Escaping uncomfortable feelings is actually doing you more harm that good: A Somatic Psychology approach to TOLErAtINg DIsCOmFOrT
What are people so afraid of? When it comes to emotions, why are people so afraid? It’s the sensations in the body that are hard for us to tolerate. Whatever it is that is uncomfortable makes us feel like we’re going to fall apart, explode, collapse, or hurt. And the thought of any of those happening to us is unbearable. So we divert our attention, run away, eat, don’t eat, sleep or get high. We all have found some way to get through the difficult sensations somehow.
But the problem is that by doing all of these things – we end up having to do them over and over and over because we can’t escape that life is uncomfortable. So without getting into our bodies – diving in to the core of the sensation – we never learn how to be with the difficulty and how to manage ourselves better. We are blocking our way to growth and fulfillment.
When we learn to be with the discomfort – we learn to tolerate it – we can become curious about it. And when we become curious about it, we are cultivating a witnessing part of our minds that can make other choices. And when we make space for other choices, we have space to learn to influence ourselves; that is to actually change the shapes our bodies are making and change how we interpret them. For example it’s possible to turn our fearful tingling into courageous sparkling or to turn tight nervousness into strong confidence.
This way, the sensations become tools. We can shape-shift inside them. We can become artists within the framework of our own bodies.
Imagine the inside of your body is a blank canvas. If emotions start to happen naturally, and you become fearful that you will be taken over – you shield yourself, protect yourself, use a black shadow over the whole thing so as not to have to look… Sadly, you will never know what you are missing.
In actuality, with no sensation, your canvas is white and empty. As emotions start to flow, sensations begin to creep up – if you take a look with curiosity – colors will begin to fill in. Depending on the emotion – it might be washing you over with red, little dots of blue, or blinding yellow. And as you look, you could choose to add a little hint of gold. Or a smudge of green.
This is a visual way to think about what we can also do on a sensory level. For example, being overcome by anger feels HOT. Taking a deep breath can cool you down. Or maybe splashing your face with cold water before responding will help you have more space. And little by little you get to choose how much heat to allow.
I know that it’s not easy to interrupt a strong flood of emotion when it comes on. This is why practicing when you’re not in a difficult moment is very important.
Taking a breathing pause a few times a day is a good place to start.
Try this: Set an alarm on your watch or phone for 3 random times throughout the day. Each time the alarm goes off, stop what you are doing and count three full breaths. Get curious about the experience. How long do 3 breaths feel? How do 3 breaths affect your body? Your mind? Your mood?
This is one small step toward your growing capacity to tolerate discomfort and handle the stressors of life with just a little more grace.
Yonat Piva, MA, LMFT
I write about navigating the challenges of prenatal, postpartum, parenting & relationships. I believe we can inhabit our bodies with a renewed sense of fulfillment in being a human woman.