As humans, we seek pleasure and want to do things that feel good. Also, as humans, we avoid things that don’t bring us pleasure or make us feel bad, also called emotional pain. As a result, we often seek out pleasure, not for pleasure’s sake, but to avoid pain. Unfortunately, this often leads to negative habits with far reaching consequences.
Here are some examples of attempting a pleasurable experience to avoid emotional pain:
- We got reprimanded at work by our supervisor. Feeling embarrassed or bad about the situation our mind turns to food. We eat to numb the negative emotions. The instant result is pleasure as we consume the food. There is an actual chemical reaction in the brain that makes us feel good. We’ve chosen to pacify our bad feelings, however, shortly after we feel guilty for eating the food and then to pacify those feelings, we eat again, and the cycle repeats. Over the long run this results in an array of health and weight issues.
- We get into an argument with our partner. To “calm our nerves” we turn to a cigarette, a drink, a drug. These substances affect our brain chemistry and temporarily provide relief. Once the substance works out of our system, the emotional pain returns, and we reach for another cigarette/drink/etc. The fall out from this behaviour can be relationship issues, self-esteem issues, financial issues, which create a repetitive cycle.
- We’re bored and scroll through our favourite online store on our phone. We get a “high” from clicking “add to cart” and following through with completing the order. This can create financial issues. There’s a temporary high to avoid feelings of boredom, but then guilt and other stress rises shortly there after, creating a cycle.
You can see that many of our repetitive behaviours can lead to addictions.
Life is a mix of pain and pleasure. We navigate pain and pleasure through comparison. We compare one experience with another and then decide if the current experience is painful or pleasurable. How do we get through the pain and grow so we can come out the other side and enjoy the pleasure as pleasure, as opposed to seeking pleasure to avoid pain?
We must bring awareness to repetitive behaviours as a way to deal with negative emotions. It’s important to understand how we deal with our negative emotions in an objective way, not a judgemental way. Some people don’t know why they eat, drink, shop.
Rest assured there are ways to learn to feel emotional pain without the need for a repetitive or addictive behaviour. It is better to feel the negatives, deal with the situation, and then we are able to move past the situation and get back to the good stuff.
Here are four ways to create a healthy relationship with emotional pain:
- Take some deep breaths and just be present in your body several times per day. Just be observant: How does your body feel? Is there any place that is uncomfortable or painful? Can you adjust your physical position to be more comfortable? Sit and be with your body as often as possible. Overtime, you will notice discomforts and learn to listen to your body.
- Pay attention to how pain shows up in your life. Take a pause. This is the moment when you can examine your habit cycle. Is there a pattern to this pain showing up? Is it specific to a situation, a relationship? Take time to be observant about your pain cycles. Once you understand your cycle, you can change it.
- Know that within cycles of pain, are lessons for growth. This pain is guiding you to an outcome. Think about the situation and what would be the most pleasurable choice/response/action? An example may be needing to remove a toxic person from your life. Initially you may not see that as “pleasurable,” however, the sense of relief will be exhilarating.
- Listen to your intuition, your inner voice, search for the positive voice within you. This is your “inner wise self” speaking directly to you. For some, this may come through a spiritual practice or a meditation. For others, it comes from sitting quietly for a few minutes. (This builds on number one above). In this space, allow the pain to surface and give it all the room it needs to express itself emotionally. Be open to your intuitive guidance. This exercise improves over time. Be patient and you will hear your inner voice speak to you.
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