When you think of a phobia, what comes to mind? Perhaps spiders, flying, and heights? What about a phobia of your feelings and bodily sensations? Such fears and phobias are not as uncommon as one would think.
Our inner experience is what we think, feel, remember, sense, decide, plan and predict. Our inner experiences are powerful and influence negative beliefs and feelings or reactions to the past. This can interfere with your current life. While avoiding inner experiences allows you to avoid the uncomfortable feelings, avoiding them does not give you the opportunity to shift them so that they no longer have control over you. If your avoidance is significant, you might have a phobia of your inner experiences, including your emotions and bodily sensations.
There are many ways in which we avoid our inner experiences, such as working, eating, drinking, drugs, shopping and spending excessive time on the computer and watching tv. Can you relate? Remember, this avoidance may be conscious or unconscious.
Why People Become Uncomfortable with Emotions
1. Individuals who have experienced adversity or trauma in their childhood may not have learnt how to understand and cope with overwhelming emotions. Or your parents just might not have been comfortable with feelings. Parents are needed to help a child process and metabolize overwhelming emotions. When they are not physically or emotionally available or capable of doing so, the child receives too little support and reassurance from their caregiver. The child is left feeling easily overwhelmed because they do not understand their experiences and feel like they can’t control their emotions.
2. Individuals often look at their experiences as either “bad” or “good.” They also tend to label themselves as such. For instance, they may feel like anger is dangerous and bad, and since I feel angry, I must be dangerous and bad. This black and white thinking is usually first developed in childhood and is carried throughout life with them. We tend to want what is good and pleasant while avoiding pain. It’s important to understand that inner experiences are not what makes you bad or good, they are just a healthy part of you and your inner world.
3. Inner experiences can remind you of past uncomfortable, adverse or traumatic experiences. When people feel anxious, the emotions and physical sensations may serve as a reminder of a past negative experience. They may experience the fear that they felt when they were fearful or being hurt in the past. As a result, they try to avoid feeling anxious so to not be reminded of the traumatic event. Now, remember, this is not always happening at a conscious level.
Overcoming the Phobia of Emotions
It’s entirely understandable that you might want to avoid certain inner experiences, feelings, and sensation that are related to past traumatic or adverse experiences. Being curious of your inner experiences will help you understand and change your reaction.
These inner experiences that you’re trying to avoid have good reason to be there. It’s helpful to remember that and not judge them or label them as “good” or “bad.” We all have internal experiences. Some of them are more comfortable and aligned with the person who you want to be, while others less so. We all have a range of emotions. We all feel angry, afraid, ashamed or hopeless at times. If you can tolerate the feelings, thoughts, and sensations, you’ll be able to observe and be curious about them, allowing them to come and go, without feeling overwhelmed or stuck. You’ll be able to recognize that these inner experiences that you’ve been phobic towards for so long.
4 Questions to Help you Become More Comfortable with Feelings
Accepting your inner experiences with compassion and without judgment can help you start to overcome fears of your feelings. Here are 4 questions that I suggest you ask yourself over the next week or so.
Start by noticing when you avoid your inner experience, with compassion and without judgment, which is making you feel scared or ashamed. Start off by looking at an experience that is a 1 or 2 on a scale of 10, where 1 is very little, and 10 is very much. Select an experience that won’t overwhelm you.
- What inner experiences (emotion, thought, body sensation, memory or fantasy) do you avoid?
- What beliefs or fears do you have if you allowed yourself to accept your inner experiences?
- What do you do to avoid your inner experience?
- What help or tools do you imagine you’ll need to be less avoidant of this inner experience?
Being uncomfortable with feelings can feel overwhelming and can interfere with your ability to live life on your terms. As such, it might be helpful to work with a counsellor or psychotherapist.