Last week we looked at all the reasons buffering is harmful to us in the blog post, “Buffering to Escape.” Buffering sometimes seems like a pit that is nearly impossible to escape. However, there is a way out.
Remember, the reason we buffer is to avoid feeling our negative emotions. Let’s take a moment to discuss what emotions are since we are so afraid of them we resort to destructive behavior to prevent feeling them.
Emotions are just vibrations in our bodies. For the sake of this discussion, emotions are different than physical sensations. Physical sensations start in our bodies and travel to our minds. Think of stubbing your toe or hitting your elbow. Our emotions begin in our minds (with our thoughts) and travel to our bodies.
Close your eyes and repeat this phrase, “I have no control over my life.” For me, when I think that thought, I feel defeated. I experience defeat in my body as slouching, a knot in my stomach, and feeling like I need to swallow something in my throat but can’t.
What emotions come up for you? Perhaps you felt hopeless or incompetent. How do you feel in your body? Is your stomach clenched, breathing strained, or heart rate accelerated? Is your face hot, or do you feel pressure in your chest?
Now, close your eyes and repeat the phrase, “I chose everything on my schedule with intention.” I feel confident when I have this thought. I sit up straighter, put my shoulders back, breathe deeply, and feel a surge of energy run through my body.
Again, what comes up for you? Maybe you feel anticipation or excitement. What are you experiencing in your body when you think about getting to choose your schedule and having complete authority over it?
Go back to the first example. I don’t like the way defeated feels. My brain knows I don’t like it, so it offers me a cookie as a distraction. My brain is smart. It knows if I eat the cookie, or many cookies, to buffer, I will not be thinking about my schedule and lack of control. I will get a hit of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine makes me feel pleasure instead of defeat. My brain realizes the quickest way out of the discomfort of feeling defeat is to send up an urge for another cookie, or glass of wine, or urgent email. Pick your favorite buffer. Later, I will be in the negative cycle of guilt and shame for eating the cookie. However, my brain knows it can handle those feelings by sending a request for more food when those negative emotions arise.
So what’s the alternative? The only way to break the cycle is to allow the uncomfortable feeling of defeated to be present. The worst thing that will happen is I won’t like how I feel for as long as it takes for the emotion to pass. Let’s talk about what allowing an emotion is by studying the alternatives.
I can choose to avoid, resist, or react to my emotions instead of allowing them. We have already discussed avoiding feelings, which we call buffering.
When I resist an emotion, I am fighting against it. Often, it looks like me arguing with myself. I try to talk myself out of the feeling. It’s like holding a beach ball under the water. Eventually, my arms get tired, and the ball comes out of the water with a lot of momentum. When we resist, our emotions build and come bursting out, usually at an inopportune time or inappropriate manner.
Reacting to emotions looks like acting it out. If I feel anger, I act like an angry person. I yell or stomp around or give people the evil eye. I am the picture of an angry person. Acting out anger provides relief in the moment. Where resisting in holding back, reacting is letting it all come out. Unfortunately, there are often consequences to reacting to our negative emotions. I find it involves a lot of apologizing and embarrassment at a later date.
Allowing an emotion isn’t visible or tangible like the other methods. It involves sitting quietly and noticing how the emotion feels in your body, just like the practice we did earlier. It consists of letting the negative emotion be there and not giving it a hard time. That emotion just wants to be noticed. It’s trying to tell you something. When we acknowledge it, we offer it what it wants, and it eventually dissipates. I am often left feeling relaxed and peaceful. Even better, I don’t have extra calories to work off, I am not exhausted from fighting it, and I don’t have to apologize to anyone.
Allowing an emotion sounds anti-climactic but look at the consequences of the other choices. Allowing our feelings is the shortest route to experiencing a positive emotion following a negative one. Give it a try and let me know what you think.