Monday, October 18, 2010

Sitting With Discomfort

It is human nature to try to avoid discomfort in all forms. We learn early on in life to be careful with our physical selves, keeping our hands away from fire, or walking carefully down stairs so we don’t fall down. A little later on, we learn to minimize emotional pain by perhaps not speaking up when we should so we don’t feel rejected, or maybe agreeing with something that is not our truth in order to feel accepted.

While it makes sense to want to minimize pain, we can do this to a point where we end up shutting ourselves off from our deepest feelings, and also our greatest opportunities for growth.

It isn’t easy to sit with confusion or disagreement or disappointment, let them exist, and just experience our reactions to them. I know I always want to jump in and fix the issue as quickly as possible so I’m not uncomfortable anymore. But I’m learning that many of the things that cause me discomfort are due to things beyond my control, and I need to let them be. In my striving to change the energy of a situation, all I end up doing is getting myself off center.

One way we shut ourselves off from fully processing our experiences and receiving their gifts is by placing our focus outside of ourselves. When I am spinning about circumstances around me, who said this or did that, I cannot be sitting with my own experience. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to focus my thinking on what others are doing.   While it may be frustrating and painful, thinking and spinning about what others are doing is often less frustrating and painful than actually deeply feeling my own feelings about what is taking place.

If I try to think my way through something uncomfortable, I may stew for awhile and then feel as if it’s over, but really I’ve just pushed it under the surface. Over a lifetime we can build up so much unacknowledged emotional pain that we begin to see everything through its lens.

I really like the idea that the only way through something is through it. Avoidance doesn’t help, and as they say, resistance is futile. When we start shutting off our uncomfortable experiences, we shut down our ability to feel all emotions, the painful stuff and the joyful stuff. Uncomfortable things will always happen, and the experience of them provides the impetus we need to open our hearts to the profound miracle in all of life’s ups and downs.

An interesting example of this that I heard about recently involves a group of people who were studied regarding their response to the discomfort of holding a hand in extremely cold water. One group was instructed to focus their attention on what they were feeling in their hand. The other group was asked to focus their attention on something pleasant, such as a warm beach in Hawaii. The group that stayed with the pain they felt actually processed it more quickly and easily.

If I sit with my discomfort and give it the space it needs to be fully experienced, I can eventually let it go. In the meantime, while I am in that process of integrating what I need to learn from the discomfort, I validate it as part of what it means to be human. And I remember the hand of God in all of it.

May this tool be a blessing. . .


  1. I was just talking to my boyfriend about how I avoid speaking up out of fear of being rejected or looked upon unfavorably. It's very apropos that I found this post today.
    I too find myself disassociating from my experience and focusing on what others are doing. It does minimize the emotional pain by making you more of an observer and less of the participant so to speak. It's part of why i love to read good fiction novels, with elaborate characters. There's nothing more therapeutic than being transported into someone else's world, at least for some time. Besides, we're all connected through and through, so whether I'm deep within myself or someone else, it can be just as rewarding or healing of an experience for me.

  2. I have just learned a really important lesson similar to that of Woman Awakened.

    I avoid emotional pain by not talking about anything that might cause disagreement with my partner. It led to us drifting apart and separating last week.

    The first step to each of us healing as individuals and a couple is to work through our fear of discomfort. And to see it as a necessary and healthy part of life.

    Thank you for your post.

  3. I'm in the throws of this right now. I've been so disconnected from my feelings to the point where I don't have any recognition of them. A lifetime of unrecognized feelings that I am only becoming aware of's really hard to sit with the discomfort of it all. I hope I have the strength to do it and not resort back to my avoidance tactics.

  4. Dear Anonymous,
    Don't expect to tackle all the big things at the same time. Pick a time during the day to stop and notice. Take your time, forgive yourself, don't worry about being perfect, be gentle with yourself and allow small feelings to start to surface. The feelings are not you; you are the one observing the feelings. Breathe and love yourself. Blessings, Sherry

  5. Thank you Sherry. Happily since my comment written on the 10/21/10, I've been able to meet myself with kindness and compassion. I'm learning how to hold space for myself when feelings arise. Through breathing practices I'm am learning how to come home to myself. Last thing I want to share. After experiencing true compassion for myself I a finding that my compassion for others has increased significantly. Anyhow, I just wanted to share and to say thank you very much for your response.