“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Most of the most difficult experiences in my life have always arisen from my need to avoid perceived difficult experiences.
The most notable has been this uneasiness about going out and socializing with others in groups.
I would be overcome by this anxiety of going to venues with large gatherings, especially when I hardly knew anyone. There was this unsettling fear of being overwhelmed.
Ironically, I found by completely avoiding these social situations I made the emotional experience worse. The more I avoided, the more challenging socializing become.
It became a self-defeating strategy. I didn’t realize the consequences of what I was doing until later.
I had unconsciously made the concept of socializing so unbearable that I went out of my way to avoid it. I repeatedly declined invites knowing there would be an emotional price to pay.
Exposure therapy offered a solution
The change for me came when I discovered an approach called “Exposure Therapy”.
It is an evidence based approach, where you are encouraged to face a feared social situation until the anxiety decreases or the anxiety-related expectations are interrupted.
Gradually, you explore your thinking patterns and let yourself feel the things you feared. You watch them start to lose their control over you.
It is recognized as one of the most effective psychological techniques for treating fear and anxiety.
Many people avoid feeling their feelings.
It can be said we think about our feelings because then we don’t have to feel them. However, by not feeling a feeling, we give them power to hurt us in the future.
For example, by not acknowledging and exploring my fears linked to avoiding socializing I end up empowering the anxiety that then controls my life.
Alternatively, when we take the time to recognize and validate our feelings, we start to empower ourselves.
Avoidance is a safety net
Avoidance for me was a conscious decision to avoid a feared social situation, such as going to a party. It was safety seeking behaviour to cope with a perceived threat.
We suffer this effect every day in our lives. In an attempt to avoid boredom who doesn’t:
- Seek safety by indulging in social media outlets such as Instagram and Facebook?
- Grow impatient and irritated if the Wi-Fi signal is low or we have a bad internet reception?
- Reach for your mobile device to feel connected to the world?
The question worth asking is if we can avoid situations we don’t like or feel threatened by why wouldn’t we? But then again when it comes to the inescapable truth of human feelings or emotions the strategy of avoid-at-all-costs will always work against us.
None of us can live free from these feelings. They are a guarantee in life. Avoidance only makes things worse.
How the thinking mind tries to take control
When unpleasant feelings do occur, instead of allowing ourselves to accept and feel them, we more often than not make an attempt to evade the experience.
The thinking mind takes control and narrates a story why this feeling shouldn’t have happened.
Something external must have happened to cause you to feel uncertainty or anger or fear. The mind always deflects and seeks someone to blame for your predicament:
- “If he hadn’t have done that I would have been so happy!”
- “Why does this always happen to me? It’s not fair”.
There must be a reason why you shouldn’t have to experience these very normal feelings.
Identifying and blaming others is the mind’s safety response to solving the problem. However, if you reflect on this type of thinking and ruminating, it become clear there is no desire or intent to find a way to move forward.
If you listen to the narrative going on in your head you will see an argument disputing the unfairness of having to experience this emotional turmoil.
However, if you can resist the urge to get hooked on the storyline and just stay curious and present you might find out something pleasantly surprising.
Once you consciously make a decision to let go of trying to escape from uncomfortable feelings they tend to lose their grip and power.
How to find Freedom
From what I have observed in my own personal life, obstacles seem to appear from a reluctance to feel certain inevitable human feelings.
In an attempt to maintain complete safety I have tried to push away any undesirable emotions that made me feel vulnerable in some way.
However, the reality I needed to face is I will always be invited to social events. It’s part of what humans do. We connect.
Birthdays, weddings, deaths, and New Year’s Eve.
Therefore, until I chose to resolve my anxieties and fears I would only be making my situation more disrupting every time it happened.
My way of thinking around my social anxiety and fear was quickly turning into a neurotic behaviour.
Overcoming this for me meant saying “yes” more times (than my default answer of “no!”) to social invites.
I would still feel this uncomfortable feeling every time I was invited to dinners or parties, however I didn’t allow the thinking around my anxiety and fear dictate my behaviours. The more I exposed myself to the full range of emotions the freer I became.
Beyond the therapist
During my time of need I was professionally helped by a counsellor. Nevertheless, there is another way that has become a big part of my life.
It has all the essential ingredients of Exposure Therapy: Meditation.
Mindfulness meditation provides a similar framework. It creates an opportunity to learn that certain thoughts and sensations are not dangerous. You simply meet your experience.
There is strong evidence to suggest meditation and/or Exposure Therapy offer great benefits for people struggling with emotional issues.
Recent research has shown the combination of meditation training with Exposure therapy provides relief for war veterans with symptoms of PTSD.
How to use meditation like Exposure Therapy
Basically you start by choosing to sit in a comfortable position, with your eyes closed (or not), for a period of time.
Your hope would naturally be for a pleasant relaxing experience that makes you feel a certain way. However, in meditation this will rarely happen.
Over time the landscape of your feelings or emotions will constantly change. You either start to replay a troubling event from your day or the act of sitting becomes the troubling experience.
Feelings such as boredom, frustration, or craving start to surface.
They will challenge you to stay with the experience. The thinking mind gets busy in an attempt to avoid the emotional turmoil.
Meditation encourages you to stay in the moment. Allow yourself to simply have these experiences as they arise. It is what it is.
Sitting with the feelings shrinks their ability to control your life.
What you tend to find is:
- The experience is not as bad as you may think
- The emotional energy tends to weaken quickly when you let go
- The uncomfortable feelings will pass relatively easy.
The more you can let yourself feel a given feeling, the less detrimental impact it will have on your life.
3 steps to stopping emotions controlling your life
Step 1: Turn toward your emotions and allow them to be.
Once you become aware of the emotion you are feeling, notice where it is located in your body;
- You may feel tension or tightness in your chest area
- An ache in the pit of your stomach
- Fast beating of your heart.
Sit with whatever emotion you are experiencing and name it. It could be anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, grief, shame, or a number of other emotions.
Do not ignore or push away what’s happening.
They are trying to help you wake up to what is going on.
Opening yourself up to your emotions allows you the opportunity to create a space of awareness, and curiosity to better understand what’s really happening.
Step 2: Realize the impermanence of your emotions
Emotions are impermanent. They come and go like clouds in the sky. They arise briefly in your consciousness and then they always disappear.
This is easy to forget when you’re in the eye of the hurricane trying to cope with difficult emotions.
Allow yourself to just witness and observe your emotions without trying to change anything. Be patient and give them the room to manifest before disappearing.
Ask yourself: “what have I learnt? “
Step 3: Use the time to discover and examine
After you have been able to calm yourself from the impact of your emotions, take time to discover and examine what happened.
“What triggered me?”
“What is causing me to feel this way?”
Whatever the cause or trigger, look at it closely.
Asking yourself these critical questions and investigating the root of your difficult emotions will help you gain understanding into your experience.
Take away message
Feeling our feelings is not easy. It’s much easier to avoid them.
However when we do, we’re only dismissing ourselves. By not feeling a feeling, we give them power to hurt us in the future.
Alternatively, we empower ourselves when we take the time to acknowledge and validate our experience.
Only then will we accurately gain an insight into our emotions.
Mindfully dealing with emotions is hard and it takes time, but it’s totally worth the effort.
I hope you have found this blog of some value.
If you know someone who could benefit from the content please feel free to forward it on.
What situations cause avoidance in your life?