The Value of Discomfort
by Naomi Adams, M.C.P., R.C.C
As young children, our feelings and behaviors are simple and adaptive: we feel something, our emotions tell us what we need and then we take action to get that need met. For example, when a baby is hungry, it is uncomfortable, and it will adaptively cry so that his/her caregiver can come feed it. As adults, social norms and learned ways of thinking often get in the way of this natural process, whereby we skip allowing ourselves to truly feel what we feel, and therefore miss the valuable lesson that our emotions are trying to tell us. We then feel stuck and lost around how to act, because we are out of touch, or in conflict with our emotions and our needs. The proposition I want to make here is something we are all capable of doing with the right support: bravely sit in uncomfortable emotions long enough to understand what they are trying to tell you that you need. This process is not only about getting needs met, but also about reconnecting with your human instincts and wisdom.
We live in a society that has constructed the idea of “good” emotions and “bad” emotions. We constantly want to feel the “good”- happiness, confidence, love, strength… and avoid the “bad”- sadness, fear, uncertainty, pain etc. While there is nothing wrong with wanting comfort, like a crying baby seeking relief, problems begin when we reject negative emotions from our lived experience all-together. There is a big difference between a baby being scared and crying out for help, and a baby convincing itself that it is not scared. The latter sounds quite silly, and yet adults do this all the time. “I don’t get scared” or “I’m not sad, that’s weak” when in reality, so many of us have become so frightened of having “bad” feelings that we begin to completely reject them from our conscious awareness. However, when we lose touch with scary or painful emotions, or stuff them down in dark corners of our bodies where we cannot access them, we disown valid parts of ourselves that are in fact natural and healthy. This can cause a number of compounding issues both internally and relationally that can be far worse than acknowledging the negative emotion to begin with.
Why do we do this?
Not only does society project the idea that we “should” always be happy, but the fear of experiencing “negative” emotion could have also developed for very valid reasons. For example, for self-protection in childhood, or during key events in adulthood that taught you that having/expressing certain emotions was not safe. Even when we can intellectually admit that something was scary or sad, letting yourself actually feel “bad” emotions can feel extremely threatening and vulnerable. So threatening in fact, that the body can respond in flight or fight: move away from it and distract, or become angry and defensive. Letting yourself risk accessing those dark corners can be terrifying, but what if you were to resist the impulse to move away from emotional discomfort? What would that look like? Could you sit in a negative emotion like fear or sadness? What do you think might happen? Having a supportive other there to ask these questions or to be with us as we ask ourselves these questions can make all the difference to help us turn toward, rather than away from, our hurts and challenges.
Although it may sound like a big request to you or your clients to sit in the muck of discomfort for a little while, when the rational mind typically wants to run in the other direction, it is important to remind ourselves and our clients of the value of it: when we let ourselves fully feel an emotion, it tends to lose its charge after a short while. It’s a paradox – and thus can take clients some time to trust. However, when we know and trust that resisting feeling the emotion is part of what makes it get stronger, and feel worse, we can start to find the courage and seek the right support to allow us to go there. When we let our emotions have a little airtime, even though it may feel “bad,” we may be surprised at how much strength can come with being able to access our vulnerability, our humanity. The baby allows itself to feel whatever it feels, without judgment or resistance, and it is its most effective survival strategy. Trust that you can do the same.
Naomi Adams, MCP, RCC is an RCC, working at Honey + Garlic Health Studio on Fraser St and 16th Ave. She sees couples and individuals, and is skilled in and passionate about Emotions Focused Therapy. She helps clients move through painful emotions by staying present and empathic with them, validating their courage to come into contact with their suffering long enough to access their drive for wellness. This enables clients to have a corrective experience. “You don’t have to be sick to get better” and “the only way out is through” are two quotes that speak her values and therapeutic approach. Learn more about Naomi and book appointments directly here:
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