Former Miss USA Tara Conner was on Oprah recently to talk about her struggle with drug addiction.
The most prominent theme was about how feelings can be overwhelming and lead to addiction as a way to numb out and not feel uncomfortable emotions….”Heaven forbid we feel” was mentioned twice.
Tara turned to drinking, drugs and cutting herself at age 14, as a way to cope from her parents’ divorce and granddad’s death.
She explained how the pressure and anxiety from these events were too much for her to cope with.
Tara’s statement, Heaven forbid we feel”, is prevalent in our society, though not blatant. It shows up in subtle everyday ways like when we tell our children not to cry, that whatever just happened that made them cry isn’t a big deal and “Let’s get happy now!”. We have good intentions demonstrated through wrong means. It is through our own discomfort with expressing our sad feelings that we pass on this trait to our children and future generations.
In my work with clients, I have come to see the connection between addictive behaviors, and ways to escape from our painful feelings. Both are repetitive behaviors used to avoid feeling unresolved pain stored in the body. From gambling and substance abuse, to compulsive spending, thinking and talking, to chronic anger, depression or lateness-all of these behavioral dynamics have hidden pay-offs. For example, some people use chronic anger or depression to avoid intimacy or to control relationships. Bottom line, they enable the “user” to avoid feeling difficult feelings. The root addiction underlying all addiction is the compulsive avoidance of feeling-an uncontrollable need to escape the consciousness of fear and pain.
Having and expressing feelings has gotten a bad rap in our fast-paced, mind-oriented culture. Who has time to feel or hear about how another person feels?
Misleading information about feelings comes in many forms-some more benign than others-leading to a general alienation from the body. It can be our TV telling us to take a pill or eat anytime we have a feeling of insecurity…ah-hhh, honey, you feel upset, let’s go out for an ice cream cone! Sound familiar?? The motto: LET’S DO ANYTHING BUT FEEL. HEAVEN FORBID WE SHOULD FEEL.
Add to this is the increasing challenge of staying connected to feelings which reside in our body in a high-tech, stressful world that all but erases our animal nature. As we have evolved into high-tech beings, we have abandoned the body by living virtual lives that over-emphasize the mind. Computers and automobiles dominate our lives. Physical activity falls by the wayside as we walk less and drive more. We move less and think more. We play less and surf the web more. Indeed, our primary forms of entertainment find us sitting in front of some kind of screen and, unfortunately, “high definition” does not refer to the effect on our muscle tone. We are learning that our physiology affects our emotions. Emotions affect our thinking. Thoughts affect our emotions, which affect our physiology, which then affects feeling and thinking, and so it goes.
Traumatic events in childhood that remain unresolved also reinforce the “disconnect” between mind and body. Trauma takes many forms: physical or emotional abuse, accident or injury, natural disaster, or seeing another abused or in pain are just a few examples. For a child, such events can be difficult to cope with if an adult or older child with sufficient empathy is not available to mitigate the circumstance. If unresolved, the event lives on in our body as something incomplete. Unresolved trauma from the past then appears in the present as the body attempts to reach resolution. Once such a pattern is set up, any similarly stressful event can trigger the old pain. If the pattern involves dissociation or addictive behaviors we either check out or reach for some substance to soothe our ragged edges. Heaven Forbid we should feel.
A FIVE STEP SOLUTION FOR THOSE MOMENTS WHEN FEELINGS GET TOO OVERWHELMING AND YOU MAY BE LOOKING TO ESCAPE:
Step One: COMMIT
Commit to place all of your attention on yourself for the next 2 minutes. Point or imagine pointing at your chest and say out loud or silently:
“I am willing and ready to focus my attention on my body and feel what it is feeling right now.”
Step Two: BREATHE
Take three slow, deep, full breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Relax and fill your belly on each inhalation, then release the breath slowly and let your jaw drop open as you exhale. Keep the out-breath natural like a soft sigh. Release the breath out through your throat, careful not to force it through your lips by blowing or pushing your exhale out. Breathe in and out rhythmically and let whatever wants to happen in your body happen. If your head wants to lean forward, let it. If your hand tightens, let it.
Step Three: SCAN
Notice what is happening in your body. Are you gripping this book tightly or are your hands relaxed? Are you squinting or straining in any way? Are you tensing up while you read? Are your shoulders and neck and jaw relaxed? Do you feel any emotion? Notice, don’t analyze. Close your eyes and scan your body. Reopen your eyes when you are ready.
Step Four: DECLARE
State aloud what you notice; declare the truth of your body. For instance, you might say: “I am noticing that my breath is shallow and my fingers are tingly.” Or, “I am noticing how relaxed my belly and chest feel.” Go ahead and say whatever comes up when you look within:
“I am noticing _____________.”
Step Five: ACT
Now, take an action that benefits you right now. For instance, if your feeling is fear, or anger or sadness, take some deep breaths and blow those feelings. If you notice that your shoulders are raised, relax them and let them drop.