We all have ’em. Emotional Escape Hatches. You know, those little things we do to soften the blow of those little feelings we just don’t want to feel…..
Often clients who start on a healthy living journey (or even those who have been on it for some time) surprise themselves when those little habits they once had – diving into a pint of ice cream, settling into a plate of pastries, eating a bag of M & M’s at the movie theatre – suddenly take over, again, like a body possession of sorts.
I’ve seen this many times, especially when a new batch of 10 or 12 Week Best Shape Challengers start the program. Why does this happen, they wonder, and what’s behind it all?
See, our patterns of behaviour are like well-worn tire tracks. Our behavious are so well-worn, with year after year of patterned reactions, that the grooves are deep, so deep in fact that they are often unconscious, and our reactions take over: you have a bad day at work, you’re tired and stressed out, your hubby is ignoring you again, your boss reminds you of your controlling father, your sex life is running on empty, your career is stale, your work is unfulfilling….and you over-eat, drink, carouse, fight….
See the problem is that most of us know when we are displaying self-destructive and unhealthy behaviour. We all know that eating a pint of ice cream probably isn’t the best thing to do…but let’s look deeper, shall we (uh oh…I just know a bunch of you are running for the hills right about now!) Why are you eating that ice cream / souffle / donuts? What feeling / memory / are you trying to dull? Loneliness? Fear? Abandonment? Feeling unloved? Unworthy?
See…if you can learn to NOT fall into those well worn tracks that keep you stuck in the mud, and ask the question in silence…without reacting by reaching for sweets, treats, smoking, alcohol, brawling, an extra marital affair….but how do you do this?
The first thing you do when you reach for that escape item….stop. Sit in silence…be aware, be courageous and ask what sits behind it…what are you trying to not feel? Write it down, cry, breathe, listen, be curious and stand outside yourself, like an observer……
The second thing you do is create a new action…go for a walk, turn on some music and dance, write, do some deep breathing. See nature abhors a vacuum, so you simply can’t NOT do the offending behaviour….you have to replace it with another action. Pretty soon, you will create fresh tire tracks that cut deeper and deeper, and will soon replace the old tire tracks of your destructive behaviour. You will automatically fall into the fresh, new, healthier pattern (tracks) you’ve created. And that soon becomes your default button-a healthier way to soothe and heal your emotional chaos.
We all have our Emotional Escape Hatches. When I was younger, it was drugs and alcohol. But as I ‘matured’, I replaced it with being an over-acheiver and a workaholic. (Yep, I thought I had put my childhood behind me!) But as I continued to dig deeper, I could see the pattern again: while being a ‘workaholic’ seems to be a more approved addiction, it is still an addiction. Hmmm…more work to be done.
Now, when I feel those feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, surely left over from a dysfunctional and chaotic childhood, I turn off the computer and take my dog for a 20 minute walk, breathing in the air, looking up at the sky, and finding things to be thankful for….
There. My anxiety starts to pass, and I feel filled up with power and gratitude, ready to take on the rest of the day. A new set of tire tracks has been created, but it took a very long time to create it (and longer to recognize the hidden feelings under it all) but now it’s my new default. And somehow life seems easier.
Come to know your Emotional Escape Hatches. Be gentle with them…they were created (by you!) to protect you, and you are able to handle them in all their scariness. Emotions can’t hurt you, they just need to be validated, and in doing so, they don’t get bigger (this is what most people fear), they actually diminish and their hold over you starts to dissolve. Ah….freedom at last!
Ladies, be brave. Dig. Open. Look. Feel. And feel it blow right through you…and away from you, into the cosmos. We are the strongest force in the Universe, us women. And we can do this! You CAN do this. I promise.
Good luck. And happy trails.