We spend our lives avoiding uncomfortable things. Avoidance is powerful. Here is what you need to know about it: Avoidance makes everything worse! I learned this the hard way.
I was driving home on a Friday night after shopping. I felt tension in a small area of my neck. There was no pain, just mild tension. This could be the beginning of a something. I might wake up with a painful stiff neck. I have had this before, and it usually goes away in half a day
It got worse. I woke up at 2 AM with really bad pain. I could not sleep all night. At 5 AM I was looking online for a massage therapist who worked on Saturday. Within 100 miles there were only two open on Saturday. One of them was only four miles away. I needed a daily massage for four days before this thing settled down. It was awful.
I knew these principles were true, but now I was living them. The body acts to avoid pain. A little tension in a small area recruited all my back and neck muscles to avoid that tension, to prevent movement. All the muscles on the right side from skull to hips went into action to avoid any movement. Within six hours the pain spread everywhere and increased to the point that I could not rest. It took four days of intense massage to resolve all this.
One night, as I was improving, I had another restless night. I would turn over in bed and feel pain in my neck. I learned that If I moved slightly into the pain, the pain would go away after a few minutes. I did this throughout the night – moved toward the pain, instead of away from it. It worked great.
The other lesson I learned was to trust my massage therapist. It hurt when she pressed on a knotted muscle; it hurt a lot. I kept jumping a few inches off the table. Then I learned to relax, instead of tensing when it hurt. This allowed more effective breaking of the tension. I had to trust my therapist, so I could begin to relax in the face of pain. And then we worked together to unravel the knots.
I hope you can see how these principles are also true in counseling, in psychological therapy.
Defense mechanisms – denial, avoidance, rationalization, excuses, etc. – these can create more pain than the original problem.
Avoidance makes the pain worse; over time it sets up a complex system that governs our lives.
You need to find a therapist you can trust. When you do, relax a bit, take it slow as you face painful memories and situations.
When you feel emotional pain gently move toward it, not away from it. Become curious about it. Watch what happens inside you, how you react. Let your therapist help you with it.
Avoiding your pain ensures that it will never go away. Studies of PTSD have shown that avoidance is the primary factor in keeping the pain in place. People only get better when they face the pain. It is necessary to face the pain with a therapist, or a team of therapists and others. The same principles are true for any persistent emotional or relational disturbance.
All of us have been through our own journeys. We understand the urge to avoid pain, and the necessity of facing it. When it is in your face, then turning away is no longer possible. But you really do not have to wait until it is that bad. Move toward it, in a safe environment. We are here if you need us.
God bless you.
Dave Hall, LMHC