by Rob Jost, LMFT Boulevard Therapy
As human beings, we like routines. When we are fully aware of them, we like the safety and predictability they offer. They keep us productive, on task, and feeling good about getting things done. However, there is also a down side to being a product of a constant routine. When we’re not aware of our old patterns, we end up getting frustrated when life seems to be a series of events leading to the same disappointment of “I’ve been here before, why do I keep making the same mistakes?” My years of experiences, both professionally and personally, have illuminated the importance of discerning between when we’re fully conscious, and running on auto-pilot.
Full consciousness is us at our best – we’re centered, in the moment, fully engaged with the world. And, let’s be real, it’s not as easy as it sounds but a good goal to set. Instead, we are normally on auto-pilot, a version of a conveyor-belt that just keeps producing things, without much left to the imagination or potential for change. We actually need both in life, and we’re probably best off by tending to find the balance between the two. This is where paying attention to our feelings really helps, and as often is the case, balance is key. If we’re stuck chasing every feeling we have down the rabbit hole, we can easily get lost in the shuffle of the chase. On the other hand, if we’re completely cut off from feelings, there’s a toxic price we pay, and it has to do with relationships – the ones within (ourselves)…and those around us.
Internally, by shutting down our ability to feel fully, we cut off the essential way of processing life – its joy and happiness, as well as the pain and the struggle. Our feelings are an essential way of giving instant feedback on life (this is a big concept and I will explain more in another blog), and when we push them down, we lose a significant part of ourselves. The initial urge to push away a negative feeling is rooted in our old patterns of attempting to cope with a difficult situation. It usually starts in childhood, as we don’t usually have the capacity to tend to our needs. Therefore, a negative feeling is unbearable and it needs to go away in any way possible. In adult life, this doesn’t serve us well anymore, and the more we suppress, the more we move away from our authentic selves. We falsely think we’re safe because that’s what we’re used to from our past conditioning. But, we’re building a metaphorical house of cards – one that can come crashing down at any given moment.
Moreover, in relationships with others, feelings are also hugely important, as other people (especially those close to us) can much more easily tell how we’re coming across than we can on our own. That’s because we don’t often realize that our suppressed feelings are rather easily experienced by others, but hard to detect for ourselves.
The solution to all this? A reasonable dose of ‘where am I at right now emotionally?’ often seems to be a good guide to get back on track. By paying attention to what we’re feeling and experiencing in the moment, we become more engaged in the present. Therapy is a huge catalyst in bringing forth this awareness, as it usually leads to much greater self-awareness and insight. It doesn’t mean everything suddenly gets better, but we begin to create space in ourselves to be more connected in our lives, and not just rely on auto-pilot. In the big picture, it means we’re better partners, employees, parents, and simply human beings.