For as long as I remember I’ve been told that I am weak, that I am too emotional, too sensitive, too fragile. I’ve been told that something was inherently wrong with me. Why can’t I just suck it up and be like normal people?!
The older I get, the more I realise that I am not weak, I am strong and beautiful – I allow myself to feel so much. It takes courage to stand still in the face of a difficult emotion, not to cover it up, not to run away from it, not to eat it up or drown it in a glass of wine, not to gamble it away, not to make it somebody else’s fault, not to sedate it with medication, just surrender to it. Have you ever tried it? What I learned recently is that very few of us actually ever had.
Uncomfortable emotions are like messengers, they are telling us that deeper enquiry is needed, they are offering us an opportunity to overcome and grow. Allowing ourselves to feel doesn’t mean going into full-blown drama. Drama is self-imposed, it is nothing but a story we made out of the initial emotion. We can save a great deal of time and energy by refusing to go there. The initial emotion (the pain) though is something we have to face and enquire into.
What happens to the most of us when we have that initial emotion, when discomfort arises, we launch right into our default coping mechanism. This is a self-soothing behaviour that we have adopted fairly early in life. Some of us reach for food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, others have an urge to buy something, to open social media feed, to bury themselves in work, to have a conversation with someone, to start cleaning the house, to watch TV, to play video games… You name it. Some of the coping mechanisms are healthier than others, however, the key is in recognition why we do what we do. There is nothing inherently wrong with a glass of wine or with shopping when we choose to do it consciously. Otherwise, it is doing us – we are no longer in control of our spending, smoking, gambling, alcohol or food intake…
It is very difficult to suddenly start noticing and facing our emotions, because it literally is a fraction of a second between the moment an emotion arises and the moment we launch into our coping mechanism. However, we can do this backwards, because, if we are honest with ourselves, we know exactly what our coping mechanisms are (Do you eat crap, although, you know it is not good for you? Do you drink too much, overspend, etc.? What’s your poison of choice?).
A friend of mine, who wanted to quit smoking, went to see the addiction psychologist. She advised him to have a journal, and every time before he picks up a cigarette, to answer a simple question “What’s the reason behind his desire to smoke a cigarette at this moment?” In other words, what is going on for him right now? She said he could smoke after answering the question if he still felt like it. However, every time he would answer the question, he’d lose his interest in smoking and he’d put the cigarette down. He actually hasn’t been smoking for over three years now.
Answering one simple question helps us enquire into the uncomfortable emotion that has arisen and, effectively, to face it. Once it is faced, we no longer need to self-soothe. It doesn’t mean that it will never arise again. It most certainly will, but it will no longer be in control of our life.
Remember, the pain (that sudden difficult emotion) doesn’t last, it passes very quickly if we allow it. Drama, on the contrary, is something we feed, indulge in and foster. If we suppress that pain or make a drama out of it, it can last for years on end. The only difference between suppression and drama is that one is an explosion on the inside, the other one – on the outside.
So, how could you apply this in your everyday life?
You know exactly the behaviours that don’t serve you. Keep an eye on them. You want to be slim and healthy but keep on reaching for a packet of naughty biscuits or a piece of rich fatty sugary cake?
Well, next time you catch yourself craving naughty stuff, pause, open your journal (or Notes on your phone) and answer the question. “What is the reason behind this desire? What’s going on right now inside of me?” The answer might be “I’m just hungry”. Great – make a healthier choice (you might have actually skipped a meal, haven’t slept enough or haven’t had enough water). In this case, the reason might be purely physiological. However, the answer might also be “I’m anxious right now” or “I feel a hole inside of me that I need to fill” or “I feel deeply sad”. Really allow yourself to experience the emotion and to pinpoint it as accurately as you can. This will do as a starting point. It will help you to take back the control of your health, finances and just overall life.
In time, you can enquire further by asking yourself “What triggered this emotion?”, “What is the message – what needs to shift/to be healed in me?”. Change happens one good enquiry at a time.
We are so fascinated with exploring the cosmos, different planets, galaxies, yet we forget that there is a whole universe inside each one of us.