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"Feel Good" Techniques Are A Trap

July 14, 2019

Last week's article generated the highest number of emails and phone call responses yet. It answered the question: What do I do when I'm feeling bad?

Spoiler: Do nothing.

Trying to control emotions is impossible. Despite our best efforts, it never works consistently...and often has the opposite effect of making us feel worse.

A few people wrote in and said, "Well, there are things you can do to feel better though, like dance around. Or force yourself to laugh and be in a good mood."

Let me respond: Yes, you can apply a technique to make yourself feel better for a few hours, or even a day. But just like drugs or medication, the effect eventually wears off—and is ultimately only masking symptoms of a larger problem.

That larger problem is FEAR of feeling down, feeling negative, or just generally feeling bad emotions. We've so stigmatized the unpleasant parts of our psyche that when they naturally present themselves in our mind, we'll do anything to feel better.

Some people use techniques to feel better. Some use drugs. Some use working late at the office, shopping, or eating food. Some people even escape into mental fantasies. And of course there are so many more ways.

These are all coping strategies. We all have them; we all use them. But have you ever stopped to ask why? Why are we so afraid of our feelings? Why are we so afraid of certain thoughts, memories, or emotions?

Is it possible that our fear of feeling certain ways is the exact reason these feelings get stuck on a loop, seeming to never go away?

Many people spend decades of their lives running from some feeling or thought they fear, defaulting to a coping mechanism to handle it. We've all known someone who operates like one of the following...

  • "I'm afraid of being seen as poor, so I'm going to accumulate as much money, houses, and things to prove to everyone that I'm wealthy."
  • "Everyone laughs at me for being fat, so I'm going to keep trying diets until I lose all the weight, and then everyone will want/respect/admire me."
  • "No one listened to me growing up, so I'm going to get a Master's degree, and then a Ph.D., to eliminate any doubt that I don't know what I'm talking about."

But within each one of these situations, a larger truth is revealed—and it can be a scary realization to have: We are not controlling our inner world. Our inner world is actually controlling us, every day.

By "coping" with the feelings we don't like, we're actually growing them stronger.

We're often told to "face our fears" in order to grow as a person. But what if the most courageous thing you can do is simply realize thatallfeelings, both positive and negative, come and go? And then do nothing.

This is not just a method to feel better, but the only way to live and thrive.

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