Mansurat is a creative writer, certified meditation teacher and shadow work guide. She writes on self-healing, wellbeing and mental health
You must have come across advice from experts that encourages you to face your feelings and emotions in order to heal from emotional avoidance. And perhaps, this approach seems so hard and impossible. This is understandable because acceptance or facing your feelings and emotions may mean reliving them.
The truth is your resistance and fears are valid. And the best part is, you can heal from it without having to relive your experiences. However, you must first be sure that what you are experiencing is indeed emotional avoidance.
What Does Emotional Avoidance Look Like?
A lot of people are like my friend, Olive. The last time she had a fight with her boyfriend, he complained of how he felt so distanced from her. Olive has become someone who stays in a room without really being there. Whenever her boyfriend narrates a troubling event where he was treated badly or an event that may induce a tough emotion, she tries to change the topic.
Emotional avoidance makes it hard for people to feel certain emotions, including love. This often has a big and negative influence on their relationships. Infact, most people learn about their avoidance from their family, friends and loved ones.
There are lots of ways people numb or repress their emotions. This avoidance can be expressed as:
1. A dependence or addiction to alcohol and drugs
2. Keeping a distance from people, things, events and places
3. Distancing from loved ones
4. Weakened memory
5. Lack of interest in the affairs of your friends and family
6. Eating away your feelings and emotions or binge eating
7. Indulging in dangerous activities
8. Suicidal ideations
9. Spending to push away your feelings and emotions
Things To Do To Heal Emotional Avoidance
"The harder we resist, the more intense and persistent our thoughts and feelings get." Says, Michelle Maidenberg, Anxiety Expert.
Think of emotional avoidance as you constantly imprisoning your feelings and emotions because you hate to see them. You are like the dictator in this arrangement and sooner than later, your emotions will either stage a protest, or a riot or even orchestrate a prison break.
It is necessary to take measures to prevent the eruption of such chaos within you. Here is a step by step process that can help you heal emotional avoidance.
1. Identify, Accept and Validate Your Avoidance
The healing process is kickstarted the moment you admit that there is a problem and seek ways to solve it. Once you have identified the ways in which you avoid your emotions, accept them. You probably do not want to do this. It's going to sound the alarm somewhere in you and create these same feelings you do not want to be associated with.
Here's a technique to help facilitate the process:
a. Try lying flat on your back or sitting up
b. Close your eyes if you please
c. Focus on your breathing till you feel your entire body tilt towards a state of calmness
d. Drive your mind back to the last event where you ran from your emotions
e. Don't visit this moment as you but as a third party
f. Observe the situation
g. Try to understand what made you uncomfortable at that point
This may or may not help with acceptance but it will give you a clearer level of awareness.
2. Use Affirmations
At this point, you must have come face to face with your pattern of avoidance and affirmations can now help with the mental shift. Take yourself back to the last event and tell that version of you what it yearns to hear. You may not know what to say immediately but just stare at yourself long enough. Listen to the aches that may be oozing from your heart.
The following are affirmations that you can make use of:
a. My feelings do not exit to hurt me
b. My feelings are working for me not against me
c. This emotion is a message from my body
d. My body knows what's best for me
e. I'm safe now, safe enough to feel this
f. I dissociated from this feeling/emotion because of… event
g. I'm home now
h. I'm not scared of my feelings or emotions
I. I can work with and work through what I feel
j. Beyond these sensation is peace and strength
k. I cannot run away from my feelings and emotions
l. I can lock this away but not forever
m. Now is a good time to start processing this
It's okay to repeat it as many times as you like. You can come up with affirmations that you feel will resonate better with you. Say them with your eyes closed for a better effect.
3. Become Your Own CCTV
You can now see, feel and hold your feelings. The weight you cast aside is back. Now, distance yourself from it, not from yourself. More like, step back. The goal of this step is to serve as your own surveillance.
Drive your mind back to any event in the past where you felt you could not show up as your best self because you had trouble feeling certain things. Patiently observe. Do this exercise with several other past events. You'll notice the pattern is the same.
Take note of the points you started to react, instead of respond. At what points did your walls become more visible and difficult to penetrate. When did you stop listening because you had to talk in order to distract yourself from what you felt?
4. Estimate The Expenses Avoidance Creates
Imagine the line of events that would have played out if you did not run from the emotions that chased you? What if you waited to take off the scary mask? Try to do that in your head.
This is the point where you take off your blindfold. You'll see that the emotions you were scared of were not as scary as you thought but rather, the masks it carried. The mask is what you have to take off. Start by taking off yours. Commit to this. Try to not pretend, ignore and cast away your own feelings. Wear it bravely. When you put it on, the lense in which you view all that scares you changes completely.
5. Retell Your Story
You are being held hostage by the events that taught you to dissociate. Free yourself from its hold by retelling your story. You are no longer at its mercy as the power dynamics have shifted. It's no longer an ambush of you. You get to decide how the story is told now.
This has nothing to do with lying or deceiving yourself but rather editing the tone in which you use in speaking of these events. Retell it by editing out the shame and guilt. Forgive yourself if you were an accomplice of your pain. Release the shame if you had no say in it. You should not feel shame for something you had no power over.
Retell your story by saying it as it happened, without the unorganized attachments your emotions created. Tell it from a place of power. And whenever you encounter avoidance in an interaction with someone, quickly remind yourself of how it all started from one event. Resist the temptation to wear a mask. Be consistent with this till it becomes a practice and you heal.
True healing will require you to be proactive and this involves opening up to yourself. Emotional avoidance affects all areas of life and dents the way you view the world. Healing the need for avoidance takes time and effort but it's always worth it. Start your healing journey with one step. A series of simple steps is all it takes.
© 2022 Mansurat Zakari