My experience from 37 years of counseling individuals and
couples is that most of the problems from which people
suffer stem from how they handle the events of life, rather
than the events themselves.
Certainly traumatic and tragic events such as loss of loved
ones, financial loss, and health issues are extremely
challenging. However, some people manage to move through
these events with equanimity, while others remain stuck in
fear, anxiety, and depression. The difference is in how
people handle deeply painful feelings.
I have discovered that there are two core feelings that most
people will do almost anything to avoid feeling: loneliness
Loneliness is an intense empty, sad, sinking or burning
feeling within. This feeling can be triggered by four
1) Loss of a loved one.
2) Not having a partner, family or friends with whom to
share time and love.
3) Being around others but being closed off to them.
4) Being around others when they are closed off to you.
Other than a traumatic loss, the latter is often the most
challenging in everyday life, and this can occur throughout
the day. For example, you walk into work happy and open. You
greet your friend, and he or she barely responds to you. If
you are truly open to your own feelings, you will feel a
stab of loneliness. Yet most people are so closed off to
this feeling that they immediately attempt to avoid the
feeling with some kind of addictive behavior. They might
grab a donut while shaming or blaming - telling themselves
that they must have done something wrong or that their
friend is a jerk. These addictive behaviors are geared to
protect against feeling the pain of the loneliness. And they
work for the moment to appease the feeling, but the feeling
doesn't actually go away. It just goes deeper within and may
eventually cause physical symptoms, such as back pain or
some form of illness.
Helplessness is a similar feeling to loneliness – intense
inner turmoil. In the example above, not only do you have
the stab of loneliness, but you also feel the pain of
helplessness over your friend's behavior. You cannot make
him or her connect with you. However, because this is such a
difficult feeling, you don't want to know that you cannot
have control over another or over the outcome of things. To
avoid knowing about your lack of control, you may shame
yourself: "It's my fault. If I'm different, I can get others
to be different." Or you might blame your friend, attempting
to get him or her to change. Both shame and blame are
attempts to avoid accepting helplessness over others.
Once you turn to addictive behaviors such as food, alcohol,
drugs, activities, shame and blame, you have abandoned
yourself. In attempting to avoid feeling the loneliness and
helplessness, you have created inner aloneness –
self-abandonment. Self-abandonment occurs when your intent
is to avoid pain rather than lovingly attend to your
authentic feelings. The combination of avoiding loneliness,
helplessness and the aloneness that comes from inner
abandonment can lead to anxiety, depression and despair.
People then often turn to prescription drugs to further
avoid their feelings.
Managing the feelings of loneliness and helplessness is not
as hard as you may think it is. If you practice the
following process, you will find that you do not need to use
your various addictions to avoid pain.
1) Stay tuned into your body/feelings so that you know when
you are feeling lonely or helpless. It's very important to
be able to name the feeling, and it may take some time to
recognize these feelings since you may have been avoiding
them for so long.
2) Welcome and embrace the feelings, opening with deep
compassion for these feelings. If you are connected with a
spiritual Source of love and compassion, open to this Source
and ask for help in being in compassion for the feelings.
3) Hold the feelings as you would a child who is hurting,
with deep love and understanding. Just be with the feelings
with deep acceptance of them for a few minutes.
4) Consciously be willing to release the feelings. Imagine
the feelings of loneliness and helplessness moving through
you and being released into the Universe – into Divine Love.
You will find that these painful feelings will quickly
release if you practice these steps rather than abandon
yourself in the face of painful events and experiences.