I started reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield today (thank you Jamie!) and I ended up reading half the book over lunch. The key concept to the book is overcoming Resistance and breaking through mental blocks.
The book is designed to help you win the war as it relates to your creative blocks but I kept parlaying the information back to my regular life. The things that I do on a regular basis that fall into the category of Resistance and how I use rationalization to let Resistance win.
Let me start with one example of how this showed up in my life.
Resistance & Rationalization
Last night I had plans to meet up with some friends for dinner. However, something was up for me and I resisted going. I rationalized my later and later departure from home with a work task I needed to do (which could have waited). I rationalized my Resistance around getting up and getting in my car by whining about the cold temperatures.
I failed to stop and look at what was really wrong: I was feeling down due to an uncomfortable experience that had occurred earlier in the week and I needed some self-care. Specifically, I wanted a warm blanket and some cuddles with my daughter.
Then as I mustered up the motivation to push through my Resistance and go to dinner, Willow and Steve returned home from the dentist. Willow (my four-year old daughter) wasn’t feeling great, her mouth was swollen from her appointment and she only wanted me. Specifically, she wanted me on the couch with a warm blanket and lots of cuddles (oh Universe, I see what you did there giving me exactly what I wanted!)
So, I stayed home.
With a warm blanket.
But I didn’t feel any better.
In Pressfield’s book he says:
Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.
So, how does this relate to my example?
By not going to dinner, I was avoiding feeling the feelings of sadness and I knew that if I saw my girlfriends, they’d see it on my face and I’d have to talk about it.
I wasn’t ready to talk about it.
The “talking about it” piece was the work that still had to be done. The work that I was afraid of doing.
By staying in and cuddling, I could suppress the emotions that I was feeling, replace them with happy emotions and pretend like everything was a-okay. However, cuddling is temporary. The effects wore off soon after and I found myself diving into another task (income taxes) to avoid having to do the work to feel better. To face the problems head on and create a solution.
Even though my example is quite specific to me, replace cuddling or income taxes with anything that shows up in your life that you use to avoid dealing with your problems. Think about the ways in which you suppress your emotions. We all partake in activities that “numb us out” but that can also be extremely unhealthy.
In this article on emotional suppression, the author writes:
If you frequently try to push away thoughts and feelings, you may be making more trouble for yourself. In fact, it is possible that this is setting up a vicious cycle: You have a painful emotion. You try to push it away. This leads to more painful emotions, which you try to push away, and so on.
Sounds an awful lot like resistance, doesn’t it?
In hindsight, I should have went out last night.
Having my girlfriends see my sadness would have allowed me to get honest about where I was at and what I was dealing with. It would have provided me an opportunity to talk about it, get some much-needed clarity and potentially feel better at a soul level.
Oftentimes though, we resist that which we need the most .
We resist the help and support.
We resist the advice.
We resist the signs.
Instead, we rationalize all of the reasons why we’re okay.
Letting it bother me makes me appear weak to others.
If I just ignore it on my own, it’ll go away.
There are bigger things happening in the world, my issue doesn’t matter.
Going through the experience last night made me realize that I often avoid people when I don’t want to face what’s going on in my life. It’s easier to avoid mirrors when we look / feel terrible, right? My friends act as mirrors for me. They see whatever is up for me right there on my face.
As an exercise, think about the activities that you partake in that are enabling emotional suppression. Do you dive into your work to avoid thinking about the issues? Do you eat junk food to force the emotions back down into your belly? Do you numb out with drugs, alcohol or frivolous sex?
Once you identify the issues, think about ways in which you might you be able to face these emotions head on instead.
In this PsychCentral.com article, on the subject of sitting with painful emotions, they offer three steps that I feel are pretty useful:
>> Observe your emotions
>> Validate your emotions
>> Focus on the present
Growing in our awareness and obtaining better control over our emotions is key to living a happy and fulfilling life. The tricky part is figuring out when we’re suppressing emotions and understanding the best way to face them head on.
I would love to hear your feedback on emotional suppression in the comments below.