Make Emotional Discomfort Your Ally
Originally Posted by Paulina Siegel, LCSW, CAC II for Courageous Paths Counseling
You may have read the title of this article and thought, “why the hell would I do that!?” and I don’t blame you at all. As humans we are naturally wired to avoid at all costs emotional, psychological, and physical pain. The less discomfort we endure, the higher chance for survival.
Now let’s jump into a time machine and go back 500,000 years. You and I would be in a hunting and gathering mentality, and our entire world would be dedicated to finding food, shelter, and sustaining community. Every day we would wake up and start the process of seeking food, securing refuge, and then making sure all of our peeps stayed together.
This consistent and repetitive routine reinforced the brain to stay in high-alert mode or better known as the fight, flight, or freeze response. Essentially, the brain conditioned itself to be overly concerned about survival and self-preservation. During prehistoric times, this was absolutely essential and critical for success, durability, and longevity.
Now we are going to jump back in our time machine and land in 2018. We clearly are not hunting for our food, securing shelter on a daily basis, or freaking out about whether we have enough men and women to survive. Although, I would make the case that having a supportive and bountiful community is crucial to thrive. This may blow your mind, but our brains have not changed structurally from early homo sapiens, and unfortunately have not adapted to the modern world.
Our brains continue to be hyper-vigilant and want to protect us from all harm that may jeopardize overall wellbeing. You may notice that you get caught up in negative thoughts on a daily basis. This is the brains contemporary way of keeping you safe, protected and alive. You may say, “negative thoughts and feelings make my life harder. Why is the brain doing this!?” Well, it doesn’t know how to guard you in any other way.
When we experience negative thoughts and emotional discomfort, the brain believes it will help you stay safeguarded even though this is not the case. We all know that negative thoughts and feelings can make our lives challenging, overwhelming, and sometimes miserable.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of why you innately want to get rid, avoid, distract, and/or numb discomfort. However, the process of escaping becomes tricky and complex. The ways that humans get rid of discomfort is typically through dysfunctional behaviors. You may find yourself drinking or drugging, shopping, overeating, having lots of empty sex, gambling, self-harm, or even isolation. These behaviors do not necessarily lead to dysfunction, however, they can cause intense long-term problems.
Please note that if you are engaging in the above behaviors habitually, it probably is because you don’t want to experience emotional discomfort. These are behaviors that are intended to alleviate distress. Remember, the brain wants no pain because it truly believes there’s no gain. Ha! However, the constant force and energy of eliminating emotional discomfort creates ongoing struggle and leads to an exhausting battle.
We find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle where we experience pain (because let’s be honest, this world is really tough) and then we go out of our way to reject it. If you continue to fight discomfort in the dysfunctional ways described above, you will continue to feel defeated, exhausted, and checked out of life.
I want to circle back to the title of this article – “Make Emotional Discomfort Your Ally.” If fighting discomfort and making it your enemy doesn’t work, what is the alternative? Well, the unorthodox approach is to challenge our innate biological desires and allow discomfort to take a seat in your living room.
Instead, we are going to accept negative thoughts and feelings and begin to change our relationship with them. When you want to dead bolt the door and hang a sign that says “danger – stay away”, you are instead going to welcome negative thoughts and emotions and create space for them because they will ALWAYS be part of your life. It is impossible to eliminate them and it is time to surrender.
Research shows that when we create space for cognitive and emotional discomfort, we are able thrive, flourish, and engage in value-based living. When we forfeit and relinquish control, we are liberated and freed from what we fear most – pain, suffering, and anguish. I will leave you with the following question to ponder: Are you willing to let go, show up, and treat emotional discomfort as your ally?
Paulina Siegel offers her counseling services at her practice Courageous Paths Counseling. She received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver and went on to receive her Certified Addiction Counselor level II certification. She specializes in Anxiety, Depression, Stress Management, Alcohol and Drug Addiction, Career Issues, Trauma, Academic Issues, Self-Esteem. For more information, please contact Paulina by phone at 970-591-2315 or by filling out the form in this link. Check out her website and other blog posts here.