Updated: Nov 14, 2021
Note: this post is about repressed day-to-day feelings.
It is not about unpacking deeper traumas. For that, I recommend professional help.
It’s natural to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
When we feel like we aren’t good at things, like we are are disappointing people, or don’t understand what to do, it’s natural to retreat.
But there’s a problem.
When we avoid uncomfortable emotions, we inadvertently distance ourselves from positive emotions as well.
Numb is numb. We can’t decide what to be numb to or not. We end up isolated inside of ourselves.
We numb ourselves in many ways. Eating when we aren’t hungry and zoning out to media are the two most popular. We make these choices because they feel easy and reasonable at the moment. If we make these choices for days that turn into months and years, we find ourselves in a life we don’t want and don’t know how to get out of.
When you feel stuck, it is difficult to imagine being any other way. It is nearly impossible to envision a future self that has a different style of life.
Being at a loss about how to move forward happens to all of us sometimes.
The future is a big concept. When our thinking is cloudy we simply can’t see it.
The answer is to narrow your focus.
And where should you focus? On your thoughts and feelings, the ones you have been avoiding.
I know that it’s the last thing you want to do. We get so afraid of what we will find when we look inside ourselves.
Let’s get real. What could be so horrible? For most of us, it’s anger or sadness.
It’s anger at ourselves for putting up with circumstances that did not serve us or decisions that turned out to be harmful.
It’s sadness from feeling pain as the result of difficult interactions, relationships, or life circumstances.
For me it was anger. I was so uncomfortable when it came up that I would do anything to avoid it. I ate it, literally. I remember when I got done with eating my anger. I was so tired of feeling like I was living behind a pane of glass watching my life go by without fully participating in it. I knew I had to express anger when it came up, and I was honestly afraid that I would erupt in rage. For those of you that know me in real life, you know what a far reach that is. For about six months, when I felt angry I would say out loud, "I’m angry.” My husband would say, “Okay.” And somehow it was. It was so healing for me to express my emotions and have them be accepted in a way that I had not been able to myself. Now I express it when I am irritable or annoyed. And guess what? I survive. It’s still my least favorite emotion but doesn’t scare me anymore.
I was so scared. To act in the world in a different way than I ever had before, to say what I really meant, took courage. And I didn’t know if the people important to me would still love me. When I write that now, it seems so irrational, almost silly. But at the time, it felt so real and important.
It’s that juncture, that place where we are afraid of the future and can easily flip into old patterns because they feel more familiar, that is so ripe with potential for change. It’s that really uncomfortable place when you are trying something new and you don’t know how it will turn out, but you can’t bear to stay stuck anymore. That’s what to watch for. That awkward feeling moment when you would rather be doing anything else. When you choose a new way of navigating through that moment and notice that the sky does not fall, everything starts to open up. You have proven to yourself that you can grow, and you have been there for yourself in a moment of need.
Being there for yourself in an uncomfortable moment builds self-trust. Self-trust is the foundation of true confidence.
You can start small. You don’t have to face your deepest, oldest feelings first thing.
You can start by noticing if there are certain emotions that you feel uncomfortable around.
Or you could notice if there are coping mechanisms that you use to numb you out, and when you become aware of them, look back and see what happened just before that.
I realize that this doesn't sound like an enjoyable activity. The first stages of getting unstuck aren't fun. It's kind of like getting your rubber boot stuck in some mud you have to pull it out of. At first, it feels like there is no way it will move. Then ever so slowly, it begins to let go, all the while trying to suck you back in until you triumph and can move freely. Then you get to practice not getting stuck in the first place.