, these patterns can take on a life of their own and can result in behaviours that are bad for us.

Unfortunately, emotions do not go away until they are experienced. When we routinely push emotions down, two things can happen. They can build up and then erupt, when they get the opportunity, or they can result in physical discomfort or illness.

If you find that you start crying for little or no reason, you erupt in anger at the slightest provocation, you become frightened or burst out laughing for no apparent reason, you may just be experiencing suppressed emotions that are bubbling up to the surface.

Depression; lack of interest in things that you used to enjoy; feeling like you are just going through the motions–can all be symptoms of repressed feelings. If we close the door on one emotion, it is very difficult to let other emotions in.

Denollet (2009) showed that unexpressed anger increased the risk of heart attack. Miyamoto (2011) demonstrated that the Japanese freedom to express negative emotions is better for your overall health than the North American societal pressure to only express positive emotions. In general, it has been demonstrated that expressing emotions, instead of repressing them, is better for your overall well being (Barber, 2011). There is no question that the happier you are the healthier you are.

Those of us that avoid rather than feel our emotions may be so programmed to reach for a drink or some other diversion that we no longer recognize that we are running away from a feeling. If you have a habit that you often turn to, especially one that you feel is excessive or not good for your overall well being, you need to become aware of it. When the urge strikes, stop for a moment.

Before you indulge in your diversion, be still. Take a moment to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Take note of where there is sensation in your body. Describe the sensation. Try to picture it. Start at your toes and pay attention to each part of your body up to your head. Is there any vibration, heat, tension, pain, discomfort, numbness or any other sensation? Can you feel your entire body or are there parts that you can no longer feel? Sit with this for a while and pay attention.

This exercise gets you out of your mind and the thoughts that you may try to tell yourself about why you should just go shopping. It does not focus on trying to identify the emotion that you are feeling, just the way that you experience the emotion as a physical sensation in your body.

The next step is to think backward from the moment that you went to your favourite vice until you become aware of what happened that caused you to reach for your diversion. The habit of not feeling emotions right away can become so refined that it may have even been something that happened a day or two ago, or longer. Continue to retrace your memory until you start to recognize the physical sensation in your body again. When remembering “feels” the same way you felt when you started the exercise you have identified the cause of the feeling.

Remember the event. Think about what you thought at the time and try to get in touch with what you were feeling. Do not censor yourself. Some emotions are considered unacceptable in our society and you might be a master of telling yourself what you should be feeling and how you should be responding. Denial of your own emotions is not good for you. You can feel anger without acting on it. You can feel hate, pain and fear without having it change how you behave. Forcing yourself not to feel these emotions causes them to be stored.

By recognizing what you were feeling at the time and allowing yourself to feel it, you can let the emotions move through you. Once an emotion is expressed, it is released from the body. The discomfort that you feel trying to avoid an emotion can last much much longer than the emotion itself if you allow yourself to just feel it directly.

At this point you may find that you choose to indulge in your habit anyhow. The advantage of this exercise is that you become more and more aware of why you are distracting yourself. Also, if you allow yourself to feel your emotions, you may find that your need to avoid them decreases over time.

Forgiveness

IMG_1610What does it mean to forgive? It seems to have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. In some circles, it means that one person forgives another person. I personally was not very comfortable with this definition because it didn’t feel right to me. Who was I to determine that I was in the right and they were in the wrong? Who writes these rules? Is there an appeal process?

Another popular meaning is that you absolve the person of any blame. It is a sort of a pardon or a way to free the accused from the need for punishment. Does this mean that it is OK if someone has hurt you? Sometimes people insist on the other person apologizing before they will forgive them. Is the other person taking the blame necessary for you to forgive? This doesn’t ring true for me either because it gives someone else too much control over how I feel. Another view on this is that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else.

We can spend a lot of time discussing whether or not someone “deserves” to be forgiven or whether or not enough punishment has been doled out, or enough time has passed, but failure to forgive someone is only harmful to you. The lack of forgiveness is not hurting the person that has not been forgiven. The individual that is the focus of your hate is often totally unaware of the fact that you hate them and that you are refusing to forgive them.

If you consider the possibility that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else and see it as a way to free yourself from the pain that holding onto this blame is causing you, then you enter a different space. Oprah likes to say that forgiveness is giving up the hope that things could have been different in the past. This has nothing to do with what happened to you. It does not mean that what happened is OK. It does not mean that it did not happen. It means that it did happen and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Forgiveness becomes the act of accepting that something bad did happen and that is just a fact. There is nothing that you can do to change that. Spending today wishing that it had not happened or dreaming about how your life would be different if it hadn’t happened, is not going to make you feel any better.

Lets not forget that anger is often holding down other emotions. Below anger there is often pain or fear. For those of you that tried to express your anger to help release it after reading “Big Boys Don’t Cry” you may have found that there was another emotion underneath. This is common. As a society we are more comfortable feeling angry and disgruntled than we are feeling vulnerable. When you peel back the anger, you find the core of the problem and it is painful. This is now what you need to experience in order to release it.

Hanging onto the anger allows you to feel like you are protecting yourself from the pain or from feeling uncomfortable. It does not protect you it just forces you to spend your life feeling angry.

Holding onto blame and refusing to forgive can be used to avoid another situation that causes you pain. You can hold onto the anger in a way that keeps you from trying again. For instance, you are up for a promotion at work. A co-worker gets the promotion instead of you. You are hurt and embarrassed and instead of feeling this pain, you become angry.

The anger can be used to protect yourself from further pain. “I didn’t want that stupid job anyway.” “I will never forgive them for hiring that person instead of me!” “I don’t want to have to work nights and weekends anyhow.” “I am not as much of a ‘suck-up’ as the person that got the job and I’m glad about that!” All of these statements point to the fact that it is easier to keep the anger, to use these negative thoughts and accusations to keep the pain below the surface. Also, by convincing yourself through anger that you did not want the job, you can avoid trying again and the potential for being hurt again.

A better use of the anger, in the situation above, would be to recognize that your emotions are showing you how important the promotion was to you. You might use that as a trigger to start looking for jobs that could provide advancement. Acting on the anger is much more productive if the action you take is, in fact, productive.

But we began this whole discussion with forgiveness, so I will come back to anger that is in place because of something that has happened to you. You may feel that someone is responsible, that someone hurt you or failed to provide what you felt that they should provide. On the other hand, things may have just happened and you are angry that they turned out the way that they did. This would apply to events that occurred without anyone doing anything, like death of a loved one, loss of your home in a hurricane, your job being replaced by a machine — that sort of thing.

In any case the past is the past. This sounds ridiculous to even state because it is so obvious, but we do spend a lot of time wishing our pasts were different. “If I had only been loved as a child, I would not have to shoot heroine everyday.” “If I had been able to afford university, I wouldn’t have to sell pencils for a living.” “If my dog hadn’t been hit by a car, I wouldn’t be afraid to love again.” The core of each of these statements is that the past is interfering with your ability to live the way that you would like to be living in the present. The past is robbing you of your life.

This is when forgiveness is crucial. It has nothing to do with what happened or who did what to whom, simply a recognition that there is no way to change what has happened so it is best to make peace with it so that you can enter your life. There is nothing to stop you from getting a new puppy, kicking your drug habit and increasing your inventory to include erasers as well.

 

Are you Avoiding your Feelings?

IMG_0007Do you find yourself shopping when you don’t need anything and spending more money than you have? Do you eat when you are not hungry and past the point of being full? Do you need a drink in order to face your day, or perhaps several? People do many things to distract themselves from their feelings. If you do anything habitually, that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing as much as you do, you may be trying to avoid your emotions.

Emotions can be uncomfortable things. Most people enjoy the good feelings of love, happiness and enjoyment–but not all. The emotions that most often cause us to reach for the icecream or the credit card are usually the negative ones like anger, fear and hate. These are uncomfortable feelings. When we are young, emotions can be overwhelming and painful and we all learn ways to avoid feeling them. As adults, these patterns can take on a life of their own and can result in behaviours that are bad for us.

Unfortunately, emotions do not go away until they are experienced. When we routinely push emotions down, two things can happen. They can build up and then erupt, when they get the opportunity, or they can result in physical discomfort or illness.

If you find that you start crying for little or no reason, you erupt in anger at the slightest provocation, you become frightened or burst out laughing for no apparent reason, you may just be experiencing suppressed emotions that are bubbling up to the surface.

Depression; lack of interest in things that you used to enjoy; feeling like you are just going through the motions–can all be symptoms of repressed feelings. If we close the door on one emotion, it is very difficult to let other emotions in.

Denollet (2009) showed that unexpressed anger increased the risk of heart attack. Miyamoto (2011) demonstrated that the Japanese freedom to express negative emotions is better for your overall health than the North American societal pressure to only express positive emotions. In general, it has been demonstrated that expressing emotions, instead of repressing them, is better for your overall well being (Barber, 2011). There is no question that the happier you are the healthier you are.

Those of us that avoid rather than feel our emotions may be so programmed to reach for a drink or some other diversion that we no longer recognize that we are running away from a feeling. If you have a habit that you often turn to, especially one that you feel is excessive or not good for your overall well being, you need to become aware of it. When the urge strikes, stop for a moment.

Before you indulge in your diversion, be still. Take a moment to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Take note of where there is sensation in your body. Describe the sensation. Try to picture it. Start at your toes and pay attention to each part of your body up to your head. Is there any vibration, heat, tension, pain, discomfort, numbness or any other sensation? Can you feel your entire body or are there parts that you can no longer feel? Sit with this for a while and pay attention.

This exercise gets you out of your mind and the thoughts that you may try to tell yourself about why you should just go shopping. It does not focus on trying to identify the emotion that you are feeling, just the way that you experience the emotion as a physical sensation in your body.

The next step is to think backward from the moment that you went to your favourite vice until you become aware of what happened that caused you to reach for your diversion. The habit of not feeling emotions right away can become so refined that it may have even been something that happened a day or two ago, or longer. Continue to retrace your memory until you start to recognize the physical sensation in your body again. When remembering “feels” the same way you felt when you started the exercise you have identified the cause of the feeling.

Remember the event. Think about what you thought at the time and try to get in touch with what you were feeling. Do not censor yourself. Some emotions are considered unacceptable in our society and you might be a master of telling yourself what you should be feeling and how you should be responding. Denial of your own emotions is not good for you. You can feel anger without acting on it. You can feel hate, pain and fear without having it change how you behave. Forcing yourself not to feel these emotions causes them to be stored.

By recognizing what you were feeling at the time and allowing yourself to feel it, you can let the emotions move through you. Once an emotion is expressed, it is released from the body. The discomfort that you feel trying to avoid an emotion can last much much longer than the emotion itself if you allow yourself to just feel it directly.

At this point you may find that you choose to indulge in your habit anyhow. The advantage of this exercise is that you become more and more aware of why you are distracting yourself. Also, if you allow yourself to feel your emotions, you may find that your need to avoid them decreases over time.

Forgiveness

IMG_1610What does it mean to forgive? It seems to have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. In some circles, it means that one person forgives another person. I personally was not very comfortable with this definition because it didn’t feel right to me. Who was I to determine that I was in the right and they were in the wrong? Who writes these rules? Is there an appeal process?

Another popular meaning is that you absolve the person of any blame. It is a sort of a pardon or a way to free the accused from the need for punishment. Does this mean that it is OK if someone has hurt you? Sometimes people insist on the other person apologizing before they will forgive them. Is the other person taking the blame necessary for you to forgive? This doesn’t ring true for me either because it gives someone else too much control over how I feel. Another view on this is that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else.

We can spend a lot of time discussing whether or not someone “deserves” to be forgiven or whether or not enough punishment has been doled out, or enough time has passed, but failure to forgive someone is only harmful to you. The lack of forgiveness is not hurting the person that has not been forgiven. The individual that is the focus of your hate is often totally unaware of the fact that you hate them and that you are refusing to forgive them.

If you consider the possibility that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else and see it as a way to free yourself from the pain that holding onto this blame is causing you, then you enter a different space. Oprah likes to say that forgiveness is giving up the hope that things could have been different in the past. This has nothing to do with what happened to you. It does not mean that what happened is OK. It does not mean that it did not happen. It means that it did happen and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Forgiveness becomes the act of accepting that something bad did happen and that is just a fact. There is nothing that you can do to change that. Spending today wishing that it had not happened or dreaming about how your life would be different if it hadn’t happened, is not going to make you feel any better.

Lets not forget that anger is often holding down other emotions. Below anger there is often pain or fear. For those of you that tried to express your anger to help release it after reading “Big Boys Don’t Cry” you may have found that there was another emotion underneath. This is common. As a society we are more comfortable feeling angry and disgruntled than we are feeling vulnerable. When you peel back the anger, you find the core of the problem and it is painful. This is now what you need to experience in order to release it.

Hanging onto the anger allows you to feel like you are protecting yourself from the pain or from feeling uncomfortable. It does not protect you it just forces you to spend your life feeling angry.

Holding onto blame and refusing to forgive can be used to avoid another situation that causes you pain. You can hold onto the anger in a way that keeps you from trying again. For instance, you are up for a promotion at work. A co-worker gets the promotion instead of you. You are hurt and embarrassed and instead of feeling this pain, you become angry.

The anger can be used to protect yourself from further pain. “I didn’t want that stupid job anyway.” “I will never forgive them for hiring that person instead of me!” “I don’t want to have to work nights and weekends anyhow.” “I am not as much of a ‘suck-up’ as the person that got the job and I’m glad about that!” All of these statements point to the fact that it is easier to keep the anger, to use these negative thoughts and accusations to keep the pain below the surface. Also, by convincing yourself through anger that you did not want the job, you can avoid trying again and the potential for being hurt again.

A better use of the anger, in the situation above, would be to recognize that your emotions are showing you how important the promotion was to you. You might use that as a trigger to start looking for jobs that could provide advancement. Acting on the anger is much more productive if the action you take is, in fact, productive.

But we began this whole discussion with forgiveness, so I will come back to anger that is in place because of something that has happened to you. You may feel that someone is responsible, that someone hurt you or failed to provide what you felt that they should provide. On the other hand, things may have just happened and you are angry that they turned out the way that they did. This would apply to events that occurred without anyone doing anything, like death of a loved one, loss of your home in a hurricane, your job being replaced by a machine — that sort of thing.

In any case the past is the past. This sounds ridiculous to even state because it is so obvious, but we do spend a lot of time wishing our pasts were different. “If I had only been loved as a child, I would not have to shoot heroine everyday.” “If I had been able to afford university, I wouldn’t have to sell pencils for a living.” “If my dog hadn’t been hit by a car, I wouldn’t be afraid to love again.” The core of each of these statements is that the past is interfering with your ability to live the way that you would like to be living in the present. The past is robbing you of your life.

This is when forgiveness is crucial. It has nothing to do with what happened or who did what to whom, simply a recognition that there is no way to change what has happened so it is best to make peace with it so that you can enter your life. There is nothing to stop you from getting a new puppy, kicking your drug habit and increasing your inventory to include erasers as well.