No one wants or likes to feel pain- this is just part of the human experience. In fact, many of us end up getting caught up in how to best avoid fear, pain & rejection. While some avoidance can be healthy, such as avoidance of diving headfirst into a snake pit (bad for you and the snakes) knowing to avoid certain parts of town all help to keep us alive and thriving.
There are certain things in life we cannot avoid- taxes, student loans (had Nelnet been informed that Bin Laden owed $150,000 in student loans I can only assume he would have been found in a week or less.) On a less tangential note, we also cannot avoid emotional and physical pain, feelings of sadness and experiencing feelings of rejection.
Many of us (aware or unaware) have built up sophisticated defense mechanismsto aid in avoiding unpleasant things. This can be living in denial, over compensating, overworking, using humor to overshadow the pain and more. While we need to believe these are working in our favor ( and at times they do), the reality is the more we avoid unpleasant things the more pain and anxiety we experience.
When I was a child, I remember watching a movie called “The Blob.” The more it fed, the bigger and stronger it became. I speak of The Blob not because it’s my favorite 1950s era B/C rated horror movie, but because of it being so similar to how anxiety and avoidance feed into making the fear and discomforts even stronger.
I often get asked “how can I stop feeling this way?” and I will always answer the same “lean into it, get to know it, learn to have a working relationship with your fears & pain.”
The paradox is once we stop the exhausting cycle of trying to avoid our anxiety based fears, we begin to live and function more comfortably. Anxiety, pain, rejection are all parts of the human condition. We do not have to like these things, but we can learn to tolerate these experiences and meet the feelings with acceptance. When we avoid certain situations that make us feel scared or anxious, we begin to reinforce our brain’s physical neural networks that tell us “That’s scary and going to hurt us!” Then, when we go back to the situation, the neural network Blob has now become bigger, stronger and creates more fear around the situation which reinforces how potentially awful or dangerous it could be. We then find ourselves doing many more ultimately harmful things to avoid which cause more pain and suffering. We end up losing out on joy, personal time & energy in order to keep ourselves in a factious state of safety.
Let us say a person is anxious they will never be accepted or liked, so they hide out inside. The coping mechanism may be to avoid a situation that might “make” this belief true. Thus, they spend time away from people, declining to socialize with friends and isolating, which then creates an even stronger feeling of being an outsider and unlovable. To protect oneself from these feelings, we may tell ourselves “ I hate other people” or “I don’t need friends” while further denying and avoiding the connections we all desperately need. While we tend to believe what we tell ourselves, the feelings, anxiety and fears stay consistent.
We think of being brave as being fearless- however the opposite is far more true. The times when we have been brave, we often feel the most fear. Bravery is rooted in tolerating and accepting pain and the fears along with confronting a challenge. Once we can accept, stop trying to avoid and allow ourselves to feel the unpleasant feelings, we are pleasantly surprised at the freedom that follows along with it.
On this note, there are other things we can do to assist our system in relaxing and in a state to better attend to our anxieties:
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: