- Numb & Conquer the Feeling - "Mind over Matter" This strategy involves efforts directed at not feeling anything at all, or believing that there is a way to avoid the uncomfortable feeling altogether. One common example of this is workaholism. You know the type. Someone who finds ways to stay so "busy" that they are never alone, still, or silent long enough to identify, articulate, or even feel their feelings. Other examples include drugs that induce a state of calm (alcohol or anti-anxiety medication) or sleep (pain medication or sleeping pills). Some behaviors function like drugs, by producing a numbing effect on an uncomfortable feeling - like people-pleasing and conflict-avoidance. All of the behaviors in this category are based on an attempt to protect yourself from bad feelings by feeling nothing at all. Of course, it's a false sense of security, since you've also prevented yourself from feeling good.
- Immerse & Replace the Feeling - "Feel Good For Now" This involves replacing the unpleasant feeling with a better feeling, by engaging in activities that stimulate a "high". Some hobbies fulfill this need, by allowing a person to bypass all thinking and be immersed in the activity. Playing music, swinging a golf club, accumulating Friends on Facebook, organizing your DVD collection, renovating your kitchen - anything pursued with focus and passion (even an obsession) can temporarily replace a painful thought and feeling pattern. Emotional eating (for reasons other than actual hunger and need for nutritional sustenance), smoking, obsessive exercise, and other "activity addictions" may fall into this category too. The key is that while all the activities themselves produce a better feeling, it is temporary because the feeling is dependent on being in the activity. It's easy to imagine how the behaviors escalate in order to match the intensity or frequency of the painful feeling. The underlying painful thought and feeling have not been addressed in a real way, merely masked by the new activity and new feeling.
- Enabling Relationships - "Poor me!" We all have people we turn to when we're feeling sorry for ourselves. The question is, do you have the right balance between "Dr. Phil"s who will tell you like it is, and hand-holders who will coo at you reassuringly as you slurp noisily from your big bowl of pity? We all need a little of both, artfully timed and placed depending on the situation we're in. But if you've gravitated toward pity-party-hosts who help you remain bathed in your own stories of misery long after the actual pain has subsided, it might be time to reexamine your relationships. Same goes for people who ignore and/or condone any of your numbing and distracting behaviors described above.
"All addictions are thought addictions," said John Beaulieu, one of my favorite instructors in our Sound Voice and Music Healing Certificate program. He is a former staff clinical psychologist at Bellevue Hospital in New York, a concert pianist who studied with composer John Cage, and now runs a research lab and clinic as a practitioner of sound healing arts. other blog posts musing on this subject, but for the purposes of explaining how life coaching works, I've come up with this model: