Recently, I was struck by the works of Brene Brown, a research professor on the topics on shame and vulnerability which ultimately saved her soul (and mine) in a very big way.
One of the things she spoke about was ‘numbing’ and what came out of her research was a huge insight for me and helped me understand the vicious cycle of numbing in a new way.
Some of us eat, drink, shop, have casual sex, etc. emotionally to numb from feeling our feelings and things that make us feel vulnerable. When we do these behaviors compulsively and chronically, they become addictions. And addictions don’t have to be severe. If you have a couple of glasses of wine a night to ‘take the edge off’ (like I used to do), that’s numbing. The fact is we all numb in some way. And it can become a problem if it gets in the way of us knowing who we really are and how we feel and not wanting to feel whatever comes up for us, like feelings of uncertainty, unworthiness, insecurity, anger, fear, boredom, isolation, etc. It would be much more self-loving to, when we numb, to do it consciously and acknowledge to ourselves that we are doing it.
But we cannot just numb the feelings that make us uncomfortable. We numb everything.
One of the things that give us a great sense of peace and contentment is feeling that our lives have purpose and meaning. When we chronically numb our pain and vulnerability, we feel guilty and also numb our joy and the feelings that feel good. And when we do that, we lose a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives which causes us to further numb because now we don’t feel we have a sense of meaning and purpose and it goes on and on.
When we numb to avoid leaning into our pain and discomfort, we feel small and our world becomes suffocating. We judge ourselves for numbing and we feel separated from the purpose and meaning of our lives and how we fit it, in the grand scheme of things. We isolate ourselves and hide behind our fears of being honest about our feelings, pain and vulnerability.
We can be so afraid to feel our pain and feelings because we either feel guilty for having those feelings or think we will do something mean and terrible to other people so it’s best to just numb out.
But numbing out creates what I call a Double Whammy. Not only do the original feelings you are numbing from not go away, but now you have created new reasons to hate yourself. And on top of that, you may be creating physical health problems from our emotional eating and drinking, as an example. This in turn can again reduce our sense of meaning and purpose, reduce our zest for living and further put us into the cycle of numbing and addictions.
The truth is facing our pain and vulnerabilities can be painful, but it’s the only way to our freedom. And we don’t have to exaggerate the pain or spend hours in talk therapy which sometimes can just rehearse and strengthen the pain and trauma. But it’s about giving ourselves the ability to feel that ‘hooked feeling’ we all get when someone says or does something that triggers us in some way.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, talks about this hooked feeling as being the shenpa.
In one of my future blogs, I will write about ways we can deal with the shenpa that comes up in all of us. And we all have it. When we can effectively reduce the intensity of hooked feeling we get, the freer we become. Until then, most of us deal with the shenpa by numbing out, lashing out or going into yearning/fantasy mode.
Believe it or not, many of us even use meditation to repress our shenpa. We know this when we are all blissed out in meditation and then when we ‘come back’, we continue to feel triggered in the same old ways.
More on shenpa in a future blog.