Avoiding feelings

Are you struggling with the challenges of controlling your emotions or finding yourself tempted to avoid your feelings? Dr. Lars Auschra, co-head of the German Institute of Emotion Focus Therapy, delves into the reasons behind our tendencies to control or avoid our emotions. He sheds light on the potential consequences of such actions and offers insights into how we can cultivate awareness around these emotional blockades.


The Battle with Unwanted Emotions

In our daily lives, we encounter a spectrum of emotions, some of which we embrace, while others we consciously or unconsciously attempt to shun away. As Dr. Auschra, the co-head of the German Institute of Emotion Focus Therapy, points out, there’s a natural inclination to resist feelings that are perceived as painful. The instinct to avoid emotions arises from a desire to escape the discomfort they bring.

Conscious and Unconscious Avoidance

Dr. Auschra distinguishes between conscious and unconscious efforts to avoid feelings. Sometimes, we deliberately engage in activities to distract ourselves or hold our breath, hoping to suppress the rising anxiety or fear. Other times, these avoidance tactics happen unconsciously, leaving us unaware of the emotional blockages we create.

Secondary Emotions

Dr. Auschra introduces the concept of secondary emotions, which are personal patterns that overshadow and override our genuine feelings. He shares his own experience, emphasizing anger as his primary secondary emotion. Understanding these patterns is crucial, as they play a significant role in how we process and express our emotions. Dr. Auschra recounts a personal experience when he found himself irrationally angry as his daughter turned ten. Upon reflection, he realized that the anger was a shield, protecting him from the deeper, more vulnerable emotion of sadness. It was only when he consciously allowed himself to feel the sadness that he experienced a profound shift, reconnecting with the moment and his daughter’s milestone. Learn more about primary and secondary emotions in the previous post, What is an emotion.

The Crucial Role of Parents in Emotional Development

Dr. Auschra introduces a profound notion – the idea that ideally, we can navigate our emotional landscape independently because we learn this skill from our parents or primary caregivers. From a young age, our caregivers play a crucial role in helping us decipher our feelings, make sense of them, and learn to deal with them. Our emotional journey often begins in the safe and nurturing environment provided by our parents. They are our first teachers, showing us how to express, process, and comprehend our feelings. Many individuals acquire these skills naturally through their upbringing. While the ideal scenario involves autonomous emotional navigation, Dr. Auschra acknowledges that some may find themselves stuck in their feelings or entangled in secondary emotions. In such instances, seeking the guidance of a therapist becomes a valuable resource. It’s a proactive step towards untangling emotional knots and fostering a deeper understanding of oneself.

Strategies for Emotional Blockage

Dr. Auschra outlines three broad categories of how we block our feelings:

  1. Physical Actions: Engaging in physical behaviors like holding our breath or tensing muscles.
  2. Cognitive Distractions: Shifting our focus or redirecting our thoughts to avoid confronting emotions.
  3. Emotional Substitution: Deliberately replacing one emotion with another to create a sense of control.

Breaking the Cycle

The key lies in awareness and curiosity. Dr. Auschra suggests asking ourselves a series of questions to discern whether our emotions are being blocked:

  • Are we aware of what we’re feeling?
  • Does the emotion fit the situation?
  • Is it a familiar, recurring emotion?
  • What underlying need does the emotion serve?

Seeking Help

While self-awareness is crucial, Dr. Auschra emphasizes that seeking external help, such as therapy, can be invaluable. Therapists can assist in unraveling deeply ingrained patterns of emotional avoidance, providing insights and tools for healthier emotional expression.

Feel It to Heal It

In conclusion, the journey toward understanding and navigating our emotions involves embracing them rather than resisting. As Dr. Auschra beautifully puts it, “you have to feel it to heal it.” By fostering awareness and a willingness to explore our emotional landscape, we can cultivate a healthier relationship with our feelings and, in turn, enhance our overall well-being.