In an attempt to feel better, many of us avoid the circumstances or emotions that feel bad. For example, if you have social anxiety, you probably avoid social situations to lessen that anxiety. You may avoid feelings by watching TV, playing games, sleeping, or using substances.
The problem is that avoidance numbs out the pain for now at the cost of increasing that anxiety and adding depression in the long-term. The more we avoid what is uncomfortable, the more we lessen our belief that we can handle it in the future. This decreases our self-confidence and ability to feel the wide range of emotions naturally available to us.
"Emotional compression" is the term used to describe this phenomenon, and it can be defined like this- when you avoid feeling hurt, you shut out your ability to feel joy. You compress and inhibit good feelings for the sake of "bad" ones.
You have a range of emotions, and when you decide, “I only want to feel the ‘good’ emotions, like joy, pleasure, and happiness,” then you delete the side of the emotional spectrum that includes sadness, fear, loneliness, jealousy, etc.
What then happens as a result of this is that the whole spectrum becomes smaller, still including the ‘negative’ feelings you wanted to avoid. Now you have the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ sides of the emotional spectrum, but less of each.
You simply cannot select which emotions you want to feel, but you can numb out overall. This numbing of emotions leads to decreased mental health. You end up feeling less.
Being fully alive is to feel all emotions, and meaningful life will include pain as well as joy.
What are some helpful ways to lift your avoidance patterns and improve self-esteem?
You can start by beginning to emotionally open, thereby expanding your emotional capacity. This means acknowledging the painful emotions that come up for you and allowing them to be there.
This skill is called "willingness" and is defined by giving yourself permission to be open to your own emotional experience, even when it hurts. This can also mean paying attention to the times that you feel joyous and content.
The goal is not to get better at feeling better, but to get better at FEELING. By opening up to pain, it makes hard emotions like sadness, grief, and anxiety more comfortable. Think about it like a Chinese finger-trap. The more you struggle against it, the more trapped you get, so release the struggle with your emotions, and let yourself feel. To find out more or receive a personalized counseling session, contact Orlando Thrive Therapy at 407-592-8997.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.