Escape — Candace
As Candace walks through the door, finally arriving home from a long and very stressful day at work, she is looking forward to the big, warm hug her husband Thomas always gives her in greeting. But as she enters the living room, Thomas does something unexpected. He yells in an angry voice, “Where the hell were you? I expected you 15 minutes ago!”
Feeling attacked and burdened, Candace says blandly, “I got stuck in traffic,” and walks straight through the house to the bedroom where she turns on the TV, plops on the bed, and starts watching a comedy. Before she knows it she is laughing.
Dodge — Kasey
Kasey has no idea that her entire life is driven by a need to avoid something. It’s like playing a game of dodge ball every minute of every single day. The “ball” she is dodging is a painful feeling in her belly that arises whenever she has a moment of quiet; when she is not busy, not distracted, not running from place to place or absorbed in work, Kasey feels a vague threat from inside; a deep discomfort that she has never consciously acknowledged. It resides in her chest and belly, and it drives her to stay occupied. That’s Kasey, always busy, always moving.
Always, always dodging.
Minimize — Leon
Standing next to his father’s grave, Leon watches as the coffin is lowered into the ground. Anyone looking at his face right now would see a man struggling with complex emotions. He feels raw grief and loss, tremendous sadness combined with a layer of anger at his father for dying without ever saying, “I love you.” But if you asked him what he was feeling Leon would say, “Yeah, this is sad but I mean everyone’s dad dies. He was in his nineties and he lived a long life. I’m fine.”
It would be difficult to discern if he was trying to convince you, or himself, that he is not feeling any pain.
The Things People Do With Their Feelings
Every minute of every day all around the world people are running. I don’t mean in sneakers and sweatpants on bike paths and sidewalks, I mean a different sort of running that is far less healthy.
I mean the kind of running that involves something inside of you driving you; some untamed force that threatens to overwhelm and perhaps bury you drives you out and away to escape it. You are not running toward anything; you are running to get away from something. You are running because, in the final analysis, it is all you know.
So you distract yourself like Candace did to make her anger go away, you stay busy like Kasey does to avoid dealing with the empty hole left in her by her narcissistic mom; or you talk yourself out of your feelings like Leon so that you don’t have to feel them.
Whichever one you use, it may seem to actually work! You may perceive in moments that the pain goes away, and more your pain goes away, the more you use it. Escape, dodge, or minimize. It’s all you know to do when you feel something.
Why Do You Escape, Dodge and Minimize?
It’s a good question! And, of course, everyone is different. But when it comes to this question, I have an answer that does apply to most people, so probably you.
You likely treat your feelings this way for one simple reason: It’s the way your parents handled their own feelings, and it’s also the way they treated your feelings as they raised you. It’s all your parents knew, and it is an actual form of childhood neglect.
It can happen in even the best of families, and it happens automatically in abusive or trauma-filled homes. It’s called Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
When you grow up with your feelings ignored or minimized in your childhood home, it is natural that this is the only emotion skill you learn. You internalize this habit, especially since it seems to work!
But, sadly it does not work at all. Minimized or avoided feelings do not actually go away. They stay and grow, and look for opportunities to emerge again. Your feelings are messages from your body, and your body does not give them up until you have listened and attended to them.
Do not despair. There are answers! You can learn the emotion skills now. Read on!
The Healthy Thing to Do With Your Feelings
- Start paying attention to your feelings. Several times per day, stop and close your eyes. Focus in on your body, and ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?”
- Once you begin to become aware of having some feelings, the next step is to learn how to name them. In the back of the book Running On Empty (link below) is an extensive list of emotion words that is very helpful for the learning process.
- Learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect. There are many free resources available on EmotionalNeglect.com and in-depth information, guidance and support in the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. Find the links below to all of those resources.
- Last but not least, begin to heal your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It is the single greatest thing you can do to harness and use the amazing power from within you: your emotions. There is a clear path to healing your CEN, and you can do it.
It requires a lot of energy to escape, dodge, minimize and avoid. What seems easy is not. What seems to work does not.
Today is the day. It’s time. No more wasting your valuable energy and running from your power. Get started now and you will find yourself running on empty no more.