Changing Emotional Habits – Part 3 of 3
Letting go of a familiar story is hard. But, if the story is holding you back from being your best self, then letting it go is the only way you can move forward. Old stories and emotional habits are often considered familiar and “safe”. But, what exactly are they protecting you from?
As I contemplate this question, I realize that I react in fear, anger or shame whenever my inner child is threatened. My emotional reactions are rooted in past pain and don’t serve any meaningful purpose in current situations. They only serve to “protect” me from feeling what is actually happening. Thus, they hold me back from being present.
My familiar story
I grew up with illness around me all the time. As many of you know, my dad suffered from alcoholism and my mom suffered from depression. Their respective illnesses later contributed to more sickness such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. My dad’s illnesses eventually led to his death at 52 years old. My mom’s illnesses continue to cause emotional pain for her and dissociation. She is 81.
For a long time, here’s what I believed: (1) there is only one person whom you can depend on for stability – yourself; and (2) if you don’t help yourself when you are sick, then your sickness leads to more disease.
Not surprisingly, I developed a fear response to sickness. This is my third emotional habit that I am in the process of changing.
Here’s what I know
I react with fear when my husband and kids get sick or injured. Regardless of the severity of the ailment or injury, fear takes over and I go to a familiar place of worry for their health and well-being.
Here’s what I am learning about trauma response
I am learning that trauma leaves you with a need to protect yourself or others from feeling pain. The need to protect is based on a past experience and it overrides any real connection or rational action that is required in the present.
The good news is that we can change our response. We can re-train our brain to respond to new situations from a place of presence, not past (fear). With practice, we can make the unfamiliar familiar. In Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, the author shares teachings from modern science and ancient wisdom that help us to respond to life’s events with greater emotional awareness. (For anyone interested in diving deeper into this area, Rick Hanson has a few books that are worth reading.)
As we move forward on the path, let’s practice being present. Let’s leave behind old stories that no longer serve our purpose. This is the path to healing, connection and well-being.
Thank you for being here for this incredibly hard part of the journey. Next time, we’ll shift direction and explore ways to create joy.
Let’s journey together.