I have been thinking recently about the ways in which we avoid emotions and feelings. One of the reasons for avoiding feelings is to cope with feeling vulnerable. We live in a world where being happy and cheerful seems to be the primary goal, and this can be achieved, so the media tells us, by changing ourselves. Brene Brown talks about this in her ‘Vulnerability’ video on Youtube. There are so many opportunities for us to feel vulnerable in life. She asked via a tweet what makes people feel vulnerable and had 150 responses in 90 minutes. For me it’s when I have to admit I can’t do something, when I think my memory is failing me, or when I go shopping for clothes. I wonder what makes you feel vulnerable?
So we cover up those feelings of inadequacy, and protect ourselves using work, food, drugs, alcohol, sex……anything that numbs the emotions. What’s your faviourite way to numb? Perhaps, raging is a way to avoid really feeling. Perhaps it gives us a quick way to feel powerful, when we are feeling powerless underneath. And once we develop the pattern, everyone around us almost expects this of us. They tiptoe around in an effort to stop us raging. In the meantime, all other emotions have been covered up by the rage. We call that rage ….anger.
Is rage the same as anger?
To me it’s a very different beast. Anger is a feeling, essential and vital to every human being. It’s not an action, it’s a feeling we can ‘sit’ in, and experience. It tells us that something or somebody is making us feel vulnerable. We need it and we don’t want to suppress it. Rage is something else – it’s unhealthy, it damges us and others close to us.
So back to numbing….
Brene Brown talks about how the ‘wholehearted ones’ (those of us who feel valued, feel worthy, and connect in an emotionally healthy way with others, do this by allowing themselves to be vulnerable. You see, although we want to numb the ‘negative’ feelings, it’s not possible to be selective in what we numb. We know that anti-depressant medication may be very effective in numbing the feelings of sadness and fear, but at the same time they numb feelings of joy and empowerment. We say it’s vital to feel the full range of feelings. There are no negative or positive feelings, although of course we’d like to feel some more often than others. It’s just that, without the sadness, fear and hurt, we don’t recognise the joy, peace and happiness in life.
People I meet
A client I saw recently mentioned the amount of alcohol he was drinking daily. Once we started to discuss other substance misuse, we got onto Pepsi Max, tea and coffee. He is actually imbibing large quantities of caffeine every day, alongside the alcohol, and a prescribed anti-depressant. Difficult to imagine how this person can feel any emotions, with all that numbing.
So here’s the message
Experience your feelings. Don’t be afraid of them. Feel vulnerable. And this will allow you to get close to others, appreciate life – warts and all.