When emotions turn off
I wonder how many of the behaviors that we struggle with in our personal lives have roots in emotional numbing? Eating too much? Not eating enough? Drinking every night? Keeping our home perfectly ordered? Creating a schedule that allows no time for rest? I’m sure there are others…
Some of these behaviors even look incredibly functional and quite productive but at their core they are used to avoid uncomfortable feelings. When I ask what people want most in their life the answers that I hear very often are peace and rest.
What if we can never truly find peace or rest without being open and vulnerable to feeling all our feelings?
Pain and joy.
Disappointment and excitement.
Fear and love.
Rejection and acceptance.
Think about it. What impact would this have on how we use our time, the depth of our relationships, our energy level, and our connection to the Lord.
Below I have listed several ways to know what you are feeling. For some, particularly those who have experienced trauma in their life, a counselor may need to help you begin this journey.
Be present in the moment. Stop and figure out what is going on inside of you. Learn to pause and evaluate what you are feeling. Wait at least 30 seconds before you respond behaviorally to a feeling.
- Identify avoidant behaviors. These may be obvious or they may be dysfunctional behaviors that look functional. Either way they are obstacles to peace and rest. Avoidant behaviors take a great deal of time and energy.
- Do not look at feelings as simply positive/negative or good/bad. This way of thinking pushes us to avoid anything perceived negative at all cost.Feelings are feelings. Some are more comfortable than others. The one thing we can count on with emotions is that they constantly change. When feelings get “stuck” a doctor will diagnose a disorder. We must learn to develop emotional agility.
- Understand that empathy builds on self-awareness. The more self-aware we are the greater ability we have to connect to each other. This has huge implications in the area of marriage. I use the term self-awareness in the same sense that Scripture talks about examining ourselves. When we avoid our own feelings it is virtually impossible for us to truly connect in a vulnerable and open way to our spouse.
- Know that numbing has consequences. We don’t get to pick and choose which feelings we want to numb. When we begin to go down the road of numbing emotions it tends to be all or nothing. We can’t numb the bad without numbing the good.
- Make a choice each day. Our choice is to engage or disconnect. When we choose to engage with our own feelingswe are also making the choice to engage with other people. The opposite is true as well. Disconnection with self hinders healthy relationships with others.
- Start slow. Begin by tolerating uncomfortable feelings little by little. As you face feelings you will have less and less need for avoidant behaviors. Begin with writing. It can be a great tool.
- Enjoy the process. Change is usually measured in small increments and small changes can have huge impact.