By Sue Siebens
Sometimes emotions are not felt. Suppressed emotions are expressed as behaviors. Often these are the soft emotional reactions and subtle ways we deal with our lives every day without much thought. Usually, they feel so “normal” that we assign these behaviors to our personality: introvert, extrovert, bossy, shy, controlling, etc. It feels like we have always been that way or reacted that way; It's an appropriate reaction –it's just how it is—how we are.
This article is the first in a five-part series to explore the fear-based behaviors we all experience.
Just because an emotion is not felt does not mean there is no impact on our life, happiness and contentment. In fact, in our Introduction to Emotional Resolution Class (LINK), we introduce our students to fear-based behaviors as suggestions for using Self-Emotional Resolution (Self-EmRes). The goal is to eliminate all emotions that drag us down, not just the big flashy ones.
Fear-based behaviors are triggered by something in our immediate environment or social situation. They are our actions in response to fear, anxiety or panic. There is a difference between "I don't like it" versus "I don't like it because when I do, I get triggered.” For example, “I don’t eat spinach because I don’t like the taste/texture” versus, “I avoid spinach because I'm flooded with uncomfortable feelings when I see or smell it.”
Our first topic in this series is Escape and Avoidance: Moving Away From the Fear.
These are behaviors where a person does not enter a situation (avoidance) or leaves the situation once they have entered it (escape). Distraction is also an avoidance behavior because it's a way of not engaging.
These are our conscious or unconscious efforts to avoid dealing with a stressor to protect ourselves from the stressor's difficulties.
Avoidance shows up in our lives in several ways:
Situational Avoidance is the most common. Certain people trigger it, locations, activities, foods, animals or social situations that prompt panic or anxiety. People can see this in their lives as
· Avoiding eye contact
· Lowering voice when speaking
· Crossing the street, hiding in a restroom or leaving a gathering early
· Avoiding certain social activities or canceling plans at the last minute
· Not answering calls or text messages
· Avoiding certain places and at certain times
· Fear traveling or being on our own
· Leaving jobs when a particular type of person shows up
· Being afraid of public speaking and dropping a class, quitting a job or ditching an event when expected to speak in front of others
Cognitive Avoidance avoids unpleasant thoughts or memories that are distressing. People will try to suppress or reject those thoughts to discharge undesirable or overwhelming feelings.
· Forcefully trying not to think about it
· Trying to numb out the unwanted thoughts
· Constantly worrying about someone, something or some event to come
· Compulsively repeating phrases, prayers, or positive affirmations
Protective Avoidance uses excessive safety behaviors such as checking, cleaning, over-preparing or perfectionism. Obsessive-compulsive and eating disorders land in this category. As does procrastination.
Somatic Avoidance gets our mind and body involved. Somatic Avoidance avoids the internal sensations associated with emotional distress: being out of breath, getting exhausted, and feeling hot. These are the well-known symptoms of anxiety and panic: shallow breathing, tightness in the chest, increased heart rate and sweaty palms. Someone may avoid even the normally pleasant sensations of excited anticipation of an upcoming event or sexual arousal because they feel too similar to being anxious.
And finally, Substitution Avoidance is replacing one feeling with another, for example, replacing grief with anger or another more tolerable emotion at that moment. Numbing out is a form of substitution. Compulsive behaviors involving food, drugs and alcohol, sex and pornography, shopping or gambling are common strategies to feel something else.
To be clear, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with many of the listed behaviors on their own. But if a person uses them to avoid or escape emotions, it won’t be successful--they are working against themselves. Coping mechanisms just push the feelings down the road—they don’t resolve or eliminate the triggering agents.
Traditionally we believe that our mind is in control of emotions. But it is the body that is the emotional powerhouse.The mind only receives emotional cues and reacts in the way a cognitive mind does—with action, fight, flight, and freeze.
The triggering agents are the unprocessed emotions that our bodies didn’t get a chance to work on when the feelings originally happened. In high-stress situations, the body temporarily suspends the job of cleaning up emotional cues/neurotransmitters to take care of more pressing business. The residual emotional imprints remain and can only be addressed by the body, not the mind.
Emotional Resolution, EmRes, uses viscero-somatic quieting to allow the body to finish the emotional cleanup job. Resolving emotions with EmRes removes triggers the subconscious mind activates in reaction to cues from a person’s current situation/environment.
The Avoidance/Escape behavior itself is the clue that an emotional trigger is buried and is asking to be resolved. There is no judgment or need to know about who, what, when, where, or why it’s there.
It’s just the body saying, “there is some unfinished emotional business here,” and the mind misinterpreting that message as a current event. The event was in the past when the original emotion was left unprocessed.
By resolving our Avoidance/Escape behaviors, we free ourselves to be present and find out what we honestly don’t like versus what we don’t like because it triggers us.
· What actions, conversations, or situations are you escaping from or avoiding, resisting?
· Where do you go out of your way not to do something or talk about it?
· When you need wine, yoga, exercise, meditation, food, sex, gambling, gossip to relax from "it" or as a reward for "doing it"?
1. Avoidance Behavior: Examples, Impacts, & How to Overcome, https://www.choosingtherapy.com/avoidance-behavior/
2. Avoidance coping, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoidance_coping
3. The Five Types of Avoidance, https://psychcentral.com/pro/the-five-types-of-avoidance#1
4. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Sue Siebens uses Emotional Resolution, EmRes, to work at a fundamental level, where the roots of the illness, fear, and pain can be accessed and resolved. Sue teaches and writes to raise awareness about this new technology so that as many people as possible can find relief and peace in their life. Sue is based in Dallas, Tx, USA.