When you were young did your mother use to say, “Don’t cry. Here, have a cookie and you’ll feel better”?
And you ate the cookie, got distracted and yes, you did actually feel a bit better… for ten minutes. Then the pain came back, and it was time for another cookie. Does this sound at all familiar?
If that child was you, perhaps you grew up to associate fixing your emotions with food, or other short term distractions, instead of facing the pain and actually healing properly. The fact is:
If you don’t confront your emotions, you’ll never heal!
The example of the daughter and her cookie comes from John James and Russell Friedman’s great book ‘The Grief Recovery Handbook’, where they talk about confronting your emotions rather than filling your life with things that fill your time, but only provide a short-term relief.
When you eat that cookie the fact is there’s no emotional completion of the pain caused by the event. The event and all the feelings associated with it are simply buried. Ready to keep coming up throughout your life no matter how many cookies you eat.
What are Your Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics?
Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics (STEATs) are things you do to avoid feeling the pain, numb the pain, or to take the pain away in the short term. They are often escapism-type activities where you keep SO focused and busy that there is no time to think.
They help you feel better in each moment BUT you’re not feeling better for real – it’s a false sense of security – a false feeling of recovery. And if you fill your life up with lots of STEATs your healing will not progress.
STEATs are so common after divorce
The sad thing is that for most people struggling to get over their divorce they’re engaging in a cycle of feeling the pain, applying a STEAT, feeling the pain, applying another STEAT, until over time they feel numb and they think this numbness is them healed from their divorce.
STEATs prolong the emotional roller-coaster of your divorce. So you never fully grieve for long enough or experience the loss critical to healing for real. Your emotional roller coaster will go up and down, up and down. Until you stop. And start to heal for real.
Your recovery exercise – which of these common STEATs do you use?
It’s time to be brutally honest with yourself. Try to identify two short-term relief activities you’ve been doing to distract yourself and displace your feelings since your divorce or break up.
This can be a lot harder than it seems, but it’s going to take your absolute commitment to honesty to truly heal.
Here are some common examples: Excessive socializing. Over-exercising. Fantasy or escapism activities (books, TV, movies). Shopping/retail therapy. Work and becoming a workaholic. Pretending something hasn’t happened.
Overeating. Eating foods loaded with sugar and fat (‘comfort eating’). Excessive drinking of alcohol. Excessive use of recreational drugs. Using prescription drugs such as tranquilizers or antidepressants.
The list is endless, and it could be something totally unique for you.