Have you ever promised yourself that you were going to cut out sugar, wheat, or dairy only to find yourself hours later with a blueberry muffin and a mocha latte?
Or, maybe you can’t stop obsessing about your symptoms, or money, or being alone – especially when you lay down to go to sleep at night?
Or, you’ve gone to write an email and 3 hours later realize you’re still surfing the internet, and haven’t written an email yet?
If so, you are familiar with what I call decoys – the things that we do, consciously or unconsciously, to avoid our emotions.
Believe me, I have lots of experience with decoys! And what I can tell you based on that experience is that you’re not using decoys because you’re lazy or a failure, or lacking in willpower.
Your’re using them because your brain thinks it is safer to eat sugar, spend hours on social media, or binge watch 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls – than it is to feel emotions. (FYI. It’s not! But your brain doesn’t know that yet.)
Decoys are a survival mechanism.
Our brain learns in different ways (usually during childhood), that our emotions are a threat to our wellbeing, and so it protects us from them.
Many people are familiar with the idea that eating, drinking, smoking, and even over-working can be ways to avoid how their feeling – but most people aren’t aware that a lot of other things they’re doing, including stressful thinking, patterns of perfectionism, and even self-criticism are also decoys.
Here’s a more complete list of the ways our brain protects us from feeling emotions…
- Over eating or drinking, or obsessing about your diet
- Binge watching anything online (ie. Netflix, Hulu, You-tube, etc.)
- Social Media
- Over scheduling yourself/ staying constantly busy
- Using drugs or smoking
- Thinking about the past or future (regret and negative predictions)
- Obsessing about your symptoms – measuring and tracking them, worrying about them, frantically trying to get rid of them, etc.
You may be wondering if there is anything you do that is not a decoy!
What’s the problem with using decoys?
Aside from the fact that over eating, over working, worry and obsessing are all hard on your body, when you use a decoy, you miss the opportunity to feel an emotion, which over time leads to chronic stress, tension, anxiety and pain. It also disconnects you from your intuition and the inner wisdom that you need to heal your body. If you want to relieve pain, you have to learn how to get past your decoys to feel your emotions.
So, how can you do that?
Here are my 4 steps to successfully letting go of decoys, and accessing the healing power of your emotions!
Step 1: Identify Your Decoys.
Which activities on the list above do you think may be operating as decoys for you? Which ones do you feel compelled to do, or unable to stop? Sometimes these are the things that you may already be struggling to let go of (ie. unhealthy food or exercise choices, excessive worry or time on the internet, etc.).
Step 2: Notice When You’re Using Them
Don’t force yourself to stop using your decoys. Instead, the most effective way to work with them is to notice when you’re using them.
Step 3: Ask “What am I feeling?”
You don’t have to know what you’re feeling yet, but start asking the question. Becoming more aware of the fact that your brain is compelling you to use decoys in order to distract you from emotion, is enough to begin unravelling them.
Step 4: Learn how to feel and process emotions.
This is the power step. When you can welcome your emotions, you won’t need your decoys to protect you from them anymore.
Remember, decoys are a survival mechanism. You’ve probably been using them in one form or another for most of your life, and for good reasons! Go slow. Be curious. As always, patience and self-kindness will go a long way towards creating the sense of safety that will allow your emotions to flow and your body to heal.
If you’d like more support with learning how to let go of decoys and allow your emotions to flow, so you can relieve your pain, the next group session of the Healing Female Pain program is coming up in January 2020! Sign up for my newsletter here to be notified when registration opens!