How do you seek relief when you are in emotional pain? We all have our “go to” methods that we use to give ourselves immediate relief. . . food, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex, shopping, porn, isolating ourselves, controlling others, defensiveness, complaining, anger, fighting, etc. What are yours?
I remember a time many years ago when I had just had my first baby. We decided to take our little family out to dinner with some people we had just met. Naturally, the little guy got fussy during dinner and by the time we hit the car, he was screaming bloody murder. The only way I knew to help him on the ride home was to sing. I finally sucked it up and sang. Having a newborn in a state of uncontrolled crying was stressful enough, but having to be vulnerable enough to sing in front of near strangers sent me over the edge. When we got home, I headed straight to the cookie cabinet and ate an ENTIRE box of Girl Scout Cookies while standing at the kitchen counter. I still remember standing in the dark, feeling the sugar hitting my bloodstream and a calmness coming over me as I devoured each one. It was nothing short of “using”. Food was my drug of choice. I continued to use it to regulate my mood for many years, and sadly, it worked!
Since then I have recognized the various ways that I seek immediate relief like that and have worked to find healthier options to feel better when I am in crisis. Usually, we find our drug of choice in child and young adulthood. Left with little guidance on emotions, moods, and healthy ways to cope, we develop our own unhealthy methods and then we keep using them because they work!
How will you know when your behavior is unhealthy relief seeking? Some common signs are.
- It is preceded by an emotional state.
- There is a sense of urgency behind it.
- You have to have it.
- You regret it, or are surprised by it, afterwards.
- There is a negative consequence afterwards.
While the method that we use does truly have an effect on our mood, it is the mental association we have with our drug of choice that has the most potency. Much like a placebo in drug studies, the fact that the belief that Girl Scout Cookies will make us feel better is what really makes us feel better! In truth, a hot shower, a walk, or journaling would have had the same effect, but until we believe they will work, we’ll go straight for the Tag-a-longs!
What do you run straight for to get relief when you are in emotional upheaval? When did you first start using that particular method? How has that particular relief seeking negatively affected your life – work, relationships, health, finances, legal situation? What have people told you about your unhealthy coping mechanisms? Why is doing something healthier not a viable option in that moment?
When we recognize our unhealthy relief seeking for what it is, we can begin to choose healthier options. When we choose healthier, more mature options, we begin to have more control over our lives – and that is how we ultimately achieve emotional freedom!