November 11, 2015
Coping with Emotional Pain without Using Food or Compulsive Behaviors
Written by Rachel Eddins
Tara is a sensitive person.
She finds herself taking on the emotional experiences of others; she can’t stand to see anyone in pain. Tara feels scared, small, and overwhelmed when problems arise, and she turns to food to stop the emotional flood. After eating, Tara doesn’t feel better for long.
Compulsive Behaviors Help You Soothe Emotional Pain
If you find yourself eating emotionally, or you engage in other compulsive behaviors like gambling, shopping, or sex in order to feel better, the first thing you should know is that what you’re doing makes sense.
Compulsive emotional actions are attempts to soothe. Food seems to offer immediate solace when you can’t afford to feel what you’re feeling.
This is especially important when you experience persistent pain. For example, the child in an abusive household needs a tool to soothe and survive the pain.
The problem is that over time compulsive behaviors don’t allow you learn to cope and heal from pain or trauma. Compulsive behaviors bury and irritate your emotional pain.
Compulsive coping teaches you that dealing with a problem means pushing it away until it becomes an automatic reflex to avoid pain.
Why is learning how to cope with emotional pain in healthier ways so hard?
Compulsive behaviors are often the result of emotional traumas—painful events and relationships that bring personal growth to a halt, and keep you trapped in the moment of injury. Because you’re sensitive to pain, and attuned to others’ feelings, you get overwhelmed easily.
If your early relationships are your biggest roadblocks, or you haven’t been able to work on the skills you need to feel confident when trouble shows up, you can still learn healthy ways to cope.
So how can you learn to cope without compulsive behaviors?
· Draw your emotional boundaries.
Empathy is an important part of being a good friend to others, but you might be empathizing too much if you instinctually feel what others are feeling for yourself.
It makes sense that if you’re feeling your feelings, and you’re feeling everyone else’s feelings, emotional distress could quickly become alarming.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try sifting through your thoughts and emotions to see which ones belong to you, and which ones are visitors dropped off by someone else.
· Plan ahead.
One of the biggest difficulties in learning healthy coping is that growth isn’t immediate—at times, you might wonder if you’re making any progress at all.
Try committing ahead of time to being gentle with yourself, on what can feel like a long journey.
You can also plan ahead by thinking practically. If your compulsive struggle is eating, keep healthier food alternatives in the house. Think about your current relationships.
Who will you turn to when you need help? If someone or something in your life tends to set you off emotionally, think about ways to limit the time you spend with them, or the conditions under which you’ll engage in that activity.
· Practice acceptance.
Compulsive behaviors often seem like the most viable option when you think you need to change what you’re feeling right away.
Practice noticing your thoughts, without labeling or judging them.
Notice what you are feeling deep inside your body and let it be. Make room for difficult sensations.
We often respond to emotional pain by tensing up or trying to make it go away.
Sometimes, when you just allow it to be there, it dissipates on its own.
If you still feel like your thoughts or emotions are too dangerous to let in, it’s worth it to seek help.
A relationship with a therapist can allow you to unburden yourself of a weight you just can’t carry alone.
· Address your emotional wounds.
Trauma isn’t always a car accident or natural disaster. You could be reeling from an unhealthy childhood relationship or an early loss.
If you’re seeing new problems from an old, painful perspective, stress can accumulate quickly. Trauma therapy can help you identify the tools you need to be able to move on from your past.
· Find calm.
Calming techniques allow you to get to a place where you’re able to address a problem. Finding a sense of calm in the middle of a storm might mean lying down for a few minutes, focusing on your breath, or going to a favorite nature spot before reacting.
Hopefully, you start to see that maybe the problem is manageable.
For additional help coping with emotional pain, contact one of our counselors in Houston for personal therapy you can learn new coping skills and heal from past painful experiences and relationships. To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.