The Dirty Dozen: Why We Do Not Want To Face Feelings
Feelings! Feelings! For many people, feelings are not a favorite topic to think about or talk about. There are many reasons people refuse to take a look at their feelings. The top 12 or the dirty dozen are:
1. Feelings Hurt. I recently had a conversation with a friend who some years ago lost her husband, her buddy and best friend. At this point in her life, she would like to have another relationship. However, she knows that she is still grieving the loss of her husband. She talked about a weekend grief seminar that she attended and how much it hurt to bring up the feelings related to her husband’s illness and death. Her comment was, “I know that I need to work through some more of those feelings, but it hurts too much!” She is not alone in resisting this. Many people are reluctant to take a look at feelings because it brings the sting of the pain back to their awareness and they feel it all over again. They would rather walk around avoiding these bruises and scars than go through the process to heal them. The only problem with that strategy is that those unresolved feelings are like a brick wall around their life – and that wall is stopping many wonderful experiences.
2. I will get Hurt again. All of us have had bumps and bruises in our life. They don’t feel good! We often remember that hurt and protect ourselves from being hurt in the future. Why should we put ourselves in a similar situation, again, because we know we will be bruised one more time? The assumption is that we’ll be rejected, embarrassed, or fail again and no matter how miserable and stuck we feel, we’re going to avoid that possibility. The fear of being hurt or failing is such a big elephant that we can’t walk around it. It stops us cold in our tracks! The panic is so huge we can’t take a step to overcome it. However, focusing on the unresolved hurt, instead of healing it stops us from trying something new – a relationship, job, or our lifelong dream – because we are afraid of being hurt again. So, this is a double-edged sword – the fear of being hurt stops us and as a result we stop ourselves from receiving something new in our lives.
3. I want to be Safe. Sometimes we cling to the false belief that past experiences have taught us valuable lessons about being safe. Once hurt – never to be hurt again! I’ve heard several friends comment that they were no longer looking for a relationship, because it just wasn’t worth the emotional turmoil. I had a friend who spent 5 years adding 50 pounds to her body as a means to be safe – the logic was that if she were heavier and unattractive, she would not attract another companion and get hurt again. When she decided to take down the brick wall, the 50 pounds also melted away and a new, healthy relationship emerged. Consider that sometimes Safe is more of a personally imposed prison, instead of a shelter or sanctuary. Safe is not Safe.
4. It has become a Habit to avoid feelings, to stuff them. We are creatures of habit – unconsciously carrying out the same patterns of behavior – just because that is the way we have always done things. We follow the same pattern when we get up in the morning to get ready for work – shower, dress, eat breakfast, etc. This also applies to feelings. It becomes an accepted habit to tell ourselves that it’s ok if Joe was rude, Mary forgot my birthday, my boss took credit for my idea, or Bob didn’t keep his promise. Any one of these things can generate feelings of anger, hurt, rejection, injustice or distrust. How do we deal with these feelings? Do we say, “Oh, that’s all right, I know he didn’t really mean to do that?” Do we make excuses for the other person’s behavior – while refusing to acknowledge that there’s smoke coming out of our ears because we are so upset? Putting a false smile on our face while seething inside is a habit that is detrimental to our health. Pent-up feelings eventually explode or we become ill because we have stuffed them. Take care of yourself, deal with feelings, and live a healthy life.
5. Feelings are Messy and Out-Of-Control. We don’t want to wreck our image. Who wants to be seen as a blubbering idiot? That is soooo not cool! For some, showing feelings, particularly sad or painful ones is not acceptable. For some really cool cats, showing any kind of feelings – happy or sad – is not acceptable. Some people go through life in neutral – not being exceptionally happy or very, very sad. They don’t allow themselves to experience the extremes either way – but choose to stay the middle course where strong feelings don’t exist. It’s cleaner that way. Everything stays in place and control, like a super tidy house with everything always perfectly in place. In those houses one often wonders where the stuff of everyday living is hidden. Likewise, with people living in neutral, one wonders whom this person is since there is no expression of feelings to indicate likes, dislikes, joy or sadness, or any other feelings exhibited by humans. There is nothing of the wonderful complexity of a human being to share and enjoy.
6. Feelings are Unexpected. Someone trips our trigger, or pushes our button and our emotions rage. We find our anger flaring, our gut in a knot and a string of expressive words roaring out of our mouth. We find we cannot stop the string of words – they flow like a flood – with such force that we are stunned at the sound of our own voice. We all have trigger points and when the button is pushed we respond as if on automatic pilot. It happens in an instant and the strength of the feeling drives us beyond our usual behavior. There is often a person, a specific situation, or a perceived injustice that serves as the trigger. However, this happens to all of us at one time or another. It is part of being human.
7. Society tells us to be Logical and Reasonable – not emotional. Culture has taught to value science, math, logic and reason. We have not been encouraged to notice and value feelings. Many people feel threatened by feelings strongly expressed. This is true whether it’s raging anger with yelling and screaming or pure, glorious happiness – beaming with joy. When observing strong feelings, some people are very uncomfortable and don’t know how to respond to these extremes. They often don’t know how to express their own feelings – so they are uncomfortable when others express these strong feelings. This aversion to feeling is like being stuck in neutral – feeling little joy, little pain – just huddled in the mundane everydayness of living. In neutral, one loses both the joys and sorrows of living. We are more alive when we feel and express the full range of feelings. Being aware of feelings makes living more intense and sometimes that is the very reason we avoid feelings. We are afraid the magnitude of feeling will overwhelm us.
8. Feelings Interfere With Life – one can’t work, concentrate, focus, etc. when feelings are raging. Members of my family recently had some health challenges and in the midst of the illnesses I found my concentration lacking, my interest waning and a general inability to function. When one has a concern about the health and well-being of a loved one, the priorities change and what was once important ceases to be of consequence. All that matters is the healing of the family member. This kind of intense feeling is draining, leaving you exhausted and without energy. The ordinary functions of living seem unimportant. In these situations, we can be expected to be pre-occupied and anyone else who has experienced this understands this.
9 We are in a Pity Party. Feeling sorry for oneself has many benefits. It keeps you from really looking at those feelings and doing something about them. Very possibly, it can bring lots of attention from others, who are sincerely interested in helping you to get off the party wheel. For what happens in a pity party is that you don’t want to stop the wheel. It is too much fun to go round and round, wallowing in the muck of feelings and maybe blaming someone or something else for the situation. I know this game and have played it – sometimes for long periods of time and sometimes I’ve been strong enough to kick myself in the rear and boot myself out of it. This party is actually not much fun, pretty depressing, and certainly keeps one stuck in the mud. We’re so focused on feeling sorry for ourselves that we can’t see any options to making the situation better or any way of moving ourselves forward. We are very busy keeping the party alive. However, this is a destructive party and I encourage all to end it.
10. There is a Benefit or Payoff to keeping feelings intact. When we hang onto negative feelings, there is some benefit or payoff that we are getting from doing that. The question is “What is the benefit?” Sometimes being hurt gets the attention of giving people, whereas if we are happy we don’t get as much sympathy. Even better, people do things for us they wouldn’t do if we were happy. Also, if we believe we don’t have the ability to get that degree or a better job, then it keeps us from putting ourselves at risk of failing. We proved we didn’t fail, but we also proved that we were too afraid to risk winning. The payoff – it keeps us exactly where we are in comfortable safe territory where we never have to stretch and grow. This lack of decision could be a life-threatening payoff. It could keep us in situations in which we feel no excitement, fulfillment or meaning in our lives. How many times have you seen people who are like the living dead? They are walking through life without living. There is always a payoff for not facing feelings. Feeding the payoff is a fear that is bigger and more powerful than taking steps for positive change.
11. We don’t understand the Benefits Of Healing feelings. Anger, rejection, or any other hurtful feelings are rocks that we are dragging through life. Sometimes if we’ve carried the bruise for a long time, they become boulders that literally stop us from moving forward at all. We shut down our heart, make wimpy decisions, fail to take action, and limit our choices and options. They stop us from fully living our lives. We put on hold our potential for a loving, fulfilling, happy life. Trust me, there are great benefits in healing.
12. We see no Hope of ever healing feelings. If we think we cannot heal them, we will probably not even try. If we believe the hurtful ones are an inevitable part of our life and cannot be changed, that will be our reality. Let’s be real – life will bring pain and it will bring joy. We can take the feelings from these experiences and use them to grow or we can use them to stop ourselves. Feel it to heal it! Don’t drag feelings up from the deep only to let them float in top of the water and sink your boat. Allow them to surface, notice them with the intent to heal them, and process them until they heal. The process outlined in I.M. Heart works. I’ve lived it. I am in process. Is it always easy, painless, and quick? No, it is a process – just as life is a process – but the benefits of staying the course are great.