In the previous two posts, we discussed how dealing with emotional pain and discomfort is inevitable, and how responding to these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts with avoidance is often what keeps us stuck in old, unhelpful patterns of behavior. Now let’s talk about how we might learn to confront these problems so that we can overcome them and become more resilient in the process.
For starters, we cannot change anything of which we are unaware. As Freud rightly pointed out, most of our behavior is unconscious, and it’s usually not until we experience pain or discomfort that we begin to really examine why we do what we do. The rest of the time we are mostly on “autopilot”.
But we are inclined to resist this idea because we want to believe that we are in control, that we are “masters in our own house”, as Freud put it. This may be a result of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which suggests that we humans tend to overestimate our own self-awareness (see: https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-dunning-kruger-effect-4160740).
In reality, we don’t go around thinking to ourselves: “oh, here come those uncomfortable feelings of shame, which stem from painful experiences from my childhood, so I’m going to numb these feelings with alcohol”. We do it unconsciously, and after repeating this behavior over time, it becomes habitual and entrenched.
How Talk Therapy Helps
The first step, then, is to become more aware, more conscious, and in-depth talk therapy is the means to accomplish this. Participating in therapy requires self-reflection and introspection, which leads to intellectual and emotional insights into the roots of our behavior.
In addition, and more importantly, the process of talking itself stimulates our brain in ways that promote connections between events, both past and present, that we would have never realized otherwise. Talking encourages and promotes emotional movement and growth.
Unspoken thoughts and feelings remain dormant in our unconscious, but they persist nevertheless, festering below the surface where they ultimately bubble up as anxiety, depression, addiction, and other behaviors that negatively impact our quality of life. Spoken thoughts and feelings, on the other hand, are released and processed by our brain, loosening up that feeling of “stuckness” that nearly every person seeking therapy experiences.
Talking is the liquid plumber than unclogs our emotional pipes and allows things to “flow” again.
Does this happen instantly? Of course not. But over time, talking with a skilled therapist is what leads to greater awareness of our thoughts, feelings, habits, and tendencies, and only then can we begin to truly understand ourselves, which frees us up to learn new, more helpful behaviors that don’t hinder our emotional growth.
This growth only happens when we aren’t on “autopilot”. Talk therapy helps awaken us from that slumber, and only then can we gain more power to guide and direct our behavior, rather than be blindly controlled by our unconscious thoughts and feelings.
When we learn to truly feel, understand, and accept our feelings, we no longer need to avoid them. We can confront them, which leads to greater resilience when life’s inevitable disruptions rear their ugly heads.
Rather than blindly reach for that drink when feelings of shame or anxiety creep in, we can have the power to make different choices.
When you’re ready to talk about your own patterns of avoidance, please reach out to schedule a free phone consultation to discuss how in-depth therapy can help you become more conscious, and therefore more resilient.