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How avoiding emotional pain keeps you stuck

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Finally Stop Nail Biting Blog/General/How avoiding emotional pain keeps you stuck

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How avoiding emotional pain keeps you stuck 

All of us experience pain at regular intervals in our lives. There are 2 types of pain - physical and emotional.
My focus here is on emotional pain.

When we are suffering emotionally, we often turn to food, shopping, work, nail biting or something else to avoid or ignore the pain we feel. These temporary distractions take our focus away from addressing the root cause of our pain and prevents the process that needs to happen in order to let it go. Most of us are not taught how to recognise the habit loops we create, as a way of dealing with our internal pain. We get stuck in the behaviours we create to distract ourselves and then suffer additional negative consequences.

Emotional discomfort or pain arises - so we
Distract from pain with food, drink, shopping, work, nail biting etc - so the Pain stops being as noticeable - but the Net Results are:

1, We learn as infants and continue as adults to distract ourselves from our pain rather than learning to process it.

2, Next time emotional discomfort arises we do the same thing again, because we perceive that our emotional suffering reduced with that thing e.g. chewing our nails.

3, However, the consequences of the behaviour loop we create, may well create additional emotional suffering e.g feeling shame and embarrassment about our nails and fingers.

4, The additional emotional suffering from the extra negative emotion is now being heaped on top of the original emotion, which just increases our overall level of emotional pain.

5, We don’t learn a different way of addressing the root cause and get stuck in a loop. This loop can intensify and become worse over time.

Would you use aspirin to treat a broken bone in your leg? No. Of course you wouldn’t use pain relief as your only treatment. You know the pain associated with a broken leg is a symptom of the underlying problem - the broken bone. Aspirin helps to address the symptom of pain (probably not very effectively) but wouldn't treat the root cause that is generating the pain. The pain from the broken bone will go on for far longer if the break isn’t treated. There may be other consequences of not treating the broken bone - misalignment, deformity, shortening of the leg, poor quality healing or none union etc.

Yet this is exactly what we do with emotional pain - we do not treat the underlying cause. We use nail biting, phone scrolling, eating, drinking, retail therapy, binging on Netflix to soothe our pain. Anything to run away, distract and avoid the feelings we are feeling.

We avoid discomfort because:

We think the discomfort ‘shouldn’t’ be there in the first place. But it is. It always will be. Since humans first walked on earth there has been birth and death, hunger and abundance, cold and heat, war and peace, wellness and illness.

This is the story our Primitive / Automatic Brain offers us as part of our default Motivational Triad. The story is 'Avoid Pain'. It is well intentioned but listening to that story and obeying it slavishly, leads us to get stuck.

It’s what we learned to do as very young infants and weren’t taught any differently. As adults, most of us are still operating from out default patterns of behaviour. However we now have more advanced cognitive function and can choose to behave differently, which means over-riding both the primitive brain's Motivational Triad and our default habits.

Advertising and Marketing constantly implies we can be happier and don’t need to suffer - ever. They do this not for our own good - but in order to sell us stuff we don’t really need. They are hijacking the ‘Avoid Pain’ part of the primitive Motivational Triad for the benefit of their profits.

We always have a choice with any behaviour that involves movement / action. Eating, drinking, shopping, working, nail biting all involve taking action. Our primitive brain cannot force us to make any movement - it is powerless when it comes to voluntarily moving our muscles! Just pause, take a breath and notice what that ancient part of your brain is urging you to do. You never have to comply. Not complying is a choice. A choice to made again and again, until the new action becomes automatic.

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Hi, I'm Ann Barton

This blog:
Busts the myths that keeps nail biters stuck.
Speaks truth about our nail biting habit.
Takes a different approach based on cognitive behaviour.

I ended my 50+ year nail biting habit, after 5 decades of miserably trying and failing. I now teach and coach clients to permanently end nail biting too.

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