Can you “Numb” with something “Good”? When does something good become bad?

When we think of “numbing” behaviors, most of us think of something like overeating, over drinking, gaming, drugs, gambling, binge watching Netflix or something similar.  We’d classify most of these as “bad” behaviors.  The question of why we do these things in the first place is important.  When we numb, or buffer as some people call it, it is almost always to avoid feeling an emotion.  We don’t want to feel sad, scared, bored, lonely, or angry, so we do something else to avoid feeling that way.  We are playing hide-and-seek with the emotion, and let me tell you, it’s a losing game.  If you run away, the emotion is still there, and when you are done drinking and sober up, or stop playing your video games, or whatever you choose to numb with, the emotion is still there.  The only thing you were successful with was postponing feeling it.

So here’s an interesting question I got recently and it really made me think.  “Can you numb with something “good”?  So if the list of things mentioned above are “bad”, could we use something “good”, but have the result not actually be good?  Stay with me here.  The answer blew my mind and actually explained my whole marriage to my first husband.

I was married for 9 years, and my ex husband was in school almost that entire time.  He had already been in school for 2+ years when I met him.  Whenever I’d put a little pressure on him to finish, and get a job I was always met with “I LOVE to learn!”  As if it was this involuntary piece of him that he couldn’t control and me asking him to finish taking university classes was in a way, me asking him to cut off his arm, it was PART of him.  Now this always bothered me, and towards the end of the 9 years I would get ANGRY when he’d say “I love to learn.”  I couldn’t really put words to it back then.  And how could I really be that mad if it was about something so “good” like learning.

Ok, so this is what I have now come to understand.  YES, you can numb out with something “good.”  Him always being in school was his comfort zone, preventing him from feeling scared or vulnerable and taking risks in the world.  He didn’t have to show up as an adult and get a job because he was doing such a wonderful thing, learning.  But here’s the thing friends, if you spend so much time and energy doing something so that you don’t have to show up and do hard things, and feel the full spectrum of human emotions, then that “thing” has stopped being “good” and useful.  Because let’s also be honest here.  The degrees he has in Medieval Studies and Biblical Hebrew, are not doing him any good right now.  He’s not working a job using any of this “learning.”  And he’s still doing plenty of things to avoid uncomfortable feelings.

Asking ourselves and our loved ones WHY we are doing something is really important.  I wish way back when I would have called BS when he’d give the excuse to why he was still in school, “so I can get a better job.”  Total BS.  How do I know?  Because the results he was getting was earning him a useless degree and jumping from major to major.  It wasn’t helping him get a good job.  What it was also doing was helping him avoid something that was very scary to him, which was entering the workforce and risking rejection when he applied for jobs.  When something “good” we are doing ends up with this kind of result in our lives we know we are using it to numb.

The truth is, that all emotions, even the uncomfortable ones, are needed.  Adults need them, and so do kids.  How do we make emotions not so scary so we aren’t afraid to feel anything?  When we know that the worst thing an emotion can do to us is create an uncomfortable vibration/feeling in our body, then the whole world doesn’t seem so scary!  My ex husband had not been taught to feel all his emotions.  He had been taught to run from them and only seek comfortable experiences.  Well, when you are only looking for comfortable feelings you actually end up not feeling anything, and you just keep numbing.  Because this beautiful human experience we are living requires us to embrace the 50/50 of life.

This idea of the 50/50 means that all emotions are needed.  And when we ALLOW whatever emotion we are feeling to come and be felt, it will pass so much easier than trying to hide from it.  So what does this look like for adults, and for kids?

For adults it requires us to pause and ask ourselves lots of questions.  Why?  “Why am I doing____?”  And if you haven’t been let in on the secret to life yet, I’ll tell you.  The reason you do ANYTHING is because you have a thought, the thought creates a feeling, and that feeling drives all actions (or lack thereof) we take.  The sum of all these actions creates our results.  So if you don’t like the results you are having, you have to change your thinking.  When you are tempted to numb so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable, what if instead you just ALLOWED the emotion to flow through you?  What if you got curious, tried to name what you were feeling and see what the vibration feels like in your body?  It might look something like this: “Oh, this is Shame.  Shame feels hot, heavy, makes my shoulders turn in, and I have the urge to be alone.”  When you can do this the emotion will pass so much quicker than if you try to run away from it.

Kids will likely have a really hard time understanding that their thoughts are creating their feelings.  Validating your child’s feelings, letting them know everything is ok, helping them name it, and showing them that you aren’t afraid of their emotions will equip your children to be ready to embrace the 50/50 as they age and live a wonderful, full human life!  My youngest has had a hard time with lots of big emotions all coming at once.  Me helping her feel them might look something like this.  “It looks like you are feeling a really big emotion.  And it seems so uncomfortable.  I can’t take it away, but I’ll stay here with you.”  I could then ask if she can describe what she’s feeling.  If she can’t, I can ask yes/no questions like, “does it feel heavy?  Or dark?  What color do you think you are feeling?” and then I can offer suggestions to help name it.  “I think it sounds like you’re feeling anxious.  I’ve felt anxious lots of times too.  I don’t really like it either, but I know it will pass.  It has always passed for me.  Would you like me to stay with you while you’re feeling this way?”

You will know best how to adapt this for your child(ren).  Often, as parents we want nothing more than for our kids to be happy.  We go to great lengths and spend lots of money trying to make sure they will always be happy.  But what if that wasn’t the goal?  I mean it’s impossible anyway, so what if we gave up trying, and instead put our efforts into helping them experience the full range of human emotions?  What if we helped them embrace the 50/50?  I fully believe that the more we help our kids feel everything, the better equipped they will be to face adulthood.

So I’d like to challenge you to look at your own life.  Are there things you are using to numb in your life?  Food, alcohol, gaming, work, exercise, courses, house work?  If you discover you are habitually doing things to try to avoid uncomfortable emotions you are doing it RIGHT!!  There is hope for you and your kids!  If you want help implementing this for yourself or your kids I’m here to help!  Sign up for your FREE consultation session HERE to learn if Life Coaching is a tool you’d like to use in your life.  If you commit to doing this work now, and helping your kids when they are young, you will avoid raising kids that end up like my ex, always trying to escape emotions with all kinds of numbing behaviors.  

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As always, these are my thoughts and my thoughts alone, not intended to tell both sides of the story. 

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Kendra Last Avatar

My name is Kendra Last

I’m a life coach and author of the book Journaling to Recovery: A Reference Guide to Healing from Betrayal Trauma. I have been working in the betrayal recovery world for almost a decade. I’ve been there, and I will help you let go of the pain of the past, help you recognize your own inner beauty and strength, and help you learn to celebrate yourself again.

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