January 15, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Numbing the Pain & Just Feel.

I have always been fascinated by how one single moment can change the entire course of your life.

I still remember the day I received a letter from my dear aunt describing my eating disorder as an invasion of gremlins in my mind—controlling my thoughts, my actions, and my self-worth.

A switch was turned on, and I decided to investigate what was truly controlling my actions.

Today—15 years later, as I found myself coaching a young client recovering from her own eating disorder—I was brought back to theses same, intense gremlins, the deep shame-inducing thoughts, and the pain and suffering that so many of us—well, really all of us—experience.

The pain and suffering we have gotten accustomed to numbing, or controlling with other actions.

In fact, with all of the activity and constant movement in our world, it has become quite commonplace to just put feelings off to the side and instead scroll, click, or double-tap.

We live in a culture that is rooted in personal advancement and distraction—which has unfortunately bred an inability to feel and express our emotions in healthy ways.

We see it every day in alcohol sales, consumerism, and increasing rates of anxiety, stress and obesity. And this is quite dangerous for our future.

For example, how many of you have found yourself replacing sadness with a beer (or multiple beers) and a bag of chips? Or anger with a 10-mile run, followed by your favorite series or movie? Frustration with giving the silent treatment to your lover?

I do believe that some of these actions can be beneficial coping methods—if along with taking time to run off our anger, we also take time to process and express it, which often times means communicating with those we love most.

Feeling is not a simple task, and most of us were never actually taught how to feel and express our emotions in authentic ways. Instead we were taught (through modeled behavior) exactly the opposite: how to numb our emotions with activity.

What if, instead of covering up our emotions, we dove deep into our feelings and investigated them a little further?

What if we just allowed ourselves to be there for us, to be there through all the pain and fear?

What if we could equip ourselves with tools and strategies to do exactly this?

Today, as I was coaching my client, I found myself going back to the moment when I retaught myself how to feel my own hunger and other bodily sensations. How to express my sadness in a new way. And how to feel okay with all of my discomfort.

This wasn’t easy, and it didn’t always look pretty.

How do we teach ourselves or those we love how to feel again? How do we teach them to open up to the uncertainty and fear of feeling deep pain? And how do we continue to feel while living in a world that makes it so easy not to?

These are pretty intangible concepts that each of us experiences differently, so there is not a one-size-fit-all solution.

However, I have found that the following strategies, combined with taking time to reflect, can really help:

1. Before we begin to try to feel, we need to become aware of our thought processes. Try to discern which thoughts  (especially those “on repeat”) are causing us fear, suffering and pain and which ones are pushing us further along on our paths.

For example, “Oh god, my husband is yelling at the kids again.” Cue hurt, anger, and fear. “I guess I will take a walk, and buy a bottle of wine.”

In this scenario, when and where are we numbing and when are we confronting?

2. After identifying these thoughts and habits, try to notice when they occur. Instead of shutting your thoughts out, recognize the feelings that come along with them. When your husband yells at your children, do you feel angry? Sad? Scared for their future?

3. Start to notice how these feelings show up in our bodies and in our world. Does your heart start beating faster? Is your head pounding? Do you move toward the refrigerator for anything in sight, or do you go to the liquor store?

4. Bring stillness to the entire process. In these intense moments, we ought to try sitting in a quiet space alone, noticing our thoughts and sensations, and focusing on our breath. We should strive to bring awareness to our experience, letting our feelings just be.

5. Surround ourselves with loved ones with whom we can share our vulnerabilities and feelings. Speaking or expressing our worries, fears, and pain can also bring deeper clarity and a new feeling of lightness in our lives.

6. Practice—again and again. With practice, we might find that we have certain reactions and habits we use to cover up different feelings. We ought to use this knowledge to reroute our thoughts and actions and find new ways to express ourselves that feel authentic.

Today, as I witnessed a young woman with the courage to do all of this work and take a stand for herself, I am deeply inspired to feel my own suffering instead of covering it up.

My challenge to all of us is to take a hard look at our habits, our thoughts, and our daily activities in order to decipher which ones we use to “numb” our feelings and which ones allow us to truly feel the full range of human emotion.

And maybe, just maybe, as we begin this life-long work, so will our partners, best friends, and those we surround ourselves with.

“For it is only when we walk into the arena, covered in dirt and mud, confronting our own fear, that we can also experience deep happiness, love, and belonging.” ~ Brené Brown



Author: Kelsey-Beth Paul

Image: Youtube

Editor: Callie Rushton

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