We often misunderstand emotions. I have written elsewhere that emotions “have three main functions: To motivate actions, to communicate to others, and to communicate to ourselves. Without our ability to be motivated we wouldn’t go to work, eat, have sex or play! We wouldn’t enjoy anything without emotions.”
Many of us like positive feelings, but we are not so hot on the painful ones. We shun, stifle and ignore painful feelings in many creative ways. It is known in the psychological community that we cannot ignore painful feelings without also shutting down our capacity to experience positive ones.
How Emotions Arise in Our Experience
When it comes to pain, “The catch is that the pain has to be dealt with! Whether direct pain from an offense, or pain from not having legitimate needs met, we can end up coping by using a proxy—a substitute. These can range from porn, to self-obsession, to depression, blaming, or bouts of anger.”
So where do emotions arise in our experience? They come from a combination of implicit (unconscious) memories that are activated by present experiences and physical sensations. Not all emotions are unconscious, yet much of the information that elicits them is.
It is this information we are often trained to ignore by our culture, and yet emotions have been found to give rise to wise decisions. “Lack of emotions leads to self-destructive and dangerous behavior. People who lack emotion don’t lead well-planned logical lives in the manner of coolly rational Mr. Spocks. They lead foolish lives.”
Ignoring Painful Feelings
This is a huge problem for the addicted community. Addicts are often dealing with, or ignoring painful feelings with a “proxy”, and it is clear that if they do that they will shut off positive experience, and likely make poor decisions as they ignore much of the important information they are receiving about their experience. Addiction then, is anathema to healthy emotional functioning and a rewarding life!
The importance of understanding what you have just read is huge. You have just read this: Your emotions have to be experienced for you to live a healthy life and make good choices. If you do not appreciate this then engaging with your emotions will only make sense when it seems like it will be a positive (pleasurable) experience. If you do appreciate it, you will realize that engaging your emotions whether positive or negative (pleasurable or painful) is vital.
Many of us are not taught coping strategies to deal with painful feelings and subsequently can’t tolerate them long enough to learn what is happening in our lives to create our experience.
For example, when a friend doesn’t show up we may simply think, “they are mean—they hate me”, rather than appreciating, “they were forgetful, and it made me feel like I used to when my parents would forget to pick me up, and I hate the shame and loneliness I used to feel that made me think I was worthless.”
Slowing down and understanding that the painful feelings I have when my friend doesn’t show up touches on my past experiences (for example), will help me realize that they can still care about me, and that sending them a vindictive text message isn’t needed! This is the kind of healthy choice that isn’t available to an addict who cannot understand their experience.
Emotional Coping Strategies
Now, this type of insight takes practice and requires self-discipline. Emotional intelligence can be practiced and worked on in a number of ways. A few key steps include:
- Learning emotional coping strategies so that you can tolerate painful feelings.
- Practicing mindfulness, which enables you to pay attention to your present experience.
- Engaging relationships in which you can process emotions and be cared for.
These three elements, if engaged with gusto will change your life.
Emotional coping: Quite simply you can breathe. Taking deep, slow breathes helps your body to physically stay calm, which is the opposite of the normal response to distress—this makes you more able to stay with painful experiences. Practice slow, intentional breathing the next time you find yourself feeling uncomfortable.
Mindfulness: When you are breathing, try turning your attention inwards. Allow yourself to feel the physical sensations of your emotions and wonder when you have felt this way before. Pay attention to what you notice and how you feel tempted to solve any discomfort. You will learn about yourself and be more able to care for your needs.
Engaging relationships: Addiction is isolating and you will need to spend time honestly sharing your life with someone. Start with reciprocal sharing at a low level of intensity and purposefully build your intimacy with that person. Continue building a network of people who care about what you communicate. We are social animals.
If you want to learn more about your emotions and how you are affected I would highly recommend seeking out a trained counselor to work with. Another simple method is to watch others carefully, and see how they shift away from emotions, or cope with them. You will be amazed at how much you can learn when you start to pay attention.
About the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com where you can find his guide, or contact him.
: Loosemore (2016) 21 movements towards life
: Loosemore (2017) Denial, pain and coping strategies
: Brooks, D. (2012) The social animal, p.19
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 5, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com