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By Dr. Margaret Paul

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Addiction or Emotional Mindfulness?

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006

Our society has not fostered emotional awareness. In fact, we offer a myriad of addictions to avoid feeling our painful emotions, because we have not been taught how to manage our pain.

What are emotions? Emotions are energy that we feel in our bodies as physical sensations. We may feel the energy of anger as tightness in our chest or jaw. We may feel the energy of fear as tension in our stomach or jitteriness in our whole body. We may feel the energy of love as a fullness in our heart and the energy of peace as a full quiet feeling in our gut. Each of us feels our emotions differently, and each of us has learned to put names to the various physical sensations that are caused by the energy of our emotional state.

Our society has not fostered emotional awareness. In fact, we offer a myriad of addictions to avoid feeling our painful emotions, because we have not been taught how to manage our pain. Our parents and their parents role-modeled unhealthy, even harmful, mechanisms for not feeling emotional pain: addictions to substances, people, manipulations, activities and things.

Ask yourself this. When you want to binge, eat sugar, drink alcohol, use drugs, smoke, yell, blame, hit, appease or resist someone, try to be perfect to get approval, run away, turn on the TV, gamble, shop, masturbate with pornography, demand sex from your partner or compulsively act out in any way, what are you feeling? Are you turning to your addictions to distract you from feeling lonely, sad, anxious, scared, angry, unworthy, etc.?

The idea of feeling your past and present emotional pain may be very scary to you. The truth is, you can learn to handle it. Your fear of painful feelings is based on the beliefs about pain that you acquired in childhood, beliefs that are false now that you are an adult. To move beyond your false beliefs, you must be willing to test them, to prove them false. And to test them, you must resist the urge to blunt your emotions with addictions. Until you stop numbing out in the face of your pain, you will never know that you can feel your pain without going crazy or dying, that your pain is not endless, and that it can actually be a source of information and strength rather than weakness.

In all the years I have been working with people in pain, I have never had anyone die, explode or go crazy from opening to their pain. I have never met anyone whose pain was unending. Nor do people kill themselves from feeling their painful emotions when they are willing to learn how to heal it, and when they reach out for the appropriate help. It is not opening to painful emotions and learning how to manage them lovingly that causes suicidal feelings; it is sitting in pain with no inner and outer help that causes a person to take his or her own life. Suicide may be how the wounded self avoids taking responsibility for the emotional pain of the Inner Child. A loving Adult would never think of killing a child, which is what some acts of suicide are--killing the Inner Child who carries the painful emotions. When you learn and practice Inner Bonding -  opening to feeling, learning about and healing your pain, and learn how to manage and release deep pain, there is no longer a need to avoid it.

Even when you are willing to feel your emotional pain (Step 1 of Inner Bonding), it can take some practice to actually do so. Many of us are so used to ignoring our emotions that the moment we feel a twinge of fear, anxiety or loneliness, we open the refrigerator, pour a drink, grab a cigarette, yell t someone, or turn on the TV. We may even find ourselves doing this before we consciously know we've had a feeling. In order to break this pattern and learn about your feelings and what you believe, think and do to cause them, you have to be mindful of what is going on inside your body. You need to begin to focus on your inner experience.

When I tell people that they need to be willing to feel their emotional pain, they often say to me, "What's the big deal about that? I feel my pain all the time." But there is a world of difference between feeling pain and having the willingness to feel it in order to learn from it and take responsibility for it. Willingness includes the capacity to stay with the painful emotion, explore it, own it, find out what you may be thinking or doing that is causing it. There is no healing in just feeling and expressing your emotional pain. You can cry and rage forever, but if you are not willing to take responsibility for your pain, you will be stuck with it forever.

Sometimes people respond with, "Why? Why feel my pain? What's the point?" They believe that feeling emotional pain--especially the heartbreak of childhood--is a waste of time. "Why cry over spilled milk?" they argue. "Why can't we just try to find our joy and skip the pain?" The answer is: because joy and pain are in the same box. When you put a lid on your pain and stuff it back inside, you put a lid on your joy. You choose to live an emotionally stunted life. You also close your ears to the information that pain brings you.

Some pain is how your Inner Child lets you know that you are thinking or behaving in ways that are not in your highest good. Emotional pain may be telling you to stop thinking the thought or doing the thing that is causing you pain. If you do not pay attention to your emotional pain, you will go on thinking and acting in ways that cause you pain, or you will not move into the compassion that your inner child needs to release the core pain of loneliness, heartache, and heartbreak.


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