I had a conversation a few days ago with a friend and colleague about sitting with discomfort and it dovetailed so nicely with my upcoming post on emotional self-care that I had to talk about it. A few days later, I had a conversation with someone else who refuses to sit with discomfort and seems most comfortable when they convince themselves that they are a victim of circumstances or other people’s behavior. So as I talk about emotional self-care today, I will also give some examples of how these people approach their emotional health.
Emotional self-care increases our capacity and resilience to keep up with life without draining our emotional reserves. I’ve mentioned several times now that self-care is an ongoing practice. While I was researching information for this post, I saw emotional self-care compared to a pitcher of water several times. It’s easier to maintain a full pitcher by topping it off after one glass has been poured out than it is to refill a pitcher after it’s empty. That makes so much sense if the goal is maintain a full pitcher.
My friend and colleague Sarah B Rawz told me that she had just found out that sitting with discomfort is her superpower and she is so right! For as long as I have known her, she has been willing to lean into discussions and personal situations that are uncomfortable. She has such an open heart and leads conversations in ways that are less threatening for participants. I’ve been a part of these discussions and marveled at her leadership and empathy. I’m still laughing that she’s just recognizing this superpower in herself when I’ve been aware of it for years. When it comes to her own discomfort, I’ve watched her pause when she hears a new idea and then literally lean forward and say, I need to sit with this or think more about this. And I LOVE this about her!
Leaning into discomfort shortens the pain and leads to more understanding about yourself.
I just finished reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. In it, Hendricks talks about our perception of time and points out that when we contract, time moves slower. Think of when you’re in intense physical pain – you’ve been burned or stung or have a spasm - your body contracts, you hold your breath, and the pain seems to last forever. Now think about times when you’ve been able to breathe through pain and consciously relax your body. The pain dissipates more quickly, right? It’s not easy to do. But expanding yourself, taking up more space physically and emotionally with your breath, shifts our perception of time. And it works the same way with emotional pain.
When we discover something about ourselves or someone else or encounter a new idea that causes emotional pain, many of us retreat. We go into denial, stuff our emotions down with food, drugs, or another self-destructive habit. We cover the pain with anger and then misdirect our anger to give ourselves a false sense of safety. We do it out of habit and because we’ve never been taught how to process negative emotions.
I mentioned a conversation with someone else who refuses to sit with emotional discomfort. Their default way of operating in the world is to avoid responsibility and perceive every interaction as if they are a victim. It’s such an ingrained habit that even when their perceptions are gently and objectively questioned, they admit the logical fallacies and still cling to their victim status.
And this inability to process negative emotions spills over into the way they interact physically. Other people notice when they are in physical pain before they do, and once they acknowledge the pain, their reason for not alleviating it is that “a body isn’t supposed to hurt.” That’s a massive level of denial. They also stuff their emotions down with food and constant distraction and misdirect their anger at those closest to them.
Watching this play out again and again makes me sad because I can’t imagine the amount of fear that would cause someone to refuse all efforts to expand their understanding of themselves or offer empathy to others. What happened to shut down their emotional growth to the point where they avoid taking responsibility for their own life?
Fortunately, we all have a choice, whether we accept the responsibility or not. Here are 22 ways to practice emotional self-care and let go. And this short piece on practicing emotional self-care during Covid is important.