I avoid my emotions. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself in this year of change. I always thought the opposite – I would have said I’m highly emotional. After all, I can cry for England.
But I’ve come to see that the crying jags that go on and on, and the stories I weave around the things that are bothering me, and the way I chew over upsetting facts over and over again – are all ways of avoiding the actual emotion.
So here’s what I’m doing now, what I did today … when I start feeling upset and wanting to cry, and going over and over some story in my head, I simply stop, sit down, and feel the depths of the actual emotion. I let it wash over me but – and this is the important part – I don’t name it, or attach a story to it.
For example, let’s say you feel a friend has let you down. You could ruminate on the reasons they let you down, and tell yourself how thoughtless they are, and relive the let-down moment over and over again – each time feeling more aggrieved – or you could just sit down and feel the sadness about whatever didn’t happen. And feel it without trying to guess why it happened, or attach meaning to it, or relive it.
The amazing thing is that when you do this, the sadness passes quite quickly, almost like a cloud moving across the sun. Yes, the pain is intense for a few seconds but then it starts to dissipate and a few minutes later you find yourself admiring the sky or wondering what to cook for dinner. The sadness is still with you, but it’s faded into the background because you haven’t fed it.
I have friends who avoid their emotions in other ways. One gets a variety of physical ailments. One drinks. Another eats too much. It has always been easy for me to see what they were doing and yet I was blind to my own dysfunction.