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Are You Emotionally Phobic?

If you're conditioned to avoid emotion, here's a way to retrain yourself.

Key points

  • Many are not taught how to process or sit with difficult emotions, causing them not to be at peace within themselves.
  • Being afraid of one's own emotions can make a person engage in behaviors that only bring on more unhappiness.
  • Making time to deliberately be with oneself, without distractions, helps to undo the emotional phobia.

You might be surprised at how many seemingly emotional people are actually quite afraid of their own emotions. It’s one thing to be intense, constantly busy, or always in need of people and things. It is quite another to actually sit with yourself and feel all the underpinnings of your nervous system. No one will teach you to do this. It is not typically emphasized in families or schools. In fact, the culture at large will teach you the opposite: how to turn away, avoid, and shut down your emotional pain.

Over time, you may become so conditioned to avoiding emotion that you no longer have, or never develop, the capacity to be at ease and internally peaceful. This keeps you from having healthy authentic relationships with others, stable moods, and a sense that life and you are enough, just as you are.

Turning away can be achieved through constant busyness, going from one task to another, never being alone, alcohol, drugs, compulsive shopping, workaholism, the caretaking of others… the list is long. You can overload yourself to such an extreme with everything external that by the time you sit down, slow down, and tune in, you may feel completely alien to your actual self.

This kind of turning away leads to tremendous pain and loss. When we don’t know how to be with ourselves, we fear ourselves. We become afraid to be alone with our bodies and our thoughts. Like exploring Mars, it can feel lonely, isolating, and desolate. When you get a hint of this forsaken part of yourself, just a hint, you may feel so overwhelmed that you instantly blink back into detaching from yourself.

The consequences of being on the run from your own self are many—depression, indecisiveness, brain fog, general unhappiness, and a lack of joy, spontaneity, and connection with others. You walk through life thinking, "I should be happier. Why am I not happier?" It is only through becoming comfortable and at ease with our own internal worlds and physical bodies that we can feel truly at peace and be at ease and intimate with others.

How to undo emotional phobia

Take five minutes a day to start changing this pattern. Deliberately set the time aside and do the exercise or else that old conditioning will remain stuck.

  • Go inward. Observe (don't judge) your body sensations.
  • Note areas of tension, pressure, heaviness, pain, butterflies, etc.
  • Breathe in and out as you just literally allow whatever is present to be present.
  • Internally observe and label: for example, “stomach is tight,” “tense,” “sad,” or “angry.”
  • Feel your chest rise and fall—whatever is present within you is okay.
  • Go back and forth between observing your internal experience and the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe in and out.
  • Recognize, however fleeting, feelings of softness and peace enter your body.

As we become comfortable with ourselves all alone and in this way, we are no longer on the run and can be at peace within ourselves and with others.