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…
- Write a blog post about how to avoid feeling your feelings.
- Work too hard.
- Netflix binge.
- 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.
- Download a new app. Preferably a game. In which you can earn achievements. Bonus avoidance points if it features in-app purchases.
- Check email.
- Click on spam instead of unsubscribing from it.
- Check Facebook.
- Check it again.
- Get into a Facebook argument. The topic doesn’t matter. Just oppose something.
- Shame somebody. Again, anyone will do, though the less likely they are to shame you back, the better.
- Send a text message. Make it a group text. Wait for responses.
- Work harder.
- Eat more.
- Try to figure out what everyone else is feeling.
- 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.
- Decide anger is bad, dangerous, perhaps even evil.
- Decide fear is shameful.
- Decide sadness is weak.
- Watch 24/7 cable news. Watch it 24/7.
- Criticize someone. Anyone will do—friends, strangers, and of course, those with different political views than you.
- Fix someone. Fix something. Once again, any problem will do.
- Smoke something.
- Fill every silence with a joke.
- Grab the nearest device as soon as you wake up in the morning.
- Don’t ask questions about your family-of-origin.
- Idealize your parents.
- Or tell yourself your parents did the best they could and you have no right to be disappointed.
- Chide yourself for taking the time to feel something. Tell yourself that’s a luxury. A privilege.
- Tell yourself other people have it worse, so who are you to complain?
- Set no boundaries on your time or commitments, so there is no room for stillness.
- Tell yourself stillness is a waste of time.
- Live vicariously through your children. Or celebrities.
- Blame the ones you love for not making your crummy feelings go away.
- Pretend you’re an adult and that you have it all together. Ignore the sad, lonely, confused little kid inside of you.
- Try to save the world (a.k.a., work harder).
- Eliminate all silence from your life.
- Look at porn.
- Look at more porn.
- Work on your abs.
- Fantasize about the ideal lover whose ideal love will take away your loneliness.
- Be absolutely certain about everything.
- Go faster.
- Work harder.
- Turn meditation into an effort to “feel more peaceful” rather than a surrender to feeling what is.
- Fill up your Sabbath with church services, church activities, soccer games, video games, shopping, and preparations for tomorrow.
- Debate theology.
- Choose to believe faith has nothing to offer you.
- Choose to believe faith will solve all your problems.
- Pick one person or group of people to blame for most all of your problems.
- Swipe mindlessly through your phone until you come across an app that you haven’t fiddled with in a month.
- Avoid eye contact.
- Chase perfection.
- Chase trophies. They can be real or metaphorical. It doesn’t matter. Same effect.
- Work harder.
- Figure out what other people want to hear and then say it to them.
- Focus on the ways you are better than someone else.
- Stay focused on the things in the future that promise to take away all your suffering.
- Serial dating.
- Almost everything that happens between Black Friday and Christmas morning.
- Ice cream.
- Ice cream and Oreos.
- Do anything that releases dopamine. Non-criminal options include: Snapchat, YouTube, drinking too much caffeine, casual sex, sugar in any form, earning applause, etc.
- Decide your story is uninteresting and choose never to tell it to anyone.
- Do whatever it takes to avoid evidence of your aging.
- Pretend everything is permanent. Ignore the inevitability of your passing.
- 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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