Feelings: Better to Sit with Them Than to Run from Them

Contemplative woman at caffe“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you.” —The Stranger in The Big Lebowski

“Mama said there’d be days like this.” —The Shirelles

“Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” —Carl Sandburg

“Life is simple, it’s just not easy.” —Unknown

The prevalence of such expressions in pop culture reflects a widely accepted fact—life is difficult and sometimes deeply painful. Yet, while most people would readily agree that life is tough, we tend to panic when the tough times arise. Whether by reaching for a drink, going for a run, heading out for a shopping spree, or turning on the television, we tend to proactively avoid uncomfortable emotions when they arise. Why do we do this when we have supposedly made peace with the fact life can be challenging at times? More importantly, what are we missing out on by running away from our feelings?

Some of the most positive and important changes we make in our lives are in response to painful life events. Imagine someone who has just reached the end of a long-term, intimate relationship. He may find it hard to envision a life without his partner. If this man manages his anguish through alcohol and immediately seeks to replace his old partner with a new one, he is likely to find himself in a similar situation at some point in the near future. However, if he sits with his pain, reflects on it, and maybe even partners with a therapist to more thoroughly explore his past relationships, he is likely to learn something valuable about himself. He might learn that low self-esteem led him into relationships with women who were abusive and controlling, and that as his relationships progressed, he felt increasingly bad about himself and dependent upon his partners. While it might be deeply painful to sort through all of this, if this man did so and learned to love himself and view himself as worthy, his next relationship might be infinitely more satisfying and meaningful.

Imagine the sense of mastery this man might develop as he realizes that he successfully sifted through some very painful feelings and sat with them long enough to make sense of them and improve his life. When he is hit with life’s next curveball, he will feel much more equipped to handle it. On the other hand, if he had used alcohol or a dysfunctional rebound relationship to manage his pain, these insights would have eluded him. Let’s say he loses his job. Like most people, he might panic and wonder how long he’ll be able to pay his bills. But he knows he can handle discomfort. He knows it won’t kill him. He knows his pain can teach him something, and that from the lessons he learns, he can create positive change. Perhaps in this process, he will come to the realization that his work is no longer fulfilling. Maybe he’ll make a career change and enjoy his work again for the first time in years. In contrast, someone unable to sit with discomfort likely would find himself or herself right back in the same kind of unfulfilling job.

Finally, mastering the art of sitting with discomfort makes it possible to be present in even the most painful situations. There are, for example, few things more painful than watching a loved one pass away, and many people avoid it entirely. The man described in this article likely would not. Lessons learned from his past experiences would give him the ability to be present, even in the most difficult situations, and allow him to create some meaningful memories in a loved one’s final days. He could also go on with his life knowing that he provided comfort and companionship when others were unable to do so.

The next time painful feelings emerge in your life, consider allowing them to surface. Sit with them. Explore them. Allow them to teach you. Who knows what positive changes you will create with the lessons you learn?

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brooklyn, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jon

    jon

    April 1st, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    I went from a six yer old relationship to a grossly unneeded one when the former ended.That was a BAD idea.I only led me to blowing money and emotions and nothing else.Yes I was lookin to escape the bad feelings and the emotional avalanche after my love left me.I am coming back to reality now and I sure hope I am able to manage my emotions better.

  • Alice

    Alice

    April 2nd, 2013 at 7:03 AM

    Thanks so much for this article because I have genuinely been trying to get there but haven’t mastered the art of confronting those feelings yet.
    I have spent my entire life trying to run away from the pain without ever realizing that that was only temporary, that the pain will eventually come back to haunt me because I have never really fully dealt with it.
    I have been trying more and more to deal with it all at the time it happens, because it is so much easier to just go ahead and process. But that’s hard too because that is having to break a lifetime of really bad habits!

  • Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    April 8th, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    Alice, thank you so much for sharing. The simple fact that you are aware of this pattern and willing to engage in attempts to change it means you are on a path towards deeper self awareness.

    Jon, I hope through your self reflection, you are the way towards a happy, healthy relationship in the future.

  • Rae

    Rae

    October 15th, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    Thank you for this article, it is very true. I am going though a breakup and it has been very difficult. This is the first time in my life that I am alone. I am learning a lot about myself and I am learning to be happy without the influence of another. It’s not easy, but I’m glad that I’m doing this the right way. I am MA counseling student and I apply what I learn to my life. Honestly, without the tools I learned I don’t think I could do this alone. Facing and exploring my emotions is tough but I know exactly how I feel. I know now that I have to love and be comfortable with myself first before I can love another person. I’m getting there.

  • Roshundra

    Roshundra

    May 8th, 2015 at 3:36 PM

    Children are so beautiful.They are little people.I believe they should have a chance to be who they want to be,be who there are,more than likely be themselves too(i might add)

  • Ediga A

    Ediga A

    May 9th, 2015 at 12:11 AM

    Thanks so much Alice.
    I’m a 22 yrs young man from Uganda and I’m genuinely in love with a 29years married lady. I’m stuck because the lady forces me to Marry her and I don’t want. She’s willing to quit her husband.what can can I do?

  • Annica

    Annica

    May 23rd, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    In my personal experience with a similar situation a person who wants another to do something so much that they have no regard for the others objections / feelings is a person who needs to explore themselves and learn how to apprieciate others not force them into ANYTHING . Even if the force is done with words , if u questioned the relationship / marriage when it brought up your probably right . You see another persons true colors when a difference of opinion arises , I suggest you attempt to study her reactions and see if she respects your decision , that means she will ultimately respect your other choices , which means she truely cares about how you think and feel
    You are so young now is not the time for marriage it’s time for adventure learning living life to its maximum potential if she wants to be part if that she will follow with or without marriage she will have the same issues with u as she does with her current husband if she doesn’t take time to reflect

  • Kevin

    Kevin

    May 10th, 2015 at 4:29 AM

    I’m on a journey of dicovery it’s an adventure it’s scarey being on my own for the first time in my life at 53?
    I have had 3 relations ships with 3 B-type women in the past 3 years. I split with my wife 4 years ago after 20 years of marriage and for Fabulous children.
    The final relationship was with a stunningly beautiful, wonderful initially but fortunately for me she was a heavy duty BPD. After the split 1 month ago I started to research her behaviour and the Silverlinging of this still painful relationship is that I have discovered I have a huge codependency issue too – for the first time in my life I have begun to realise it’s partly me. I have a long way to go – but I have engaged a very experienced therapist and although I am still abusing alcohol, I feel that I have sight of the door to a thriving not just surviving life ….and that they keys to unlocking it are inside me – it’s actually quite difficult to find those keys but I am getting professional help. Reading is also good – I’m on holiday on my own for the first time and although I’m nervous there is some enjoyable parts to being in my own – having the courage to come is one. Good luck to everyone on this journey – Kx

  • Breede

    Breede

    August 2nd, 2016 at 5:48 AM

    I have been off efexor for two months and am finding it hard to deal with the emotions that are now surfacing like real sadness depression that were masked for over a year. Please tell me this will pass or any advice would be greatly appreciated. I was on a very high dose and for a year. How ling will i have to suffer like this

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