By Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapist. Printed with the permission of the author who retains copyright.
Can you imagine a life without one of your five senses? Maybe, but it certainly isn’t something you would joyfully embrace. Even if having all five senses means you sometimes see, smell, hear, touch, or taste things that elicit a negative reaction, you understand the gift of having all five far eclipses those unpleasant moments.
Being human comes with the ability to experience life in many different ways, through a body, a brain, and a spirit. You may not always think so, but your emotional range is also a gift. Though you will face negative feelings on and off throughout your life, you probably would not give up the ability to feel simply because, sometimes, emotions are incredibly painful or challenging.
There are many ways people try to avoid unpleasant feelings, and addictions top the list. Engaging in obsessive-compulsive or addictive behavior pushes unpleasant thoughts and feelings out of conscious awareness. Sometimes, that can seem like paradise; unfortunately, the long-term negative effects outweigh the short-term gains of numbness and forgetting, as once the drug or activity is over, all those painful feelings come back. Let’s face it, if addictions really worked, we would all be addicts. Who doesn’t want a bit of relief from life’s stresses? The problem is they are a short-term fix. It takes great courage to move through dark emotions but ignoring them, or sweeping them under the cognitive rug, just makes them less accessible for healing.
How can you make it safe to feel emotions that potentially trigger a sense of devastating loss, wild rage, or deep depression? By cultivating the inner, loving parent who is always there to comfort, protect, and remind your inner child how you are a spiritual being having a human experience.
Life’s trials don’t come with a manual, so you can’t always figure out what the lesson is. Patience, and faith in yourself will reveal their purpose, even if it is simply to show you how much you can bear.
Developing confidence in your ability to deal with all your feelings only comes from practice.
First, allow what is true for you now. Give yourself a cosmic permission slip to feel everything without judgment or censorship.
Breathe into your emotions. Tell yourself it’s OK to experience whatever is true for you now. You may not like it, but you can handle it.
Next, remind yourself of other times when you thought you couldn’t stand something, but did. Allow that memory to access feeling empowered, courageous, and competent. If you can, use all five senses to fully remember the details of your experience.
Talk gently and lovingly to the frightened part of yourself, your inner child, who doubts his or her ability to face this challenge. Tell that little soul you are here for her. You can protect and support her. Use a litany of reassuring phrases, like: “It will be OK. I am with you, and I always will be. Everything is fine. You are safe. I love you..” Say these over and over again until they come unbidden, calming, and soothing your inner child.
When the situation has passed, be sure to give yourself and your inner child credit for bravely weathering the storm.
Another useful strategy is to view your urge to self-medicate with an addictive behavior as an invitation to plumb your depths. Ask yourself: What am I trying to avoid by engaging in this activity? Is it a situation, a relationship issue, or a life decision (like a career choice or a move)?
The more frequently you remember to use these techniques, the more quickly you will assimilate them into your inner dialogue. In time, you will notice how loving, non-critical self-statements are your coin of the realm. Your cognitive default becomes a string of supportive phrases that help you navigate all the vicissitudes of life.
On a more mundane level, there are many things you can do to build up your resilience to stress. Eating high quality, nutrient dense foods, taking appropriate supplements (like vitamin D3 if you live in a Northern state), sleeping enough, moving your body, adopting some type of meditative or spiritual practice, and surrounding yourself with supportive, open-hearted people.
In addition, you may want to make a list of activities that energize you and another of those that enervate you. This will enable you to choose more from the former and fewer from the latter, designing a life that sustains you, body and soul.