Feeling better seems to be a universal goal of humankind.
When we’re experiencing physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, the instinct to feel better can take on a life of its own. Most of us don’t even realize our subconscious is in overdrive doing whatever it takes to avoid bad feelings.
The problem is this: what makes us feel better usually isn’t what makes us get better.
Feeling Better can come through a variety of panaceas; some look better than others, but they often have the same result. They are simply temporary diversions from our emotions or life situations, and often prolong the underlying issue.
Excessive work, shopping, thriftiness, eating, exercise, computer games, or TV can all provide mental escape and help us feel better –temporarily.
If your escape is work, exercise, or volunteering, people might admire how driven and dedicated you are. Alternatively, if your answer is alcohol, drugs, or gambling, there’s likely condemnation instead. I believe most forms of dysfunction come from the same place –an innate need to avoid unwanted emotions; most often some form of anxiety.
My ‘drugs of choice’ have been busyness, control, and food. Staying busy allowed me to run from my emotions for many years. I didn’t have the time or energy to feel my own emotions. It was very effective, but also destructive. Likewise, being a control freak gave me a sense of power, but was incredibly harmful to my relationships. Eating soothed my anxiety in the moment but the consequence has been a life-long struggle with my weight. Though I’ve made considerable progress, the lure of food still carries a challenge for me.
It took many years of therapy for me to recognize the disdain I had for my parent’s alcoholism wasn’t enough to protect me from creating addictive behaviors of my own. I was addicted to being busy, trying to control others, and overeating. Without realizing it, my buried emotions compelled me to behave in the very ways I despised.
Getting Better often requires feeling worse for a time and can seem counter-intuitive. Many people have told me counseling doesn’t work because they felt worse when they went. Getting better doesn’t feel better right off, and that can be discouraging. It is something like psychological chemo. We must be willing to feel worse in order to get better in the long run.
As I processed my memories and emotions, my negative behavior escalated initially. It took me time to mature and gain strength emotionally so I could handle difficult feelings without defaulting to food, controlling, or busyness.
In hindsight, I call this Cleaning Out The Mental Junk Drawer. I had to dump all the mess on the counter, sort through it, and reorganize. Initially I created a bigger mess than what was already visible, but the end result was definitely worth it. I’ve found a freedom I never knew I was missing.
How about you? How do you associate feeling better and getting better?