The 71 Most Effective Ways to Avoid Feeling What You’re Feeling


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When I first became a therapist, I thought I had to work a magic trick every hour to get people to feel what they feel.

Then I had kids, and I saw what is true of every human being: we are, each of us, bursting with feelings. Until we grow up and start trapping them inside. Until we start suppressing them. Now I know, as a psychologist, my job isn’t to get people to start feeling; my job is to help people stop avoiding what they are feeling. Then feelings just happen. Naturally. Healingly.

What follows is a list of perfectly ordinary things most of us do from time to time in order to avoid feeling what we’re feeling. Most of them are serious. Some of them are humorous. They are all quite effective…

  1. Write a blog post about how to avoid feeling your feelings.
  2. Work too hard.
  3. Netflix binge.
  4. Buy something. Anything. Scratch that. Shop first. Then buy. Buy three versions of the same thing. Try them all out. Return two. Start shopping again.
  5. Download a new app. Preferably a game. In which you can earn achievements. Bonus avoidance points if it features in-app purchases.
  6. Check email.
  7. Click on spam instead of unsubscribing from it.
  8. Check Facebook.
  9. Check it again.
  10. Get into a Facebook argument. The topic doesn’t matter. Just oppose something.
  11. Shame somebody. Again, anyone will do, though the less likely they are to shame you back, the better.
  12. Send a text message. Make it a group text. Wait for responses.
  13. Eat.
  14. Work harder.
  15. Eat more.
  16. Try to figure out what everyone else is feeling.
  17. When you think you’ve figured out what they’re thinking, focus on how to influence their emotions. If you are so inclined, become a therapist so you can get paid for doing so.
  18. Decide anger is bad, dangerous, perhaps even evil.
  19. Decide fear is shameful.
  20. Decide sadness is weak.
  21. Watch 24/7 cable news. Watch it 24/7.
  22. Criticize someone. Anyone will do—friends, strangers, and of course, those with different political views than you.
  23. Fix someone. Fix something. Once again, any problem will do.
  24. Drink.
  25. Smoke something.
  26. Fill every silence with a joke.
  27. Grab the nearest device as soon as you wake up in the morning.
  28. Don’t ask questions about your family-of-origin.
  29. Idealize your parents.
  30. Or tell yourself your parents did the best they could and you have no right to be disappointed.
  31. Chide yourself for taking the time to feel something. Tell yourself that’s a luxury. A privilege.
  32. Tell yourself other people have it worse, so who are you to complain?
  33. Set no boundaries on your time or commitments, so there is no room for stillness.
  34. Tell yourself stillness is a waste of time.
  35. Live vicariously through your children. Or celebrities.
  36. Blame the ones you love for not making your crummy feelings go away.
  37. Pretend you’re an adult and that you have it all together. Ignore the sad, lonely, confused little kid inside of you.
  38. Try to save the world (a.k.a., work harder).
  39. Eliminate all silence from your life.
  40. Look at porn.
  41. Look at more porn.
  42. Work on your abs.
  43. Fantasize about the ideal lover whose ideal love will take away your loneliness.
  44. Gossip.
  45. Be absolutely certain about everything.
  46. Go faster.
  47. Work harder.
  48. Turn meditation into an effort to “feel more peaceful” rather than a surrender to feeling what is.
  49. Fill up your Sabbath with church services, church activities, soccer games, video games, shopping, and preparations for tomorrow.
  50. Debate theology.
  51. Choose to believe faith has nothing to offer you.
  52. Choose to believe faith will solve all your problems.
  53. Pick one person or group of people to blame for most all of your problems.
  54. Swipe mindlessly through your phone until you come across an app that you haven’t fiddled with in a month.
  55. Avoid eye contact.
  56. Chase perfection.
  57. Chase trophies. They can be real or metaphorical. It doesn’t matter. Same effect.
  58. Work harder.
  59. Figure out what other people want to hear and then say it to them.
  60. Focus on the ways you are better than someone else.
  61. Stay focused on the things in the future that promise to take away all your suffering.
  62. Serial dating.
  63. Almost everything that happens between Black Friday and Christmas morning.
  64. Ice cream.
  65. Oreos.
  66. Ice cream and Oreos.
  67. Do anything that releases dopamine. Non-criminal options include: Snapchat, YouTube, drinking too much caffeine, casual sex, sugar in any form, earning applause, etc.
  68. Decide your story is uninteresting and choose never to tell it to anyone.
  69. Do whatever it takes to avoid evidence of your aging.
  70. Pretend everything is permanent. Ignore the inevitability of your passing.
  71. And last but not least, focus on how clever you are for having written a blog post about how to avoid feeling your feelings.

Feelings are big things. Messy things. Often painful things. So we try to avoid feeling them. And our opportunities for avoidance are multiplying on a daily basis. Consequently, humanity is becoming like one big blocked tear duct, irritated and irritable. We need to clean out our blockages—clean out our lives—and let our feelings flow again. So we can be childlike once again. Vulnerable. Playful. Joyful.

So we can be, once again, who we really are.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

45 thoughts on “The 71 Most Effective Ways to Avoid Feeling What You’re Feeling

  1. Great post! Both funny and painfully true. Wait, sugar releases dopamine?! This explains everything 😨

  2. Great post. I almost didn’t read it, thinking I already knew the thing I did to bury the crappy feelings, but I didn’t have a clue. The awareness you’ve given me will help me to excavate and unload the feelings that are hard to deal with. Thank you!

  3. This is me to a T Dr. Flanagan. I honestly didn’t realize that I am doing 90% of this list and taking certain medications that lock these feelings way. I have found through most of my life no one wants to deal with me when I’m emotional and upset about things that have happened to me in the past so I have found it best to lock them away. I’m finding out that this is unhealthy as I have had several medical problems. But I’m getting better and I’m very grateful for all your blogs and all your encouragement and these types of posts by you. they always help wake me up and give me a good dose of reality. Thank you!

    • Being without/blocking feelings seemed the best way to pretend my traumatic past didn’t happen and as a preventive to future harm. But I was also blocking the little joys that make up a day, that makes us human- proud that you are taking steps to reverse the response to block. It will be worth it.

      • Ditto what Karen said, Christine! And Karen, was it Brene Brown who said you can’t just numb bad feelings, you always end up numbing them all? Good for you for discovering this and working against it.

  4. This writing was fun and truth telling. I am in the midst of trying to feel more myself! I just committed the other day that I would write most every morning in order to feel! Ha! Writing allows the feelings to flow for me! Fall is my favorite season for many reason but it also brings on SAD for me too. So I must write and not watch Sense and Sensibility for the 100th time most likely!

    • 72. Watch Sense and Sensibility for the 100th time. Good call, Kathy! I love the intentionality that you are giving to this. If you are faithful in writing out your sadness, I suspect you will find yourself less bogged down in it. Either way, here’s to a warm, short winter. 🙂

  5. I can’t give up 64, yet 🙁

    Thanks Kelly, I really liked the juxtaposition of 51 & 52. Entertaining the idea that being might offer a solution, rather than doing. That’s radical stuff.

  6. Yes how clever you were to write such a post. You know how to serve up the truth in ways that don’t hurt and allows me to exam myself to further discover ways that I can change. Thank you for opening my eyes to the ordinary things that I don’t realize have such a huge impact on daily life/mental health.

  7. That is a lot of avoidances. I can relate to many of them. Instead of doing these things what do you suggest a person actually do to feel their feelings, if they don’t want to visit to a therapist?

    • My therapist says to lean in to the feeling. Just allow yourself to feel it. Be aware of its peak, then watch it diminish. Some feelings, like grief, may have sustained intensity at times. Usually feelings have an ebb and flow. It’s when we are not feeling them that they cause us problems.

      • Carrie, that is a really good suggestion. I had a supervisor once who would say “trace the feelings.” SL Maison, my guess is that someone ceased to do everything listed in this post, there would be no additional effort required to feeling their feelings. The feelings would be front and center. Then, they probably would want to go to a therapist! 🙂

  8. What creative, evasive, complicated, and ultimately simple creatures we are. And how completely we are Not Alone. Thank you, Kelly.

  9. Excellent. Perfect reminder for me today. Not only do we each, individually, behave or engage in ways that block her feelings, but we live in a society that doesn’t accept fellow humans expressing a wide variety of emotions. We are judged harshly if were not “happy” 99.9% of the time. If we’re feeling sad or discouraged about a health problem, we are told, “hey, there’s always someone who has it worse than you. Stop feeling sorry for yourself”. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, we are pushed to hurry up and feel happy again. If we are quiet in a group, we are asked what’s wrong? And on and on – I hope our world can move more in the direction of honoring and accepting all emotions. Feeling gratitude for your posts, Dr. Flanagan.

  10. no.52 Choose to believe faith will solve all your problems…………..
    Profound, I was confused that God wants us to heal then, I am in contact with a person who is doing this [no 52], A smart ,blessed person. The light bulb comes on and I am graciously blessed to have found a way forward with this person…..Thank you for the article as I prayed for a way to deal with this and your article comes through today. Praise God . Thank you Kelly.

  11. Wow! Great post!! I found myself guilty of several! This is a post I’ll save and reread. I had no idea what was happening in my therapy sessions but was just grateful to feel better. Now I know the operative word was to feel!!

  12. Oh my gosh! What a delightfully humorous post. Your insights are such a Blessing. You are “seriously kidding”, in such a profound manner. Thank you and have a wonderful day!

  13. When my husband was a pastor, we called that a moving sermon cuz the people would want to come help as pack our bags. We might also joke that you just went from preaching to meddling. Yes, I am here with you. I am a student marriage and family therapist in my first semester. For several years I’ve been learning to notice my own feelings and not cover them up with food. Now I’m learning to notice the feelings of others and to empathize. That is some powerful relating there. Did you know that it’s okay to feel angry? I didn’t. In fact, it’s okay to feel every feeling. Who knew? Thanks for approaching this important subject with humor. I appreciate you and your writing.

    • Yes! Great reflection, Carrie. Someone observed that the movie Inside Out was the first children’s movie to not have a villain, because the hurdle to overcome was embracing all feelings, not discounting one or another. Good stuff!

  14. Love #63! I think even more ghouls and goblins come out at that time than during Halloween! 🙂 Great post and hilarious! AND I can’t wait to order your long-awaited book!!!! Congrats!

  15. Love this Kelly…sharing….my belief has always been that we are constantly trying to fill that emptiness within us with all these things that will never satisfy because Jesus is the only one who can fill it…unfortunately, for many, He is the last person we pursue in our quest.

    • It is sad that so many people have been given the impression that Jesus would not be okay with everything we think, feel, and experience inside of us. We need to know all the feelings are okay, so we can feel them instead of suppressing them!

  16. This! All of this, plus not eating, not blogging, focusing on the worst-case scenario and not letting go. Fantastic post- thank you.

    • Ah! Not eating. How did I not think to put that on there? Thank you, Aoife. It would be interesting to create a public forum where everyone could add their insights about what they do to not feel. I’m guessing this post would just be the tip of the iceberg.

  17. Quite shocking really, as I enroll in quite a lot of the items in the list, the day goes by… but, at least, a first step is always “noticing” that we are doing this, and at some point, then we start to notice what we would be doing if not “doing” what “we are doing”… Then, working out on the solution, is another problem, that you may also want to make a list about to complement… 😀 Just saying!!! 😀 Another great mind estimulating post Kelly!

  18. Never thought about eating Oreos to avoid feelings. Thanks for the idea 😉 I’ve probably tried most of these…trying not to try anything at the moment…just feel…and notice. Thank you.

  19. Fantastic post! Got me thinking about how I have been making it my mission to avoid my feelings throughout most of my adulthood. Definitely sharing this with my husband in our next marriage meeting! He’ll love it! Thanks!

  20. Oh my gosh, ice cream and Oreos is *the best* – not for avoidance, I mean, it’s just the flavor/texture combination. But try bacon and peanut butter on ice cream sometime, too.


    I liked this post because the long list became a meditation on humanity. Some of these describe me or my past behaviors and some maybe not so much. Re-learning how to acknowledge feelings and let them be without clinging to outrage and self righteousness (read: blaming others)… Well it’s keeping me humble, is one way to put it.

    Thank you for writing this.

  21. I can relate to many of those things on the list, some I used to do & some I currently do! However hard I try to be real with myself & allow myself to just be & just feel after years of soul searching from a dysfunctional childhood, nothing is harder then trying to be real with others. Iv come to a place in my life where I know pretty much who I am, my strengths & my weakness, but when relating to people & sharing truths with them about emotionally intelligent stuff, they tend to get scared off? I can be purely relating on my own discoveries & experiences but yet it scares them, that someone can be so honest & real about where they’re at? its almost like they’re being forced to look into a mirror & look at themselves & they cannot handle it. I have to remind myself that its not personal, its just their own stuff, but when you come from a history of rejection it still twangs on those heart strings causing you to feel more pain because someone else couldn’t take you feeling what your entitled to feel!

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