Unpacking how our inability to move through and handle unpleasant feelings, such as sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, and vulnerability, is a massive component of what blocks people from success. Once we learn how to deal with our overwhelming or uncomfortable feelings, we begin to build the self-confidence, emotional strength, and resilience we need to lead a highly successful and fulfilling life.
This is the third of three weeks of questions to stimulate your thought and awareness about ways in which you may be distracting yourself from greater self-understanding and knowing.
1. Do you have feelings about having feelings?
Do you start to feel sad and then get angry that you are sad? Or do you feel angry, but consider anger unacceptable, and then you feel disappointed that you’re angry?
Or feel embarrassed that you’re disappointed? Having feelings about having feelings acts as a distracter from your initial reaction and most authentic feeling experience.
It acts as a second layer covering your real feelings, and that second layer creates more emotional distress and emotional problems.
There are countless variations on this theme. Does this ever ring true for you?
2. Do you engage in a lot of negative self-evaluation, negative self-talk, or harsh self-criticism, thereby turning your feelings into a mean or hateful judgment about yourself?
Many people are skilled at this form of distraction, whereby you change an unpleasant feeling into a thought or belief.
Common examples include turning a feeling of helplessness into beliefs that you are inadequate, undeserving, or worthless; or believing embarrassment is a reflection of your inherent failure.
Understand that unpleasant feelings such as disappointment or embarrassment are not reflections of your character.
How might you be converting feelings into self-destructive judgments?
3. Do you compare yourself with others?
Comparing yourself to others is a variation on harsh self-criticism. It dismisses your own experience because you are placing your focus on others instead.
The only positive reason to compare yourself to others is for aspirational purposes—in order to see yourself as able to accomplish what others have done.
Otherwise, it’s a way to distract from feeling vulnerable, disappointed, sad, or frustrated.
To whom are you currently comparing yourself? Do you do it for aspirational reasons or as a form of distraction?
4. Do you focus on one issue to distract or move away from your real concern or feelings?
I often listen to women who consistently return to fears that their respective boyfriends will leave them for other women they find more interesting.
This concern often becomes a focus when, in truth, they feel vulnerable or are preoccupied with distressing feelings or other concerns that are actually unrelated to the fears they express.
Is there a nagging fear that seems to creep up every time you find yourself facing unpleasant emotions – even if that fear is totally unrelated to your present experience?
5. Do you pay too much attention to irrelevant details in order to distract from feeling?
Rather than focus on one particular issue, you might do the opposite and get caught up in paying excessive attention to unimportant details in any given situation as a way to distract from what is really important in your life.
This kind of over-focus on details can be paralyzing because it allows you to analyze but never actually act.
Is this a distraction trap that you fall into at times?
This week’s question:
Before you put your pen and paper away, I want you to write down three distractions you have been struggling with the most.
Then at the end of the week, write down next to them what exercises you have used to best help with those distractions.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg
Just as a reminder, over these next few weeks I will be inviting you to become more aware of and identify when you are choosing distractions rather than leaning into difficult thoughts or feelings.
Write each question down on your piece of paper, then after careful thought, write down your answer!
1. Do you rely on one difficult feeling?
Is there one feeling that you either have difficulty experiencing or use to express all your unpleasant feelings, no matter what they are for you? This might mean that your reaction to most situations comes out one way – like feeling sad, for instance – even though it is quite likely you are experiencing other feelings.
For others, all reactions show up as anger, even though there are other feelings present besides just anger. When a person consistently allows only one feeling to be expressed, there is a good chance that he or she is having trouble experiencing and expressing the other difficult feelings especially at the opposite end of the continuum.
Do you rely on a default feeling? Which one?
2. Do you only allow feelings to be experienced as anxiety rather than anger, sadness, disappointment, or other unpleasant feelings?
Do you feel anxious? If you are really honest with yourself, you might realize that your anxiety is actually masking other unpleasant feelings. We’ll discuss this further, but, in my experience, I’ve found that it can seem easier to feel anxious than to feel some other unpleasant feeling (like disappointment or anger), especially when that uncomfortable feeling is directed at someone else and needs to be expressed. To be able to experience the genuine feeling that is present at the time you experience it is truly liberating. If you feel anxious a lot, is it possible you may be masking other unpleasant feelings? If so, which ones?
3. Do you question or doubt everything you experience? Do you then get into an endless loop of questioning your questions?
This approach likely leaves you feeling emotionally paralyzed and inhibits you from expressing yourself or from taking action to accomplish goals. Constant questioning and doubt are paralyzing, toxic, and distract from feeling vulnerable. Make a list of some recent questioning loops in which you were entangled or major doubts that still plague you. Choose one of your doubts, then write the feelings that seem to be driving it.
4. Do you feel confused or indecisive?
Being indecisive or claiming confusion are ways to keep from making a decision, especially if making that decision might lead you to believe you made the wrong one or to feel disappointed or embarrassed that the results of your decision didn’t live up to your expectations. Confusion and indecision are distracters. List any decisions you have been putting off because you feel confused or indecisive.
5. Do you feel stuck?
When you start to think about initiating a project or even if you’ve already begun, do you feel stuck? There can be a tendency to pause when you fear being disappointed about the outcome – and then ultimately feel disappointment because you stopped. Or you might feel stuck because you set expectations extraordinarily high. The way out of stagnation is to take action.
Start something. Commit to it and don’t stop. Just keep going. Creating momentum invites more momentum.
What project would you like to complete or what goal would you like to achieve?
What actions will you take to create moment this?
Next week, ‘Identifying-Distractions Exercises Part 3’.
This week’s questions:
How can you use your increasing awareness about distractions in this coming week?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg
The pace of summer is sometimes more laid back and a little slower. An easier pace often lends itself to great opportunities for reflection.
In light of this opportunity to reflect, grab your journal and keep it handy over the next couple of weeks as we take another look at things that keep us from connecting most fully to ourselves.
What follows are a number of questions that I simply want you to consider for yourself. Identify whether you engage in these ways and use your answers to help you come to a clearer understanding of yourself.
1. Do you use technology, screens, gaming, or devices to distract yourself?
One can get easily distracted and lost in gaming, surfing the web, and in our devices to distance from feelings and emotional conflict. Do you get lost in any of these?
2. Do you use any type of addictive or compulsive behavior to shut out or disconnect from emotional pain? List what behaviors you tend to use:
Might you engage in: compulsive or emotional eating or overeating; starving yourself; exercising excessively; abusing alcohol, street drugs, or prescription medications or steroids; compulsive shopping; or hoarding.
3. Do you use commonly known defense mechanisms to move away from painful feelings?
It’s common for someone to engage in frequent use of such defenses as denial, humor, intellectualization, and rationalization, or displacement. Do you resort to one or more of these? Which one(s)?
4. Do you transmute feelings?
In this case, you take the feelings that are hardest for you to bear and express them as other feelings.
Though it may seem like a generalization, men often struggle with the “softer” feelings of sadness, disappointment, or vulnerability, expressing them instead as anger, frustration, irritability, or rage.
Women often struggle with the “harder” feelings of anger or frustration and express them instead as hurt, disappointment, sadness, or tearfulness.
What feelings, if any, do you transmute?
My goal is to help you clear away the distractions from accessing and experiencing the full range of your feelings so that you may lead a more fully alive and more fully expressed life.
Next week, we will move on to part 2 of “Identifying-Distractions Exercises”.
This week’s questions:
How can you use these exercises this coming week?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg
How can you start relying on yourself, while feeling capable, confident, and resilient?
The first step is through awareness.
As soon as you increase your awareness and acceptance of the full range of your feelings – pleasant and unpleasant – your experience of yourself and your sense of being capable in the world starts to change in a very positive way.
Think about what you do and really take time to ponder that statement.
Once a person is able to tolerate unpleasant feelings, everything else changes, too.
There is an almost immediate experience of growth, movement, and momentum.
You are likely to feel stronger and more empowered; you become willing to speak up and have difficult conversations, take risks that once felt too difficult or frightening, and be more motivated to actively pursue dreams that previously felt out of reach.
As you heighten your self-awareness and openness to the full range of your feelings (pleasant and unpleasant), you will likely find that you’ll develop a greater capacity to tolerate, face, bear, embrace and express as much of your moment-to-moment experience as possible.
Typically, the greater your self-awareness and willingness to stay present to your experience, the more capable you become in negotiating all aspects of life.
This week’s actions step:
Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening, pause for a few moments to notice what you are thinking and feeling. Consider your thoughts and feelings as information. The next step is to identify how you would like to make use of this information – to make a decision, to express yourself, or to take some specific action.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg
My focus today is to help you think about your experiences instead of thinking them away, or acting like they don’t exist.
It may seem counterintuitive that allowing yourself to think about difficult life experiences and feel unpleasant feelings will make you emotionally stronger.
You may prefer to believe that if you don’t think about or feel emotional distress and you instead actively push it away or shut down, that you will be – or appear to be – emotionally strong.
But that’s not how it works.
Handling your thoughts and feelings in this manner just makes situations worse, and surprisingly, leaves you feeling more vulnerable.
The more you tamp down those unpleasant feelings, the worse you will feel.
Often the way out of pain is through the pain.
If you want to possess the emotional presence, emotional strength, and resulting capacity to build a closer relationship with yourself and deeper connections with others, you can.
To do so, you must be willing to ride the waves of emotion when unpleasant feelings occur.
It’s equally important to avoid reasoning or thinking away these unpleasant emotions.
By making the choice to be in touch with your moment-to-moment experiences, you will begin to open up to fully experiencing your unpleasant feelings, and learning to take them as they come.
Practicing leaning into these moment-to-moment experiences on a continuous basis can help you become more confident in your capabilities; this practice may help you more easily embrace change.
Handling difficult feelings and embracing change can also help you feel more certain that you can handle whatever you face or whatever you pursue.
As you work to cultivate this skill (leaning into your moment-to-moment experience) and attitude (embracing change) you will develop a greater capacity to create a life you desire.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg