Ignoring our feelings is such an easy trap

Ignoring our feelings feels like the easiest option in the moment but it stops us from nipping situations in the bid and living our lives the way we really want to live.

There are a thousand and one reasons why we ignore our feelings even when we know we shouldn’t. The one that always gets me: it’s just so much easier. Ignoring our feelings is easy, it requires doing nothing. Actually, it’s easier than that because avoidance typically involves doing something else that provides us with some immediate relief and satisfaction. The alternative, tuning into and acknowledging our feelings, seems like a lot more effort and may require us to actually do even more work to do something about what we are feeling. It makes sense why ice cream and Netflix seem like an easier choice in the moment but the signals your feelings send won’t go away and you will, eventually, have to address them. And when you do, the load will be so much heavier.

It almost feels like we’ve set up our lives in a way that minimizes the chances of us having to pay attention to our feelings. From the moment we wake up, we hurry to work and then on to some other activity, a gathering with friends or a night at home with chores or Netflix. We bring our phones with us everywhere so there’ll be no chance of being alone. With our feelings. Any time we feel anything we don’t like we can reach for an immediate dopamine-scroll-rush, sugar relief or alcohol sedative. All of these activities - the phone, sugar, alcohol - provide immediate relief. Immediate but temporary as they can’t really do anything to change what’s going on for us.

Slowing down enough to actually have a chance to listen to our feelings is terrifying. On more than one occasion i’ve had a friend tell me that they’re afraid of what they’ll find out if they lift the lid on their feelings or, god forbid, go to therapy. Acknowledging that we feel dissatisfied with work, that we actually find our friends unpleasant or that we don’t feel seen by our partner is really, really difficult. It makes sense that we ignore these feelings because these feelings are painful and doing something about them isn’t easy. And what if we admit what we feel but then don’t do anything about it? How will that make us feel about ourselves?

Our feelings exists to help guide us through life. They’re not always right but they’re definitely not always wrong either and ignoring them doesn’t let us figure out which of the two it is in this moment. If we consistently ignore our feelings we miss their early warning signals and only deal with situations when they’ve grown so acute that ignorance is no longer an option. Had we paid attention earlier we would probably have known that we wouldn’t enjoy the job we were applying to, that we needed better friends and that this relationship was probably not the most fulfilling one.

One of the biggest challenges with avoidance of feelings is that it’s most likely something we do without ever thinking about it. Over time it’s just been the way we, and I imagine most of us fall in this category, deal with uncomfortable feelings. I’ve identified a clear warning sign that i’m avoiding something. If i’ve cleaned a room that was already clean while something’s baking in the oven, there’s probably something i’m avoiding. To make sure that avoidance of feelings doesn’t become our automatic, go-to strategy for dealing with feelings we need to ensure that we’re regularly checking-in with ourselves and looking to see how we feel about what’s going on within and around us. And while we’re at it, why not check-in on your friends too?

Like what I write, have any questions or just want to say hello? Reach me via email or Twitter. I’d love to hear from you.

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