Why We Keep Ourselves Imprisoned...And What to do About it.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Remember the movie Shawshank Redemption?
Although I had to watch the violent scenes with my hands over my eyes, I was reminded of what an amazing and poignant movie it is.
Especially when Brooks, the older man that ran the library, finally got released from jail after MANY years.
He was so uncomfortable with his freedom that he contemplated committing another crime to be able to go back.
He was so familiar with the routine of being in jail that living outside, in freedom, was just too scary.
This is such a powerful analogy for how our brains work.
We do so many things because they are familiar to our brains and therefore feel safe.
However, like being in jail, just because they are familiar, doesn’t mean they are good or helpful for us.
They actually keep our brains in a state of fear, which makes it more likely that we will experience chronic pain.
One of my destructive patterns is that when I’m idle, say on a Saturday afternoon and not much is happening, I get this uncomfortable feeling in my body.
A low-level feeling of anxiety.
Then the thoughts kick in.
“I should be doing something.”
“I should be productive.”
“I need to do something worthwhile to prove my worthiness as a human.”
So, what do I do?
ANYTHING to make that uncomfortable feeling and those subtle but gross thoughts go away.
I am relieved to find a pile of clothes that need folding.
Or dishes in the sink to wash.
I found something to do to temporarily shut up my thoughts and get away from that uncomfortable feeling.
But what is actually happening?
I'm giving my brain the message that the uncomfortable feeling is dangerous.
I’m unconsciously believing that the “anxious” sensation in my body that I had just before frantically doing
housework, the feeling that pushed me to do something to try and get away from myself, is actually dangerous.
And that keeps me in a state of fight or flight.
And makes the whole cycle continue.
It continues because I am actually addicted to it.
Because although it’s not helpful, it is very familiar and familiar is safe, even if its detrimental.
How to stop it?
First, I need to recognize what’s happening.
Notice when I am having an uncomfortable sensation that I want to get away from.
Second, to stop the cycle, I need to allow the sensation to be there.
Just feel it without trying to get away from it.
By doing that my brain is learning that the uncomfortable sensation is not dangerous.
It is just a sensation.
Then I will not perpetuate the fight or flight condition.
And the brain can calm down.
A calm brain is less likely to interpret sensations as pain.
Emotional or physical.