As you can probably tell by now, it’s been a really intense season of reflection for me.
That said, it’s been harder than usual.
At this time last year there was a lot more fun going on in my life. I was zoned in on selling 30+ years of stuff, preparing for a new life in new countries, and was surrounded by some amazing people on a regular basis. From basketball, Netflix, movie-going and random Christmas parties, it was easy to postpone the reflection for when I was in the mountains of India (which btw I barely did in the end.. go figure).
This year however, there is no getaway. The people I was closest to have either moved away or the relationships have shifted. Above all, I feel almost ‘forced’ to face the parts of me I’ve been putting off for so long.
It’s safe to say over the years I became very good at coping. So good in fact, I was able to create a career in helping others do it. The recipe was simple – as soon as you fell into emotions you didn’t like, spark up that rational mind and shift your perspective as quickly and forcefully as possible. In doing so, you shift your feelings and are able to escape the mood you are in.
For the most part, this technique is incredibly valuable. I’ve been grateful enough to help numerous people see new perspectives that drastically benefitted their lives beyond a simple mood shift. However, there is one glaring flaw in my approach, which I began to realize while in Nepal.
Remember that movie with Jack Black where he create the spray that made dog poop disappear? As far as I remember, the invention was crazy popular until someone asked “Where does all the dog poop go?” And if I’m not mistaken, shortly after it started to rain dog poop.
Alright you’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this $h!t talking (get it!) … here’s my point – coping is a great tool in reducing or ridding ourselves of emotions in a certain moment, but it doesn’t eliminate the emotion from continuing to exist within us.
In other words, coping has it’s place in our lives. It’s vital. It’s like an Advil. If we receive devastating news or are faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, coping allows prevents us from going over the edge of insanity and giving us enough capacity to get back into our rational state of mind to make decisions to keep us going. I would never want anyone who is contemplating suicide to not using coping techniques to get them into a better state of mind.
However, think of what happens if we were to take an Advil every day from now on? Does the pain really go away, or just your reaction to it? What happens when the Advil stops being effective? Worst, what are the potential side-effects of a drug like that being taken long-term?
Without dealing with and working through our emotions, all we do is we push them into the subconscious part of us where they manipulate us like mindless puppets. They become so engrained as part of who we are, that we don’t even know they’re effecting us. If you want proof for this, just look around. We see people trying to solve the hatred of a president, with even more hatred for him. We see people getting into fights over parking spots. We see people waiting in lines to buy stuff with the money they don’t have just to show themselves and others how valuable they are.
Coping gives us traction, but it is up to us to keep moving deeper in order to fully express and understand our emotions in a conscious way. It’s only through that journey are we able to rid ourselves of them.
But if our focus it to ‘suck it up‘ or ‘muster up our mental muscle‘ to ‘fight through‘ and ‘move on‘ (all this language propagating our addiction to coping as a long-term strategy) it doesn’t go anywhere, it just becomes a deeper part of us.
There has to be a breaking point right? There’s only so much our minds and bodies can handle before they can no longer sustain the perpetual pressures of coping.
And that’s where $h!t gets real. That’s where the self-reflection moves from the fun and dancing positives, to the darker undertones of the negatives. As Star Wars eluded too, that’s where we get called to the dark side – where either we succumb to joining it or build the understanding of it to propel us to the light side again.
The biggest problem with going through suppressed emotions that we’ve spent so many years coping with, is the identity crisis it causes us to confront. Over time we’ve come to know ourselves in a certain way, and even attract other people because of it. They tell us how much they admire our ‘certainty’ or ‘fierceness’ that all of a sudden feeling like you have to embrace this darker side to you becomes a complete mind fuck. In a way, we always have some degree of identity crisis stemming from who we are as compared to who we should be. However, when we have to confront years of suppressed emotions that degree escalates very quickly. You almost feel like a different person and are scared to have other’s discover you’ve been a fraud.
What I want to remind you here… right now… is that you are not a fraud. You are simply choosing (or being forced) to deal with the darker parts of you that got glossed over. And that fact is you almost certainly did not know, or intentionally, gloss over them – you were just unaware of your addiction to coping.
When going through this phase you will also inevitably come to meet many, especially those who knew you from your past, who want you to ‘move on’ and ‘live your life’. While it’s understandable they only want the best for you, at the end of the day you have to ask yourself – what’s really best for you? Is it really coming up with another coping mechanism to suppress more emotions or is it really diving into those emotions, expressing them, and then understanding their source, cause and triggers. Anyone can run from them, but to walk into them for the sake of your self-awareness – now that’s true courage.
So this holiday season, if you’re feeling alone, scared, upset, sad, frustrated, anti-social, guilty, embarrassed or any emotion you’ve typically learned to cope with an ‘move on’ … ask yourself “where do I really want to move?” If it’s to keep up the coping until you hit a tipping point, then by all means do it. However, if you feel compelled to go into the dark and come out the other side more aware of yourself and more in control of your emotions – go for it and remember you are not alone. The collective consciousness depends on each and every person’s work to become more self-aware, don’t dismiss yours as unimportant.
“Aversion to suffering only worsens it.”
― Miriam Greenspan, Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair