Recently a friend told me that he rarely reads or watches TV because he can’t sit still that long. I have several clients who take on way more than they can handle in their lives because they like to “stay busy.” A surprising number of people, I’ve discovered, desperately avoid being alone.
When you are moving, you’re distracted, driven and occupied. This keeps you from having to feel what it’s like to be in your own skin. In contrast, when you stop moving, your inner-self appears, and you are forced to reckon with it. Your inner-self includes everything that makes you you, including your life experiences, your memories, and most importantly, your feelings.
To determine whether you are a member of the “running” group, answer these questions about yourself in general before reading on:
- Do you like to stay busy all the time?
- Do you typically prefer not to be home alone?
- Do you feel restless when you’re not doing something?
- Is it hard for you to sit down and relax?
- Do you feel that you need to be productive at all times?
- Do you require constant entertainment?
I have come to realize that there is a surprising explanation for the need to run from oneself. It’s not society or technology. It’s Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Here’s how it works. When you grow up in a household that’s blind to emotion, you don’t learn the skills necessary to accept, identify, tune in to, or express your own emotions.
When you don’t face and manage your emotions, they all go underground, pooling together inside of you like a pot of soup. This “soup” simmers away outside of your awareness. Out of sight, out of mind. As long as you stay busy, distracted and focused on other things, you don’t have to feel those feelings.
But it’s those alone moments when there is nothing to distract you that the feelings start to bubble up. I have seen this lead to great discomfort in many people; a feeling of restlessness and discontent that is difficult to sit with.
Here, I’m going to share with you an exercise from Running on Empty that I often share with my emotionally neglected patients. It’s specially designed to help you learn to tolerate your inner-self. It’s a skill that will help make your life more peaceful, more calm, and more emotionally connected.
Identifying & Naming Exercise
Do this exercise once every day. You can start with three minutes, or one minute, or ten minutes, depending on how difficult it is for you. You decide what’s most workable for you:
Step 1: Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen that takes over your mind, banishing all thoughts. Focus all of your attention on the screen, turning your attention inward.
Step 2: Ask yourself the question:
“What am I feeling right now?”
Step 3: Focus on your internal experience. Be aware of any thoughts that might pop into your head, and erase them quickly. Keep your focus on:
“What am I feeling right now?”
Step 4: Try to identify feeling words to express it. You may need more than one word.
Step 5: If you’re having difficulty identifying any feelings, you can google “Feeling Word List,” or use the Feeling Word List in the Resources section of Running on Empty to help you identify what you are feeling.
If you find this exercise impossible, don’t be upset! Many E.N. people have great difficulty with this exercise. Simply try this instead:
- Set a timer for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 minutes, whatever you think will work best for you.
- Repeat Step 1: Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen that takes over your mind, banishing all thoughts. Focus all of your attention on the screen, turning your attention inward.
- Keep the screen blank: If you have a thought, it will appear on the screen. Immediately remove it, restore it to blankness, and continue focusing your attention on the screen.
Here, you are using Step 1 as an exercise to learn how to sit with yourself and your feelings and tolerate them. Do this as many times per day as you can. The more often you do it, the better you will get at it. At some point, you will be ready to go back and try Steps 2 through 5 again, and it will be easier this time.
Bottom Line: Emotions are a useful, vital, biological part of who you are. Your emotions cannot be erased, and they will not be denied. You can make them your friends or your enemies, but you cannot run from them.
If you’ve been running from your feelings, turn around and face them. Learn to sit with them, express them and manage them. Start using them to make decisions. Allow them to enrich and enliven your life, and you will feel more connected, more fulfilled, stronger and happier as a result.
It’s amazing what you discover when you stop running from your feelings. You discover that what you’ve been avoiding all these years isn’t so bad after all. It’s valuable and useful. It’s just you.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible and difficult to remember, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out if you’re living with CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free!