Uncomfortably numb

Dead tree in desert landscape

Hi everyone

I’m not a fan of reality television but some of the human interest shows make for compelling viewing don’t they? I came across a show called Interventions a while back which follows the lives of people who struggle with addictions.

The show documents the build up to an intervention by loved ones to try and save the protagonist from themselves. Tough love is the order of the day, and that’s hard. It’s heartbreaking watching the struggle to bring the addicted person back to reality, when that’s exactly what they’re trying to escape!

While the drama and angst unfolded, I reflected on this drive to numb ourselves to strong emotions. It’s pretty universal isn’t it. Most people who listen to Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd (1979) can relate in some way to this need – even though the meaning of the lyrics is not exactly clear! Hello psychedelics in the 70s…

Why do we struggle with strong emotions? Well, obviously they are darn uncomfortable mate! Two biggies I’ve danced around with from time to time are anger and frustration. For a lot of my young adult life I was out of touch with my anger, and definitely not aware how frustrated I was about many, many things. The problem is, if you ain’t a fan of a feeling, you numb it. I wasn’t into drugs or stuff like that but I definitely used work, exercise and food to take away unpleasant emotions.

What’s the harm you say? Working hard is good right, and exercise…..that’s beneficial for you isn’t it, and who doesn’t enjoy nice food? Yes, of course, if it’s all done in a balanced way and with the right motivations. It’s only a problem when you use certain activities to stop feeling things that you need to experience to know what’s going on in your life.

Emotions are there for a reason, and they give us useful information about needed changes in our lives. It’s also important to realise that your feelings are not objective facts about what’s happening in the world. Just because you feel something doesn’t mean it’s true, but it does mean that something is happening internally that you need to sort out. Even if you have to shift your reactions to align with reality in a healthier way!

However, if we’re busy avoiding our emotions, that’s not helpful folks. The other kick in the teeth is, numbing unpleasant emotions lumps the positive ones in as well. So goodbye joy, love, enthusiasm, pleasure, compassion and well, you get the picture! Numbing flattens the whole emotional landscape of a person and that’s not good!

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” (Brené Brown)

It’s worth thinking about your own patterns of avoidance. Notice when you repeatedly distract yourself from certain emotions – hello to many hours of cute cats on the internet! Attempt to get more comfortable being uncomfortable by sitting with a sensation for a bit longer than you normally would, if it’s manageable. Try and make friends with it, and hear what it’s saying to you. It could be useful information that moves you away from something or towards something else.

Then watch the colours of your life get bolder, clearer and more interesting like a patchwork quilt, with a little less grey. Listen to your feelings so you can make good decisions about what’s hurting you and what’s not, and whether you should change the way you are responding to the world. And if you walk into a room and a whole bunch of your friends and family are sitting there waiting for you, with tissues and crumpled bits of paper, you’re probably in a reality TV show. Good luck!

Take care and be kind to each other


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