Do you know who you really are? Your immediate response may be, “Yes, of course!” Let me rephrase that: Beyond the surface, at the deepest level, who are you? It may be a question you’ve never asked yourself. Or it may be a question you’re avoiding with all your might. Why would you avoid yourself? Can you avoid yourself? As odd as it may sound, the answer is absolutely yes. In fact, you may be quite skilled at it!
How to Tell if You’re Avoiding YourselfTo the outside world, you seem to have it all. Successful career, stylie apartment, great friends. You have everything you wanted. Your life is great. Right? But you feel…unhappy and disconnected. Something is missing. It’s almost as if you’re watching someone else’s life because this surely can’t be YOUR life. This feeling of disconnection is your intuition nudging you from beneath the layers you’ve built to avoid facing yourself, that something isn’t right.
Layers of DistractionWhat are those layers between your deepest self and the surface? How did they get there? You’ve carefully constructed layer upon layer, a wall between the you that everyone sees and the real you. Your layers protect you from facing uncomfortable feelings. You distract yourself from these feelings and sensations to avoid pain. In your life, this may look like:
- Staying chronically busy and feeling like you can’t slow down. You’re always on. You add more and more to your overflowing plate. You can’t rest. How would everything get done?
- Losing yourself in your devices. You spend most of your downtime communing with your smartphone. You can’t sit at a stoplight or wait in line without looking at your phone. You’re often scrolling through the endless Facebook feed, even when the people who matter most to you are vying for your attention.
- Indulging in extreme habits. You can be on either end of the spectrum, from overeating to obsessively controlling food intake. You bury your feelings with excessive alcohol or other substances.
- Depending too much on relationships. You can’t be alone. You’re always looking for the next person to make you feel good. You panic if a friend doesn’t reply to your text immediately. You feel like you need a constant connection to someone, in order to function.
Why You Avoid YourselfYou’re doing a whole lot of work to bury your true self. Why? The root of this avoidance is fear. But what are you afraid of? The dreaded “f word.” Feelings. You’re afraid of your feelings. You’re afraid of those uncomfortable and overwhelming inner sensations that accompany your feelings. You can’t let them be. You can’t let them out. Your urge is to suppress them, to push them down, bury them deep. You think that by avoiding them they’ll go away. You’ll be so busy you’ll never have to face them. But that’s not how it works.
Where Do Suppressed Emotions Go?You’ve given those emotions a one-way ticket to “Not Dealing with It.” You go about your business or busyness. It’s all good, right? Turns out, you can’t ignore your feelings, no matter how hard you try. Those messy feelings resurface as:
- Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem
- Headaches, stomach issues, and insomnia
- Problems at work and in your relationships
What Good are Bad Feelings?You can’t drown out your emotions and expect to live a healthy, fulfilling life. Those feelings exist for a reason, and until you face them, they’ll keep showing up in the worst ways. Why are your feelings important–even the ones you’d rather not feel? Your feelings and inner sensations are your compass. They lead you toward who you really are and what you really want, and away from what you don’t want to have or be. If you’re not where you want to be in life, you’ve likely been avoiding your feelings. Your feelings give you direction, but only if you work with them and through them. By trying to tread over your feelings, you’ll choose the wrong direction, or simply stay stuck. When you learn how to process your emotions in a healthy way, your life will transform. The real you can surface. You can pursue your dreams and desires, instead of chasing after someone else’s idea of happiness.
How to Face Yourself and Your FeelingsThe process of facing your feelings isn’t complicated, though it takes work to break the routine of avoidance. The first step is awareness–being aware of your emotional state from moment to moment, and being aware of your tendency to distract yourself. Start by noticing when an uncomfortable feeling arises. What’s your automatic reaction? Don’t try to change it yet, just notice it. After a few days of observing you’re ready for the next step… Go with it. This time you’ll ride it out, instead of overriding it. Allow yourself time and space to make your way through this feeling, realizing that feelings come and go. In other words, you won’t be stuck feeling this way forever. Notice how your body reacts to this feeling:
- What changes are happening in your body?
- Does the feeling build in intensity?
- What thoughts add to its energy?
- What thoughts make the feeling weaker?
- What does it feel like as it leaves you?