We all have things we do to escape our lives or put overwhelming emotions on hold. I like to call it buffering or "numbing out." Some of us overeat or over drink. Some of us sink into a Netflix or Facebook coma. Others may deem themselves workaholics. However, when escape is the intention, we are using these activities to buffer from our lives.
You know you are buffering instead of just enjoying food or drink, connecting with people we love on social media or working by studying your results. Buffering creates a downward spiral in both our emotions and the by-products of the activity.
Let's say I have a rough day at work. I am not ready to go home and transition into the dinner, homework, dishes routine. So, I drive through a fast-food restaurant, grab some food that makes me feel terrible, eat more than my body needs while sitting in the car, and arrive home feeling defeated and out of control.
Once home, everything I was avoiding is still there, so I go to the pantry to grab a snack to put off the evening routine once more. Now I feel terrible about not controlling my eating, and I tell myself I am a failure as a wife and mother. All that pressure wants to make me eat more to escape those negative feelings.
I will guess that you can substitute the circumstances of your life and your buffering activity of choice, and this is a familiar story.
When I am working hard on a project I am excited about; I feel fulfilled and satisfied. I don't feel driven to eat to escape. When I cook a beautiful meal and present it to my family as a gift, I don't overeat. I savor it.
When we plan a family movie, joke as we pick it out, and make snarky comments as we watch it, it's easy to turn it off when it's over and go to bed feeling connected to my family.
See the difference?
It's not the activity. It's the intention.
We buffer to avoid negative emotions. We don't want to feel uncomfortable, so we overconsume something to block our feelings.
Why do we do that?
The answer is simple. We learn, as children, that the goal in life is to be happy all the time. The fact is that life isn't set up for that. If you think about it, life is about 50% positive emotions and 50% negative emotions. This is a good thing. If you were happy all the time with no contrast, you wouldn't even know you were happy. You can’t understand happiness if you have never felt sadness. Besides, do you want to be happy when people we love die or people face abuse? To have a full human experience, you must experience both the positive and the negative.
When you buffer to avoid the negative emotions, you temporarily move into a space where you feel nothing. Remember, that was your unconscious goal. However, when the hormones you stir up with your buffering settle down, you feel worse due to guilt and shame, leading to patterns of increased buffering to avoid those feelings. The result you create is a more extensive negative experience. Your negative emotions and escape become more than the original 50% of your life experience. In attempting to avoid negativity, you create more of it.
Take this week to become aware of where and when you buffer. You may be surprised by where it shows up.
So, what's the alternative?
Stay tuned for next week's blog, "The Buffering Alternative."