You can’t selectively numb the emotions you don’t like

by Paul Goodchild on January 29, 2015

As the title suggests, when it comes to your emotions, you can’t pick and choose.

It’s simple, but most of us are living like we’ve found the secret to happiness – ignoring all the negative feelings we have.

I’ve been taking a lot of time out in the last weeks to really dig in to where I am and how I got here.

A single article wont be enough to explain it all, but I have to start somewhere.

So I’m going to start with grief.

The simple fact is that I haven’t even begun to properly embrace the grief I’ve experienced from the recent passing of my dad and one of my childhood friends. The effects have been widespread but are most clearly seen in the joy I feel, or rather the lack of it.

It’s hard to put this into words that make sense, but hopefully by trying to do so, anyone else who feels similarly may be able to relate and perhaps in-part, start to release the strangle hold that they have on their own hearts.

Hide and Go Seek

One thing remains constant, whatever else happens, when someone as close to you as your father dies… it’s going to hurt you a lot.

After the initial shock comes the pain. I can only best describe this as a recurring feeling of gut-wrenching emptiness, loss, and loneliness. It grabs you by the stomach, catches you in your throat, and tugs at your own will to live.

Your mileage may vary.

When someone close to you passes away you have 2 options… look into the pain, let it swallow you up, and let it break you. Or, skip around the edges of the looming darkness and never ever let yourself fall in.

I have (deliberately) chosen the latter, and for over 4 years I’ve been watching the darkness from the corner of my eye… keeping it there, in sight, but out of harm’s reach.

Sometimes though, it finds me unexpectedly, and typically at the most inconvenient of times.

Several years of playing this game of hide and seek has taken its toll however.

I laugh a little less easily, and complain a little more often. This trend continues until eventually you don’t laugh anywhere near as often as you used to, or as you should. Over time I’ve let this weight grow and frankly it’s getting too heavy to carry around.

I miss Joy

I’ve realised that by playing this game and hiding from the reality of loss, I have only achieved the escape from pain by numbing other parts of me.

It’s a bit like being at the dentist – he applies a local anesthetic to your mouth to extract a tooth. But he can’t numb just that single tooth, which you discover as the numbness spreads across one half of your mouth.

Fact: Numbing your pain also numbs your joy.

Read that line at least twice more and let it sink in. When you go numb, or disconnect from your hurt, from a broken heart, you cauterize your primary source of joy.

You cannot selectively freeze parts of your heart.

For me, one of my pain points is grief, but your pain is your own and the source is whatever it may be. It doesn’t matter – what matters is whether you’re ignoring it.

Sure, there are degrees of pain, but this isn’t a competition. When someone tells you that you should “get over it”, or you should “be over it by now”, you’re talking to the wrong people.

If you pick up nothing else from this little article, you need to realise that your emotional disconnection in whatever area of your heart will directly, and increasingly over time, sap your capacity for experiencing joy.

How to get back your mojo again

As I write this article, I’m at the point where I know I need to find my Mojo again. I’ve realised the predicament I’m in, and now I just have to find the way through it.

I don’t have a 10 step plan to help you rediscover your capacity for joy. There isn’t one.

I do however have a few thoughts, a couple of clues, and some resources that might help you to reconnect with parts of yourself that you’ve maybe muted.

Habits that allow joy

I think experiencing joy is a practice, amongst other things. It is a collection of rituals established over time and with repetition.

I’m a little out of practice just now, but I see the need to pick up these habits again (or for the first time…).

Some of these are, in no particular order:

  • gratitude – there is no shortage of reports of the benefits brought on by genuine and repeated expressions of gratitude and appreciation.
  • emphasize discovery and growth of empowering relationships/friendships – focus on people who make a you priority, who are open to connect with you, and most of all don’t judge you
  • exercise compassion over cynicism
  • allow myself to be vulnerable
  • get curious

I could write a lot about each of these, and perhaps I will in time.

The point is that over time I’m seeing that the lack of joy in my life is down to being lazy about doing certain things that cultivate positive feeling and ultimately joy.

Be open to your hurt

There is a an overarching culture today of distraction. This isn’t ground-breaking news to you I’m sure.

Distraction fuels our disconnection – disconnection from ourselves, from other people, from pain.

Hiding yourself, that is your true self, away from people offers a nice comfort blanket. You simply disconnect so as not to feel pain. But when you’re not presenting your true self to the world, you also forego deeper connection. And where else better to experience joy than in the connections you have with people who love you?

Remember, you cannot selectively numb emotions – the source of joy is the same as that for pain. You can’t protect yourself from hurt and pain, and also expect to tap into the joy that comes from the same place.

Listen to people who can say all this stuff better than me

I started writing this article about 4 weeks ago. At the time I didn’t have the balls to publish it, and it’s since gone through various drafts where the content today is barely recognisable from some of the earlier revisions.

But that’s because I’ve started listening to people that can articulate far better than I ever could.

I highly recommend you go on a constructive “YouTube trail”, and start with a video from Brené Brown.

It’s actually not YouTube, but TED. Watch this video, and then once you’re done with that, watch her second TED Talk.  Then, head over to YouTube and watch her interviews until what she’s telling us eventually starts to sink in.

You wont need this article once you start listening to Brené. 🙂

Our Next Steps

If you feel a “lack” of a certain regular good feeling in your life, if you feel disconnected, feel hurt, feel a little isolated, or feel that something’s just not quite right, you’re not alone.

You are really not alone.

We can fix this.

It just takes a bit of time to realise that this is okay. And when it’s okay and we’re not denying that those feelings are there, and we’re not disconnecting from everything to avoid looking at the scary monsters hiding under our beds, we can start to do something about it.

Take time to recognise that you might be in that place. Recognise that your friends are also hurting. Recognise that people you see on the street are struggling with their problems too.

Be open with yourself first.

And then go and share it with someone special.

  • Jo

    I’m so glad that you decided to share this. It’s hard to declare your feelings to yourself never mind publicly. Thanks for sharing and inspiring yet again 🙂

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