I mean… can anyone relate?!
We do so much to avoid feeling the things we are afraid to feel. We fill our schedules, shop, drink, help others, numb, Netflix binge, and find pretty much any and every way of avoiding the painful stuff, thinking that if we just keep DOING, we won’t have to BE with the harder feelings we so desperately want to escape from.
Here’s the tricky part: we can’t run from our feelings and expect them to disappear. They may sneak up in more subtle ways, but they ultimately stay with us until we choose to do the hard work and FEEL them. As we often in therapy, you have to feel it to heal it.
So, how do we do this without getting overwhelmed, flooded, or creating a bigger challenge for ourselves? There are many answers to this, but here are two of my favorite things: mindfulness and self-compassion.
Mindfulness, which is becoming increasingly well-known and utilized (thank goodness for this!), allows us to bring awareness to what we are feeling, to notice it without judging it, and to sit with it in curiosity. It isn’t about changing our experience as much as it is about bringing awareness to the present moment. A brief example: Sadness starts arising within you. Rather than panicking or seeking to avoid it, try to pause. Get still for a moment. Notice what it feels like in your body: do your eyes well up? Does your chest contract? Does your breathing change? Pay attention to these internal shifts you are experiencing. These are signals that hold information when we tune into them with curiosity, rather than judgment.
When we practice mindfulness and become aware that we’re having a painful feeling, we can then turn to practicing self-compassion. A quick example:You notice you’re feeling sadness. Instead of criticizing yourself for what you are feeling, you can simply say, “I’m feeling sadness right now. A lot of people feel this way and I’m not alone. May I offer myself kindness in this moment.”
These tools help us to not only lean into our feelings as they arise by noticing with curiosity and without judgment, but they also encourage us to treat ourselves kindly in those moments, which creates a greater sense of empowerment and control over what we do with our feelings. From this space, we have more room and choice to move through our feelings instead of getting trapped or overwhelmed by them.
This takes practice, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it – but in the practice, we often find what works best for us and can take these tools as we move through our lives. I hope this helps the next time you find yourself running from the hard stuff.