There is a secret ingredient to your problems that might surprise you. It’s called avoidance. Our minds come up with a lot of ways to help ourselves deal with everyday life. A lot of the time, it says that when we make ourselves feel better, this is a good thing. So we spend a lot of time not wanting to experience any discomfort if we can help it. But, most of the time the things we do to avoid discomfort create problems of their own. We work so hard to avoid dealing with negative feelings that we create many problems. Over time, these avoidant activities can take on a life of their own – leaving us with the original problem AND our unhelpful way of dealing with it. Hiding in a little box like this kitten!
Do an experiment: Take a problem that you have, whatever it is. Now, think of what would make that situation better. NOW, ask yourself what stops you from doing that. If the answer is another problem, ask yourself the same questions. Eventually, you will get down to what thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, (any private, internal experience) that you are avoiding.
Here are some examples of avoidance- see if you have ever done any of these things:
- Procrastinating to avoid doing something, or avoid the distress that comes when you can’t do it perfectly/my way/all at once.
- Avoiding working on difficult relationships because of having to address problems and possibly deal with fears of abandonment, vulnerability, blame, guilt, anger, etc.
- Avoiding things that require too much effort – like working out, hobbies, etc.
- Letting opportunities go to avoid fears of failure or change.
- Being self-destructive to avoid emotional pain.
- Abusing substances to avoid boredom, emotional pain, or withdrawal.
Notice anything interesting? The problem is not the uncomfortable internal experiences you have, it’s how you choose to approach them. Waiting to feel better in order to make your life better is like waiting for an illness to subside before you treat the illness.
My next post will look at a perspective that helps make some sense of what is a helpful approach to these problems. For now, stop and ask yourself, “What am I avoiding?”