We often avoid painful feelings because… well because they are unpleasant. We numb them with substances or distract with activities or mindlessly scroll through social media. Distracting can help us get through tough times, but as a long-term problem-solving tactic, it’s pretty useless.
Why Avoiding the Pain Doesn’t Work
Research shows that stuffing and suppressing emotions actually doesn’t work to alleviate them. Instead, it leads to more problems.
Emotions that get locked away end up becoming stronger and more persistent. You know when someone tells you to stop thinking about something, and instead of stopping you’re thinking about it MORE? It’s like that. The more we ignore painful emotions, the more they are going to try and cut in to get your attention.
The 3 Main Reasons Painful Feelings are Valuable
This leads me to the main point of this article: why do my painful emotions keep cutting in when I’m trying to avoid them so much? What’s the benefit of experiencing the pain when I know it is going to hurt so badly?
Unpleasant feelings supply you with important data; vital information that you need to make effective decisions.
When you put your hand on a hot stove, the physical pain lets you know that your body is being damaged and leads you to pull your hand away, never touching the hot stove again. Without that vital information, the body would not respond to avoid further damage. The same goes for emotional pain. It lets you know when something needs attention, and motivates you to take specific action.
Even without intending to, our emotions communicate to others. Painful emotions can affect those around us as well as ourselves.
Emotional responses are so automatic that our facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice can reflect an emotion even without communication in words. For example, defensiveness and insecurity can quickly register on your face and send a message to the people around you to back off. If you are trying to make friends, this can become a nuisance. By building emotions of confidence and openness you can communicate in a way that will draw people TOWARDS you instead of away from you.
Painful emotions are your body’s way of helping you survive.
As human beings, we require human connection, and painful emotions like loneliness can spur us to take action and reach out to loved ones. Sometimes, we are in situations where we need to escape or defend ourselves. Anger and fear can contribute to taking action to protect or seek shelter. Ignoring or avoiding emotional responses can quite literally put us in danger or keep us from human interaction.
Instead of continuing to mindlessly go through life ignoring or actively avoiding painful feelings, take some time each day to pay attention to what they are communicating to you.