Are You Running Away From Your Emotions?

emotional awareness

Understanding and Overcoming the Urge to Suppress How You Feel

We’ve all been there – feeling overwhelmed by a surge of emotions yet unsure how to process them healthily. In those moments, it’s easy to fall back on old habits of stuffing feelings down or distracting ourselves, hoping they’ll fade away on their own. However, research shows that this approach of running from emotions often backfires. Suppressing how we genuinely feel can create problems that manifest mentally, physically, and socially. This article explores why facing emotions head-on instead of avoiding them is important. We’ll look at how patterns of emotional suppression develop and the negative impacts they can have. Practical strategies will also be provided to help build self-awareness of feelings and strengthen skills for communicating them constructively.

The Roots of Emotional Avoidance 

For many, running from emotions stems from early experiences that conditioned them to believe certain feelings shouldn’t be expressed openly. Growing up in a highly critical or controlling environment can teach children their sentiments aren’t safe to share freely. They learn suppressing visible signs of anger, sadness, or vulnerability is the safest path to avoid disapproval or punishment. Over time, this message becomes internalised, shaping patterns of stuffing down emotions that persist into adulthood. Societal norms also play a role, with some cultures promoting stoicism and discouraging the open display of so-called “weak” feelings like fear, anxiety or hurt. As a result, emotional avoidance becomes ingrained as a default coping strategy without conscious awareness of its long-term effects.

The Pressure Cooker Effect  

While stuffing down emotions may seem to resolve them in the moment, research shows this only creates problems down the road. Suppressing feelings doesn’t make them disappear – it’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. Emotions seek release and will find ways to surface, often at inopportune times. Bottling them up, we subject feelings to immense inner pressure that builds over time. This “pressure cooker effect” leaves emotions simmering below the surface, ready to explode unexpectedly in disproportionate outbursts or passive-aggressive behaviour. It also prevents the natural dissipation of feelings through constructive communication and resolution of what triggered them. This imbalance of bottling things up and then blowing off steam in unhealthy ways can seriously damage relationships and undermine well-being.

The Rise of Emotional Addiction

Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and relief from discomfort. When we initially release pent-up emotions after long-term suppression, it provides a sense of release akin to opening a shaken soda bottle – an almost addictive rush of temporary comfort. This positive reinforcement trains the brain to continually recreate situations of emotional turmoil to feel that relief repeatedly through worrying, rumination or other maladaptive coping habits. Over time, this pattern forms an emotional addiction where discomfort becomes familiar, yet relief is only experienced through the expression of negative feelings. This self-perpetuating cycle leaves people stuck in unnecessary inner turmoil as emotions, and their triggers are constantly rehashed without resolution. Breaking free requires recognising how this addiction develops and finding healthier strategies to soothe the mind.

The Role of the Inner Critic

For many, the urge to run from emotions stems from and feeds into a vicious cycle with the inner critic. This negative internal voice exacerbates discomfort through constant self-criticism and doubt. When emotional turmoil becomes overwhelming due to the critic’s barrage, people seek relief in maladaptive ways like worrying or overthinking harmful thoughts. In this dynamic, the inner critic essentially fuels the emotional addiction by stoking inner fires of anxiety, depression, anger and more. Its negative self-talk and judgments are intensely uncomfortable yet strangely addictive as a way to feel momentary relief. This traps people in a gruelling emotional rollercoaster as their own worst enemy. To overcome patterns of avoidance, it’s crucial to understand and counter this critic’s harmful influence.

The Link to a Victim Mentality  

Closely tied to an overactive inner critic is the development of a victim mindset where people see themselves as helpless against external forces beyond their control. This mentality is further reinforced when the critic tells them they can’t manage challenges or change their circumstances. Over time, believing they will inherently fail due to flaws feeds into self-sabotaging behaviours and avoidance of responsibility that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The victim role provides an excuse to disengage from growth while blaming others preserves fragile egos. However, it also erodes self-esteem and leaves people powerless trapped in stagnation as problems are merely reacted to rather than solved proactively. Breaking free requires recognising how this limiting mindset develops and empowering oneself to overcome internal and external barriers.

The Freeze Response Trap

When the inner critic and victim mentality combine forces, it often triggers a “freeze” survival reaction, even in everyday non-threatening situations. This shutdown response was adaptive for our ancestors facing real physical danger, but now hinders modern lives. Freezing up involuntarily in times of stress short-circuits higher reasoning and prevents effective problem-solving or communication that could alleviate issues. Overreliance on this reaction due to unresolved trauma or lack of emotional regulation skills inadvertently conditions the mind and body to default to immobilisation when any discomfort arises. This traps people in a recurring cycle of inner paralysis and stagnation instead of active coping and growth. To override this ingrained response, it’s necessary to build awareness of personal triggers and train the mind-body connection to choose a different response.

Breaking the Cycle of Avoidance

The good news is that lifelong patterns of running from emotions can be overcome with awareness and practice. The first step is recognising how they developed as a survival strategy no longer serving present needs and goals. It’s also important to understand negative self-talk, victim thinking and the freeze response as learned reactions, not immutable traits. With compassion for past conditioning and self-care in the present, people can take charge of their mental and emotional well-being. Here are some practical strategies to start facing feelings instead of fleeing from them:

  • Move the body to counteract freezing up. Dance, stretch, go for a walk – physical activity jolts the mind-body connection from immobilisation.
  • Roleplay challenging scenarios to build confidence in expressing emotions constructively rather than suppressing or lashing out. Practice empathic listening with a friend, too. 
  • Challenge the critic through positive self-talk focusing on personal strengths, growth efforts and self-acceptance rather than past flaws. Replace harmful thoughts that fuel avoidance.
  • Take responsibility for problems and commit to active solutions instead of passively believing oneself a victim of circumstances beyond control. Set achievable goals.
  • Use a journal to process emotions on paper until they feel resolved rather than bottling them internally. Look for patterns to understand personal triggers better.  
  • Visualize a safe internal space or ideal future scenario to mentally shift out of danger/criticism mode into a state of empowerment, calm and resilience.
  • Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga or muscle relaxation to manage physical tension that arises with uncomfortable emotions healthily.
  • Seek counselling/coaching to work through deep-rooted issues contributing to avoidance and develop new emotional intelligence and expression strategies. Positive change is very possible with support!

In Conclusion

While running from difficult emotions may seem like an easy fix, research shows it often backfires by creating even more significant problems down the line. However, with self-awareness and a commitment to facing feelings instead of fleeing, lifelong patterns of avoidance can be overcome. By understanding triggers like the inner critic and victim thinking, people gain power over automatic reactions preventing growth. With the practice of communicating emotions constructively through mind-body techniques and active problem-solving, lives can be transformed into a place of fulfilment and resilience. Facing the uncomfortable allows us to understand ourselves better and strengthen vital relationships and overall well-being.

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