When we feel uncomfortable, most of us rush to ease it, right?
We discharge it through exercise or lashing out. We numb it with food and alcohol. We avoid it by distracting ourselves with social media or TV.
For me, it’s keeping myself really, really busy.
But the discomfort doesn’t actually go away. And it has something valuable to teach you about what you want and don’t want.
By getting curious and letting your discomfort teach you about yourself, you expand your capacity to stay present and resourceful in challenging situations.
What if, instead of immediately firing off that reply, or reaching for your phone or that glass of wine, you could train yourself to pause when you notice yourself feeling unsettled?
Because you can!
Instead of assuming your discomfort means you have to change something about the other person or the situation so you can return to comfort as quickly as possible, use your discomfort as a clue to understand more about what makes you tick, what you want, and what you need.
For example, one of my clients felt bad when she would lose her patience with her toddler. She was wracked with guilt, afraid she was a bad parent.
She then told me she’d noticed it would happen like clockwork the day before she had to give him back to her ex-husband. Whether she’d had their kid for two days or ten, the day before the handoff she’d lose her shit, so by the time the handoff came she was relieved to see him go.
I suggested that maybe the issue is how she navigates transitions and not something wrong with her as a parent. Maybe creating a scenario in which she gets sick of her kid is how she protects herself from having to feel the loss of saying goodbye to him and the grief of having become a single parent in the first place.
When I said that, she realized she does a similar thing with work projects that are nearing completion. That the ramping up of frustration and boredom is how she preps for transitions.
It’s a stay against loss and doesn’t actually signify that anything’s wrong with her.
By allowing herself to begin feeling the discomfort of an imminent transition, she has developed more awareness and choice around it. More freedom in the face of her emotions. More patience with her kid because she knows her frustration’s not about him, it’s about avoiding her own grief.
Another client tends to push down his frustration and anger until he explodes. And then he feels terrible about it, He’s also noticing his kids starting to do the same thing, too.
“Have you ever tried edging?,” I asked.
Edging is a practice of riding the edge of climax while having sex without letting yourself go over right away. It’s an intense practice that expands your capacity to stay in high sensation without having to immediately discharge it.
Edging is exquisitely uncomfortable. Eventually you either stop at the peak or you let yourself go over, but you choose how you want the experience to end.
The world could use more people in it who are skilled at edging. Especially these days. Just saying.
“I suck at edging,” he said.
“Hmmm,” I said.
So instead of stuffing down his frustration and anger until he explodes, the work for him lies in learning how to edge with his anger, to play with riding and communicating while experiencing high sensation.
In this way, he can develop more precision and choice with how he expresses himself, which will yield better results and build up his power and confidence more than his current pattern of stuffing and exploding does.
So how can you get more comfortable and skillful when emotions are running high and you want to fly off the handle or stuff your face with sweets?
1. Slow down and pause
When you notice yourself about to snap at someone, or grab your phone, or any of your other typical reactions to discomfort, pause.
The pause is key. It buys you room to begin noticing your patterns.
This is especially true on social media these days. Instead of taking out your frustrations, fears, and discomfort on one another, using someone’s perceived idiocy as an excuse to treat them as a punching bag, the pause allows you to use what’s been stirred up as a clue to learn more about what you deeply care about and what you want or need.
2. Ask yourself what’s happening.
In the pause, assess the situation.
Are you really being attacked or is the person just expressing a point of view that differs from yours?
Is your way of life truly being threatened or are you resistant to expanding yourself to include and humanize people you historically haven’t thought about or have actively rejected before?
Is your partner really uncaring or are they maybe distracted by their own woes right now?
Our subconscious minds are deeply invested in our safety, which to the subconscious means the familiar. It perceives anything new as dangerous, which is why it’s so hard to change habits, like starting and sticking to an exercise routine.
Lashing out at another to protect yourself is a habit.
Making others wrong to protect your righteousness is a habit.
Once you’ve assessed the situation to see if you’re experiencing a habitual pattern or not, you’re ready for the next step.
3. Get clear on what you want or need
Once you’re clear about what’s actually happening, your next step is to ask yourself what you want and need right now.
Do you want or need to step away and take care of yourself?
Do you want or need to express how you feel to someone?
Do you want or need to ask for reassurance, support, an apology, or a change in behavior?
Once you’ve discerned what you want or need, go on to the next step.
4. Choose what to do or say next
Once you’re clear about what you want or need, then you can choose your response.
Sometimes it’s a fiery communication because that’s what the situation requires.
Sometimes it’s a quiet inner realization that this discomfort you’re feeling is a sign that you abandoned yourself (again) and your focus needs to be on practicing saying no and standing up for what you want.
Sometimes it’s a facepalm that instead of noticing how hard you are on yourself and doing something about it, you take it out on other people by being hard on them instead.
Sometimes it’s noticing you need a time out to recharge and recenter and actually doing it, which begins to repair your relationship with yourself.
No matter what you discover in the pause and choose to do next, learning how to stay present in discomfort teaches you how to exist in the world as a sovereign person, because you know when to speak up to change something outside of yourself and when to focus on dismantling an internal habit that no longer works for you (and when to do both!).
In this way, your discomfort is a powerful teacher that’s worthy of your attention and respect.
If you tend to be critical of the people in your life, read this next.
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