“I’m most frightened to lose my mind.” A client told me when sharing her deeper fears about the consequences of long-term drug use. Whether you use drugs or fear dementia, who among us isn’t afraid to lose our minds?
My client was afraid of not controlling her own psyche, yet her drug use took her away anyway. What if we need to lose it first to understand it better? What if we need to let go of the control we think we have to really be in control? What if that is one of the greatest paradoxes of life?
What are you frightened of feeling?
Many of my clients talk of anxiety that they wish would go away. Who wouldn’t want relief from constantly feeling anxious? A daily state of inner unease. An undercurrent that doesn’t allow one to feel safe. It makes perfects sense to crave relief and freedom. Yet becoming aware of anxiety can trigger more fear—the anxiety about the anxiety. When self-awareness grows enough, you start to witness your dysfunctional patterns without all the tools to know how to manage them. Growth and change are hard. Awareness is powerful; experimenting in our coping and healing is vital in our development.
Whatever the stage, we can offer both ourselves and others compassionate kindness. When we see our need to grow but don’t yet know what to do, we can practice patience with ourselves. We can ask for support from others while we learn. It’s all process. It’s all learning. It’s all okay, even when it sucks.
Clients with a severe preoccupation with their anxiety are afraid to feel, tolerate, or soothe their anxiety. Much easier and adaptable to shift energy into overthinking, busy in their minds. I don’t have to feel it, but I will think about it. Maybe I can think my way out of it.
What if we didn’t turn away from, analyze, or get rid of the anxiety or the anger? What if, instead, we listened to and felt it?
I’m curious about a pervasive desire to avoid, numb, or get rid of the emotion. When I lead my clients toward the thing they most don’t want to feel, we feel the resistance. Why is it difficult for men to let themselves cry? Why is it difficult for women to feel and embody their anger? What is the message that we miss there?
Your anxiety. Your sadness. Your anger. Your fears.
Recently, a client, who was trying to develop ways to avoid and distract herself from her anxiety for years, was amazed at the idea of engaging with it. I was asking her to do a 180. By turning towards, instead of away from the uncomfortable feeling, we could listen in a new way. “Let’s invite your anxiety to tea,” I said, changing the tone of the interaction. “What does it want you to know?” When she listened, she heard that her anxiety asked for connection. So, in a hard time, she reached out to be more connected to her family.
From our engagement with it, she realized that feelings have messages. By becoming too avoidant and fearful of them, she missed the mysterious meaning in it. She missed knowing herself more. The anxiety was not the problem; it was the thinking about the stress that left her destabilized, with hot flashes and panic attacks. We began healing her anxiety by finding a way to make it safe enough for her to listen to herself more.
Even when some clients were feeling more stable, they were so conditioned to find the problems, the issues, or the pain that they couldn’t let themselves feel good. With one client, we started noticing how he was continuously preoccupied with searching for anxiety. When will it show up? Where is it?
We can get so fixed in our feelings that we might not let ourselves feel the changing tides. When satisfaction and joy finally arrive, can we let it be there? My client wasn’t yet able to let himself feel stable. He got so focused on the preoccupation of removing the anxiety that he had tethered himself to it. Wired to look for problems, he couldn’t let himself notice the growth and positivity he was busy building.
Sometimes we get so stuck in our places that feel familiar, even if they harm us. It is comfortable to be in what’s safe, already known, especially if we never engage with it. Growth and expansion don’t happen if we never ask ourselves different questions or dive deeper into an exploration of what we’re afraid to feel. There is gold in there. If only there weren’t so much fear.
In the words of Tara Brach, “What are you unwilling to feel?”
What messages might you be missing if you’re unwilling to feel them?