Stop Running from Your Demon
We are exploring the benefits and the “how-to’s” of getting more in touch with our bodies and sensations. Previous installments available here.
I’ve been promising a blog post on exactly how to get more fully in touch with your feelings and your body. My thoughts on the subject stalled out until I realized that I was approaching it upside down. Instead of suggesting to you how to feel your feelings, I want to invite you to notice what you may have been doing to avoid feeling.
Actually, feeling our sensations and emotions is the most natural, automatic thing in life. Animals do it all day long without any books, therapy, or blogposts! The only reason it’s even a topic for discussion is that so many of us who have experienced trauma or dysfunctional childhoods have unconscious strategies and behavior which diminish our awareness and keep us from fully feeling our sensations and emotions.
Why would we do that?
The answer is really simple. In those earlier extremely uncomfortable or painful situations, to feel fully was completely overwhelming and scary. To feel fully might have threatened your life or sanity. To feel fully became a scary “demon” in your psyche, something to avoid. You were actually brilliant to come up with ways to not feel fully such fear and pains as the rejection, neglect or criticism by your parents, the hurt and fear over being bullied at school, the anguish of any kind of molestation or rape, or the nearly unbearable loss of a lover or family member at any time in our lives.
So the fact that you found ways to survive these traumas and pain was a very good thing, a measure of your determination to survive and find meaning in your life, despite the challenges. The problem is, years later, that you don’t have all the “equipment” you were born with. Some of your sensing apparatus is partially shut down or numbed out. Without that functioning as life intended, you may often feel lonely, empty, joyless, or have a sense of not liking yourself.
So the question of how to come back to life more fully is not about learning some new technique. It is about recognizing how you learned to run from your demons, what you learned to do to numb and mask your feelings, and then to become aware and willing enough to quit doing those things, to stop running. Once you do that, you won’t have to go looking for your feelings. They will be there, arising naturally, trustworthy, to offer you guidance.
Here are some of the common strategies and behaviors many learned as children or young adults. These worked to make pain or anxiety tolerable in the past, but now may be numbing your aliveness and diminishing the quality of your life.
- Getting heady – over-thinking and analyzing your problems and issues, reading books endlessly, living as if you believe that learning and thinking will return to you a sense of being in control.
- Catastrophizing – worrying, ruminating, imagining bad things that could happen to you or your loved ones. It’s a way to try to brace for misfortune. Problem is, the vast majority of such things won’t ever happen and in the meantime, you’ve missed opportunities to enjoy the present.
- Regret or shame – focusing on the dramas of the past and what you imagine to be wrong with yourself or what you think you should’ve done differently. Again, it removes you from the present moment experience, including opportunities for love or joy.
- Denial – avoiding noticing and dealing with important problems, contradictions, or hypocrisies in ones life, even some that friends could probably point out to you if you’d let them.
- Blame – much like shame, but with a focus on someone or something else; a parent, a partner, an institution, or a group of people. It doesn’t matter how right or justified you are. Blaming anyone or anything will keep your attention away from feeling and healing your own uncomfortable feelings.
- Being the victim – Closely related to blame, victimhood usually starts with some all-too-real childhood victimization. However, by adulthood or middle-age, it has become a life strategy for avoiding the challenge of taking responsibility for one’s own life and healing. Author/teacher Eckhart Tolle says, “When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.”
- Dysfunctional relationships – including drama, power-struggles, abuse, codependency, and the blame and victim mentioned above. All these keep emotions so stirred up that the old habits of thought and feelings continue to dominate. With all the dramatic episodes, there’s little space left to experience anything new, vulnerable, or emotionally intimate.
- Addiction – to a process, like sex without connection, or to a substance like alcohol. Addiction numbs pain or enhances pleasure. The effects are temporary and leave a negative residue, such as dependency, physical harm, or a further reduced capacity to feel normal, healthy feelings.
- Dissociation – a number of ways our psyche removes us from having to fully experience what is happening, from unconsciously denying some fact or feeling, psychically leaving our bodies during a rape, or developing multiple personalities as a way to cope with trauma.
- Busyness – staying hyperactive, rarely slowing down, always on the run. And if the physical activity slows, the mind remains agitated and busy. Busyness can serve to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay for a lifetime.
Do you recognize any of your strategies in this list?
If so, then here’s the very important next step. Go easy on yourself. Remember that these strategies and behaviors came out of a need to survive trauma, abuse, or dysfunction…a sane response to an insane circumstance. If you’re seeing more clearly now how these old habits are not congruent with the life you want to live, avoid judging and be gentle with yourself. The more lovingly you can treat yourself at this phase, the easier it will go.
You won’t be able to let those old habits all go quickly, however earnest your intention. The healing strategy is to release these a little at a time so the transition is not too distressing. It’s a lifestyle I’m suggesting, not a technique…a lifestyle where you often ask, “am I doing something right now to avoid feeling or being present? Am I willing to stop that for the moment and notice what I actually am feeling?” Then watch and listen to your inner sensory and emotional experience with gentle curiosity. You don’t have to do it “right” or all day long to notice that this will gradually help you regain your birthright; your emotions along with your sense of empathy, compassion, desire, intuition, and danger.
I’ve tried to make this process sound straightforward because I want as many as possible to make this journey and experience the very real breakthrough benefits available…no less than reclaiming your life from the trauma that has plagued you. But it may be daunting at times. Along the way, many of the old scary feelings you were trying to avoid as a child will arise. Your demon will try to persuade you that this is a very bad idea and that you should quickly return to your previous ways. It will claim those old habits were working just fine to keep you safe and it will sound convincing. After all, you’ve been listening to that inner voice all your life. It’s like an old friend with lots of opinions and advice. But if that friend’s advice hasn’t led you to happiness, fulfillment, safety, joy, and open-heartedness by now, maybe it’s time to try something else.
Instead, at least some of the time, resist the urge to go back to old habits and explore what happens inside. It can be challenging at first. Contact me if you want a helper. The practice is to be present to and accepting of the feelings which arise when you stop running, as best as you are able. The more you practice this, the more you will discover the core pain or wound you developed those strategies to avoid…the demon you felt compelled to run from. Your demon was never a force of evil, just an aspect of yourself that you or your caregivers judged unacceptable. I’m fond of telling my clients that anything you banish to the far corner of a dark cellar for several decades is liable to look pretty ugly and angry. As you invite the demon back into your life, with loving acceptance, that demon will heal. You’ll learn to stop, turn, face it, befriend it, and discover the gifts it actually has for you.
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