Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 30, 2010

Fear of Feelings

Feelings come and go: both good feelings and bad feelings

Are there any emotions that you find yourself trying to avoid?  Are you aware of what happens to you when you do avoid those emotions?  For some people, the fear of feelings is actually a huge anxiety trigger.    Yesterday, Teresa* had a very bad day, during which three extremely  upsetting things happened –one that made her angry, one that was very sad, and one that was scary (a near accident).    When Teresa called me, however, she did not want to talk about the events, but rather the anxiety she was having about experiencing the strong emotions of sadness and anger. 

Teresa knows that her fear of feelings triggers her anxiety, but many people do not.  Some people believe that if they push their feelings away, they will not have to deal wtih them.  Feelings do not go away just because we want them to. I often use an analogy of a pot of water on a stove to explain this idea:

Feelings are like water boiling on a stove.   If there’s no lid, the water turns to steam and evaporates.  However, if you put a lid on a pot of water and ignore it, you make a mess on your stove (I’ve done this)!  It’s the same with feelings–if you try to ignore, push away, or deny feelings they do not go away, they come out somewhere.  They may make you sick, cause you to engage in unhealthy behavior (overeating, drinking, drugs, overspending)

Feelings do not go away just because you try to put a lid on them

The other thing that can happen if you try to push away feelings is that anxiety can arise in their place!!  So, allowing yourself to experience emotion can actually alleviate anxiety.

One major reason that people are afraid of their feelings is the idea that the feelings will overwhelm them or that they will get lost in that emotion for long time, perhaps forever!  There’s one key concept to remember:  No feelings last.  Feelings come, feelings go.  Good feelings don’t last, bad feelings don’t last.  Remember the pot of water? Feelings are like boiling water, they turn to steam and disappear.

You may be arguing right now that you have the same feelings return again and again.  This is true, especially if you are grieving a loss or have an unresolved issue.  However, the intensity of the feelings will still wax and wane, even during intense periods of grieving.  I’ll address ways that you can help “contain” intense emotion in future posts.  If you find that emotion is overwhelming and that you do not seem to be able to handle the emotion well, it may be a good time to seek out the help of a therapist.

So remember–feelings do not last, they come and go! 

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

*Not her real name

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Responses

  1. […] to avoid feeling the helplessness of being out of control. If you recall from my last post, the avoidance of feelings can also lead to trouble.  On the flip side, being completely engulfed by helplessness is not good […]

  2. […] to avoid feeling the helplessness of being out of control. If you recall from my last post, the avoidance of feelings can also lead to trouble.  On the flip side, being completely engulfed by helplessness is not good […]


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