-Jonice Webb, PhD
Eat too much?
Spend too much?
Drink too much?
Smoke cigarettes or pot?
Spend too much time on the internet?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, there’s something you should know:
There is probably a good reason for it.
These types of tendencies, which we all tend to think of merely as habits, are actually much more than that. “Habits” like these are actually your unconscious attempt to adapt to, or cope with, something inside you. A deep discomfort or emptiness or pain which your body feels, but of which you are most likely unaware.
Eating, spending, drinking, smoking or zoning out on the internet are all actually ways that you have found to soothe yourself.
During 20 years of practicing psychology, I have observed that these tendencies are not only common, they are practically ubiquitous. You may be able to find a person who doesn’t regularly over-indulge in something that’s not good for him or her, but it won’t be easy.
In today’s world, life comes at us quickly. We move from one activity or errand to the next, and in-between we are occupying ourselves with the internet, social media, Hulu or Netflix. We seldom have a moment to simply sit with ourselves, think the thoughts that need to be thought, or feel the feelings that need to be felt. Both of which are required to process an emotion in a healing and growth-producing way.
The truth is, most of us are not even aware that emotions need to be felt or processed. And, of course, not every emotion does. But the most deep and powerful emotions that drive us are the ones that we must acknowledge, feel, and think about. These emotions have the ability to either make or break us. And when we do not acknowledge, face, and process these feelings, their strength and power continually build over time.
If you were raised in a family that under-attended, under-acknowledged, and under-discussed feelings and emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), you are more likely to live your life in seeking mode for two key reasons. First, when your emotions are pushed away, you are left with an emptiness that naturally seeks to be filled. Secondly, if your family avoided feelings you probably didn’t learn the emotion skills that other people have: how to name, sit with, understand, manage, and express your feelings.
Where does this leave you? It leaves you scrambling to feel better. Seeking a distraction or a soother that’s readily available and under your control. Something that will fill you, gratify you, take you away, and dull your painful feelings so that you will not have to feel them.
Once you’re in this cycle of seeking and avoiding, it can be difficult to escape from it.
But you can.
4 Steps to Stop Living Your Life in Seeking Mode
- Set aside a specific period of time every day (any length from 2 to 30 minutes) to sit alone in a room with your eyes closed and pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that you have. Set a timer so that you don’t have to watch the clock.
- Gradually increase the time you spend per day or the days per week that you do this; or both.
- At the end of each sitting session, write down the thoughts and feelings you noticed. Keep writing as much and as often as you can; Periodically re-read all that you have written.
- Learn how to meditate. Meditation is not only a way to train your brain to look inward, it also gives you better control over your own mind. Meditation has been proven by research to improve your health, and build powers of concentration. Therapists know that it also is useful in processing emotions.
The problem behaviors that you always thought were habits are actually a message to you. You need something, and some part of you knows it.
What you do not need is to be filled by food or drink or material rewards, or to escape by zoning out.
All you really need is to finally give yourself — and your feelings — some well-deserved attention.