Escaping or Accepting?

Escaping or Accepting

On Accepting Your Feelings, Rather Than Attempting to Escape

As far as I’m aware, there has been no time in the history of the human race when the majority of human beings attempted to accept their feelings rather than escape them. Escape is a natural way of avoiding pain and unpleasantness. This technique works for short-term relief, but it impedes the individual from working through events and feelings, often leading to emptiness at best, and guilt or shame at worst.

Joseph Troncale, M.D. FASAM has been working in addiction medicine for 20 years. He is the Medical Director of the Retreat

Editor: Muhammad Talha

It is my belief that escape is at the heart of all addiction. Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, points out that shame and guilt are fostered by our attempts to escape our feelings. She identifies three primary ways of escaping feelings, and I suspect there is quite a number more, but for the purposes of this article, I will stick to her paradigm.

Escape mechanism number one is the set of behaviors we deal with here at Retreat, such as drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, sex or gambling addiction, etc. Engaging in mind-altering or body-numbing behaviors tends to take one out of reality and suspend time, so that life seems better in the short run.

The second escape is perfectionism. On the surface, perfectionism doesn’t sound like escaping, but in fact, we all know the phrase “Nobody’s perfect.” So if that is true, then perfectionism by definition, is a setup for failure. Trying to control everything with perfectionism is another short-term escape. In the end, the imperfection that is predestined leads to shame and guilt because one is never able to achieve what one believes one “must” do. We see so many patients that have the bar set so very high that failure is unavoidable, and yet is taken personally.

The third mechanism is what Brown calls “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  How many people, when things are going well, cannot enjoy the moment because “it can’t last.” Being “too good to be true” is the escape that allows people to suffer in the face of prosperity and good times.

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