When I first heard Brene Brown talk about numbing emotions I thought about alcoholics and drug addicts – people who, in my mind, couldn’t face reality, were addicted to escaping, who couldn’t afford to feel.
I didn’t see myself as someone who numbed my emotions at all – but the idea of numbing emotions really stuck in my mind. This coping mechanism that other people apparently did – this pitfall I’d thankfully somehow dodged. I was curious about it, in that arrogant way people are curious about something they feel superior over.
I like to think I’ve very proactive about my personal growth – that I challenge myself to improve, I break bad behaviours, I streamline unproductive systems, I work through negative thinking.
I’ve been called a creature of habit but it’s not a description that really resonates with me – I feel like calling someone a creature of habit implies they are mindlessly making the same decisions over and over again unaware that they’re doing it…
I, however, am intentionally making the same decision over and over again.
It’s a pattern of choice generated by a very clear sense of self.
I’m that person who orders the same thai take-away from the same thai restaurant every.single.time – because it’s my favourite and I was craving it even before anyone suggested we order thai.
When I first walk into a new bathroom at a shopping centre, cinema, church, workplace…I’ll choose a toilet stall and that lucky stall will become by default every time I’m there. One less decision I have to make – one more thing I can run on auto-pilot.
I absolutely have to make my bed – even if I’m in bed all day sick – at some point I’ll need to get up, reset everything and then hop back into bed. It’s a small action that marks the start to a new day, it’s like the little divider they give you to use on the conveyer belt at the supermarket check out – this is where last night ended and today begins.
…and then there are things that look like habits but are actually more than that…
mindlessly scrolling through Facebook followed by mindlessly scrolling through Instagram…then back to Facebook.
Eating sugar like it’s crack cocaine and binge watching Netflix until I’m a zombie.
Working late, later than I said I’d work, and then a little later than that. There’s no deadline, I’m just working…because…I’m working.
This is numbing.
Yes – not only did I finally discover I do numb my emotions – I’m basically the queen of numbed emotions.
I also, thankfully, learnt this is not a bad habit I need to break, or a behaviour worthy of punishment…this is me in pain, overwhelmed, riddled with anxiety, feeling completely out of control and in desperate need of care and love.
The story we’re all told is that our flesh is weak – that bodies need to be punished into thinness and our lazyness is the enemy of our success. We are mistrustful of the language of our bodies, they are to be beaten down rather than kindly and tenderly spoken to.
I look at my thumb desperately dragging post after post down through my phone’s brightly lit screen, I look at my twitching fingers hunting for another piece of sugar from the packet – tapping on the Netflix ‘next episode’ button with lightning speed and I ask myself – what is my body trying to tell me?
In these moments I understand what it means to parent myself – to kneel down and look into my own eyes and ask myself where it hurts. Why are you numbing? Are things too hard? Am I carrying a wound not yet healed?
These little mis-guided attempt at numbing to self-care is sometimes the best my hurting self can manage in the moment.
Numbing emotions means something is hurting.
Hurt people need a little tender loving care…even when that person, especially when that person, is me.
[Art by Jenny Danko]