“It’s too painful. I can’t deal with this.”
I hear this from clients as we begin closing in on the source of their problems. It’s hard work, and they may reach a point where it all feels “too much.”
But that’s precisely the time to pay attention.
It’s human nature to avoid dealing with difficult situations. We instinctively steer away from threats to our physical or emotional well-being─ whether it’s letting a loved one know they’ve crossed the line, asking for a raise, or committing to regular exercise.
What daredevils know that we don’t
Some people have a higher propensity for risk than others ─ and there’s a lot to be learned from them. Professional drivers, for instance, know a thing or two about dealing with tough situations and facing their fears head on.
Imagine going 200 mph, racing around a corner, and suddenly, your car goes into skid.
What do you do?
Most of us would instinctively steer the car in the opposite direction. But professional drivers know better. They’re trained to lean into the skid, turning the front wheels in the direction the back of the vehicle is sliding. It sounds counterintuitive, as if they’d be heading toward disaster.
It’s the same with therapy. As emotional discomfort mounts, it’s time to lean in and explore what’s possible.
When you embrace the difficult-but- important, you begin to grow beyond your fears. This gets complicated, because there are some kinds of pain you should avoid. You know to avoid burning your hand on a hot stovetop. Yet only through exploring emotional pain can you obtain the crucial information needed to grow beyond it.
Suppression takes energy.
Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water? It takes tremendous focus and stamina to keep it submerged. Maintaining the effort can be exhausting. Move even slightly and it pops right up.
Similarly, it takes a lot of energy to suppress personal problems. The physical and emotional cost can be great – depression, substance abuse, migraines – when you don’t want to know what you know you know. While it may be hard to face your problems head on, the alternative is worse.
But pacing is important. Approaching deep emotional pain too quickly can lead you to avoid facing your problems altogether. On the other hand, little growth will occur unless you’re willing to leave your comfort zone. The right therapist can guide you towards manageable discomfort so that, like a professional driver, you learn to lean into that emotional skid in order to get back on track.