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When We Avoid Emotions We Don’t Like, Our Lives Get Smaller and Smaller

When We Avoid Emotions We Don’t Like, Our Lives Get Smaller and Smaller

“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer.” ~Gabor Mate

Most of us avoid experiences not necessarily because we don’t like them or want them, but because we don’t want to Feel how you will feel We can only do that when we have the experience.

Our lives become altered by the emotions we don’t want to feel because we don’t want to move toward the thing that could bring strong emotions like fear, shame, sadness, or disappointment.

We don’t want to go to that party because we’ll probably feel awkward and embarrassed.
We don’t want to chase that work opportunity in case we feel disappointed if it doesn’t work out.
We don’t want to take that trip because it might feel scary.
We don’t want to slow down our busy lives because it feels too terrifying to contemplate emptiness and quiet.

We then realize this is all we are. We are only:

  • People who don’t like parties
  • People who don’t travel
  • People who fear for their safety
  • People who procrastinate
  • People who aren’t just busy, but extremely stressed

This is what we believe is right for us. Perhaps we feel an anger or an anguish at being “this type of person.” Or maybe it just feels so unconscious, so embedded in our personality that we don’t do certain things, that we accept it as just the way we are. 

For the majority of my life, I believed that I was anxious, fearful, and cautious. It was how I was raised. I thought I couldn’t change it, just like I couldn’t change my hair color or my deep love for mashed potatoes. It felt biological. While some people are brave and strong, I was afraid and scared of nearly everything.

This idea of who I was carried me with me until I realized that emotions such as fear, terror, anger, rage, despair, and sadness are emotions we must learn to deal with. And if we don’t learn how to be with them, they can create an outsized influence on our lives—creating this idea about who we are and what kind of personality we have and causing us to avoid things that trigger these feelings.

We are not avoiding the experience, people, and things. But the feelings that we feel when we think of it or try to do the thing. Feelings around meeting new people, starting new projects, feeling the uncertainty of traveling, and so forth.

It’s The feelings These are the most difficult things for us. Then we make choices about the things we are willing to do and those we don’t want to do. We mold our lives around the things that generate emotions we don’t know how to be with. And we don’t head toward things we don’t like because of how we will feel and what we think will happen when we walk toward that feeling.

Because our body isn’t used to really being with the emotion we are avoiding, or it has proved problematic in the past.

It is because our survival network is activated by a lot our emotions. Things feel urgent, dangerous, or unsafe when our survival network activates.

Perhaps we feel sweaty palms, a sense of doom, racing hearts, a burning desire to flee, panic or an overabundance of uncontrollable anger.

This is how our brain begins to associate survival with this emotion. It’s like it labels “new work opportunity” or “traveling” as an undesirable or unsafe experience because of the emotions that generate around that experience.

We just don’t know what to do with these emotions.

Our brains say, “Don’t go near that! It’s dangerous!”

As such, we are like a player in a videogame. We run around and avoid falling boulders, jump over snake pits, and maneuver out of the way giant fireballs.

But what our brain perceives as threats are not actually threats but emotions it doesn’t know what to do with.

The pits of snakes aren’t snakes but fear around traveling. Or, the boulders could be described as the fear of despair or disappointment. Avoiding the fireballs can be a way to avoid shame.

The harsh thing, though, is that even though we are trying to sensibly avoid these emotions, these survival reactions, we don’t get to avoid them completely.

The shame, the fear, the rage, the terror—they are there in our body and popping up in other places. We can’t avoid them completely, and by trying to avoid them we simply make our lives smaller and smaller and smaller.

Is it possible to live our lives in avoidance mode all of our lives?

Do we just have to accept that some things are just  “too hard,” “too stressful,” “not for people like us”?

No. Way.

That’s the most exciting aspect of our brains. This is because of the way we dealt with emotions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a new way. That we can’t ‘rewire’ the responses we have learnt.

My fear was my greatest obstacle. I learned how to work with it and stopped being so afraid about my life. My perception of myself changed completely.  I don’t see myself as a cautious, fearful person anymore.

I gave myself the time to explore the fear and learn how to deal with it in a slow, gentle way. It helped me to feel secure around this emotion in a way that I had never experienced before.

I realized that the problem is not that we are avoiding our emotions on purpose, it’s that we don’t understand them.

This is the hardest part about learning how to live your life.

We aren’t given the tools to work with our emotions (most of us aren’t anyway), and then we are cast out into the world to just ‘make a life.’

Be a good friend!

Be successful Find a job that you love!

Deal with clients, colleagues, and stressed bosses.

You must deal with the loss of loved ones, grief, and health issues.

Even if your parents are a bit sloppy, absent, autoritarian, or unloving, be a good parent.

How do we navigate the world when there is so much emotion, and we have never learned to handle it? When we feel constantly pushed hither and thither either by our emotional reactions or other people’s?

This journey is about awakening self-compassion and empathy for emotions that we struggle with.

Deciding: Wow, I wasn’t given the tools to navigate the whole myriad of emotions that I encounter every day! It’s hard!

It is a huge step back from the way we usually respond to emotional activation.

Can we show kindness and understanding rather than blame and judgement? It makes sense I feel like this—I haven’t learned how to deal with emotions like shame, fear, grief, etc.

Being compassionate in the face strong emotions is a powerful step. We are often prone to try and justify/vent our feelings. I shouldn’t feel like this! It’s all their fault! I’m such a horrible person! It is all terrifying! They made me mad!

Can we instead decide to walk towards our own side? Are we willing to accept the emotional challenges we face? Instead of dwelling on our emotions and feeling ashamed, can we instead choose to be kind, understanding, compassionate, and empathic?

When we allow our emotions to exist and meet them with empathy, creating a sense of internal safety around them, it’s much easier to support ourselves through experiences that might activate them.

For the next 2 days, you can get access to Diana’s upcoming live online retreat, Emotional Resilience & Emotional Self-Mastery, as part of the Best Life Bundle: Best You!

This bundle includes 18 life-changing online tools, all for 95% off It’s a Comprehensive collection of resources to help you find peace, healing, self-esteem and emotional resilience. You can find out more about it here.

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About Diana Bird

Diana Bird is a neuro emotional coach and writer, helping people release unhealthy emotional patterns and deep overwhelm. To receive her free workshop on building emotional resilience, sign up for her newsletter here. You’ll also receive invites to her free webinars on subjects like releasing shame and soothing overwhelm. Diana works with clients in her coaching practice and in online workshops and lives on the beach in southern Spain, with her children and photographer husband.

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