Don’t Touch That
So, the other day a friend of mine triggered me. Deftly, he located a wound that I didn’t even know was there. I got defensive. I had learned how to manage that pain from my past – thank you very much. And, evidently (unfortunately for him), that wound did NOT want to be found. Okay, I didn’t bite off his head. I just nibbled on his arm a little. Eventually, I had to admit I was prone to spiritual bypass.
Hey, it’s better than drinking half a bottle of wine every night. I mentioned this term last week in my post, What Kind of Therapy Works. Everyone does it now and then. I was doing it when my friend discovered that wound inside of me.
Robert Augustus Masters defines it like this: “It is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more common than we might think. In fact, is so pervasive as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.”
What’s so wrong with spiritually bypassing?
It doesn’t get to the root of a problem, and it doesn’t allow a release to occur so that you can quit repeating the same scenarios with people again and again. You might do it to avoid pain and suffering, but, ultimately, avoidance leads to greater pain and suffering, such as physical and psychological problems, as well as an existential loneliness and feeling distance from others.
For You Athletes
Think of it as a foam roller on the emotions. We know now that rolling out the muscles helps get rid of lactic acid and tension and increase blood flow so that ligaments and tendons can function properly; it hurts like all get out! And, we’ve learned that that kind of pain is okay. Same with emotional pain. Sometimes we’ve got to feel it in a big way to get to the other side.
You Are Not Alone
If all you are is light and happy, then people sense the falsehood and superficiality. To paraphrase Alain De Botton, founder and chairman of The School of Life, he says that if someone tells you they are easy to live with, be suspicious of their lack of self-awareness. To be authentic and human is messy sometimes. Isolating is totally contrary to human nature. We are all difficult and wounded. “All of us are deeply damaged people. The great enemy of love, good relationships, good friendships, is self-righteousness.”
It’s not that we want to obsess over the proverbial belly button. (And please don’t say “wallow in self-pity.” Your inner bully wants to say that, but that’s a great way to abort feelings and avoid deeper work.) It’s that we want to have BOTH: the ability to feel deeply in to and through the contraction and release of painful emotion, while also having a framework of some kind.
Ironically, it is not when we seek to be perfect that we open to something Greater than ourselves, but when we embrace our humanity.
Individual and/or group therapy can offer relief, other ways to perceive reality, and/or new skills. Even a true spiritual practice can provide the framework to go deeper if we use it as such. Good examples are the 12 step programs, Avatar or A Course in Miracles groups. There are body-centered mindfulness and meditation groups. Seek anything that will help to develop increased self-awareness or provide a new reference to heal the part of you that has been (or still is) feeling victimized by others. This will help you to navigate relational challenges.
Contraction and Release
It’s a skill to live life in emotional contraction and release. The contraction may go on for longer periods of time as you explore how your survival programming got created. Eventually the breakthroughs add up to create a release. But, even in your best times, there might be contraction and release many times in a day as you navigate the spectrum of emotions. The healthier you get, the more fluid emotions become. It’s like learning to play scales on a musical instrument.
The earlier you track an emotion, the sooner you can take action so that it doesn’t turn into a behemoth expressed destructively. Eventually, you will be playing complicated musical pieces, able to consider emotions not as “good and bad,” but as “felt senses” that you move through and that move through you.
It’s important to identify the people whom you can trust to hold space for your emotions as you tap your very human wounds and seek help.
This requires feeling safe with another person – that they won’t belittle or brush off your feelings. It’s important that they understand that anger can, may and will be felt, but that it is never appropriate to yell. Screaming is as abusive as hitting.
Good communication partners have faced their demons and have seen just how mean they are to themselves. If they haven’t yet heard the inner bully or acknowledged their own self-judgment and wounds, then it will likely spill out onto other family members, friends and/or strangers driving on the road.
It Takes Courage
It is brave to feel the contraction and release of life. When things aren’t working in your life and you decide to go on a journey of self-awareness, old wounds might be unearthed. As a result, you have the opportunity to become a more loving and empathetic person by seeking out new perspectives.
“Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” Brené Brown
Experiencing emotional availability within yourself and then with another human being is not always easy, but done well: a delight! To feel acknowledged is nourishing. To get to a place where you can agree to disagree, yet feel heard, is expansive. By and large, our culture has (at least in the past) encouraged repression, superficiality and spiritual bypass. You take a hero’s journey as you learn to do the soul work that enables you to connect more deeply with other humans.
“Existential philosophy… teaches us that the various forms of vulnerability are constitutive of our very existence as finite beings.” Robert D Stolorow Ph.D