Imagine with me that there is a part of you that is like a crying infant, and that cry is something you feel that you just can’t handle. So every time the infant cries, you reach for some headphones so that you don’t have to hear it. The infant’s cry represents some unpleasant emotions that you don’t feel that you can handle, and the headphones are one of many possible “escape routes”.
People use a wide range of escape routes including alcohol, nicotine, various sorts of drugs, gambling, electronic games, shopping, food, binging and purging, and shoplifting, to name a few. Then there’s always ignoring.
The use of escape routes leads to lots of problems:
-whatever emotional upset arose, is left unattended. The crying infant is a precious part of you, whose unmet needs keep accumulating each time you wear the headphones.
-the crying infant part of you feels abandoned: all alone with its upset, with nobody understanding or caring about its feelings. This leads to all sorts of emotional distress and relationship problems
-the addiction itself causes many health, social, and economic problems, such as unwanted weight gain, loss of a driving license, relationship problems, and so on, which only adds to suffering and the creation of additional negative emotions requiring escape.
– at some level the person knows that the addiction is in control, and not him. This knowledge, and the accompanying denial, leads to deep negative emotions such as shame, guilt, fear, powerlessness, and hopelessness, again leading to further suffering, and further temptation to escape.
To continue the analogy, when you feel the urge to reach for headphones, it is so much healthier to pick up that precious crying baby, wonder about its distress, and soothe its crying by meeting its unmet need. Obviously, this eliminates the urge to put on headphones, as there is no longer any crying to tempt you to escape. The baby in this analogy represents your emotional health. Attending to your own emotional needs benefits you greatly. Emotional upsets can be resolved as they come up. There can be healing of longstanding negative beliefs resulting in personal maturity and a sense of enduring ease. One becomes aware of their resilience in being able to handle negative emotions and body sensations. Resilience gives confidence. It reduces the urge to escape – and with less urge to put on the headphones, it is easier to be free of addictions without having to use so much willpower. There is less risk of the pattern of replacing one addiction with another.
Why is there so much fear to experience negative emotions? It is because for all of us, they first occurred at a very young age, when we didn’t have the resources to handle them, and felt overwhelmed by them. As we grow older, the fear of them persists, as habits generally do.
Furthermore, some people have even more negative emotion, because of abuse, neglect, familial dispositions toward depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD, psychosis, and so on, and combinations of the above.
The GREAT NEWS is that using our CALM NONJUDGEMENTAL CURIOUS ATTENTION, we can in fact handle observing our unpleasant emotions and body sensations, and being allowed, they will spontaneously pass. One name for this is MINDFULNESS. Using mindfulness we can all discover that we are more resilient than we thought we were.
Using this mindfulness is like having a very gracious benevolent loving host with a huge spacious house welcoming all parts of you with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand with compassion. This includes all parts with all emotions and experiences, including parts that feel opposite to each other. This compassionate acceptance and understanding, which is the best part of us, is a powerful transformative energy to bring to everything else. Bringing mindfulness to the wounded parts of ourselves is bringing the most powerful understanding wise part of ourselves to the most vulnerable parts that need it to heal. Then we realize that in our being human we are all of it.
Using mindfulness to place our curious attention on wherever we feel unpleasant sensations in our body allows us to effortlessly learn about our feelings, unconscious beliefs, and even their origins. And then through understanding them, they’re spontaneously healed! If things aren’t arising as you focus, just be patient, and make sure that you are adopting a passive, receptive, trusting stance, rather than an active thinking one. Read more on this powerful method in another posting on this site entitled, “UNDERSTANDING YOUR DRAGONS AWAY”.
Other powerful tools for healing ungrounded emotions and false negative beliefs, as well as installing grounded positive emotions and beliefs are described in the document entitled, “CREATING A POWERFUL INNER RESOURCE” and “EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE”.
“A TOOL FOR BECOMING ALMOST INSTANTANEOUSLY RELAXED AND PRESENT” is useful for emptying your mind temporarily when it is not a good time to resolve an upset. However, it is to be used as a container to store things that need to be later retrieved and resolved, rather than as an escape.
Medications are amongst the many effective strategies that are available to combat addictions and the illnesses listed above. Often addictions develop from a person self-medicating unpleasant symptoms like anxiety. Medications are much safer than self medicating with substances of abuse.Here’s another important tool: many people find 12 step programs very helpful, with their emphasis on support, accountability, and facing rather than escaping life.
Whichever tools you use, a wisest overall approach is a multimodal one, involving support, mindfulness, healing, and medication as needed.
EMOTIONAL EATING AND COMFORT FOOD
Emotional eating is an extremely common form of escape,partly because it is culturally more acceptable than many other types of escape. It, too, can lead to considerable suffering, and sometimes to health problems. Because food is widely available to children it can start in childhood.
I will use it here as an example of how to deal with the crying baby and not need any headphones. This applies to all escape routes.
“Comfort food” that people crave when the body is not hungry but they are craving some comfort, is typically carbohydrates and sweets. Cravings for these foods is one of the possible symptoms of depression, and research has discovered the biochemical basis for the cravings.
This is the process that I have used often in my office: I guide people to visualize the craved food (e.g. cheesecake) and invite the strong craving for it to be experienced. Then I invite them to turn their curious nonjudgemental attention inwards towards their bodies, and WONDER what they are feeling. It is perfectly fine to stay in not knowing and wondering until something arises. It is a process of noticing what comes up rather than “figuring it out”. As long as there is a craving, there is some sort of upset, even if it is completely unconscious, and even if it is just boredom. The great thing is that the wondering will reveal it. Once it’s revealed, wondering what is really true about the topic or what might be a good way to handle the situation, can resolve it. Once it is dealt with, in any of the ways mentioned above, invariably the craving and its accompanying bodily sensation, to people’s amazement, is gone! Now when they bring up the image of the cheesecake, etc., they no longer feel they need it. They may desire nothing to eat if they are full, or something lighter if their bodies are needing some food.
So whenever there is a craving for anything, stay away from the thing that you are craving. Instead, assume that something is bothering you and spend a little bit of time with yourself wondering how you are doing, even if there is absolutely nothing apparent. It may just take a few minutes, and you’ll find yourself liberated from the craving, feeling better about whatever was amiss, and feeling more in control of your actions without having to exert a lot of willpower. Of course, if you want to spend longer and dig deeper, that will also be useful.
Learning to become present with unpleasant feelings will equip you to become master of your whole world. Really.
Mindfulness, addiction, escape, emotional eating, present, curiosity