Let’s be honest; many of us are struggling in one way or another right now, I certainly am. I got through last year in one piece, but the last couple of months have been really hard & am finding getting back to (the new) normal a bit of a challenge.
One way I’m supporting myself is through the work I’ve done to recognise & delve into the patterns I follow when I’m feeling unsettled. What I’ve learned about the difference between what really comforts me versus those things which are false/shadow comforts is making a huge difference to how I’m navigating these challenging times.
A quick fix – the false/shadow comforts
When I’m feeling anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, or otherwise about to be emotional my head wants a quick fix & it believes that things like chocolate, social media, TV, other forms of food are the answer. What I’ve realised is that any comfort they provide is temporary & instead they’re an attempt to numb whatever’s coming up by distracting myself from it, or (in the case of eating) to push it back down.
These are described as ‘Shadow Comforts’ by Jennifer Louden because, as she says these comforts cast long shadows over our lives. To quote her;
“Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness – a real comfort – or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic effort to soothe yourself – a shadow comfort. You can chat on message boards for a half an hour and be energized by the community and ready to go back to work, or you can chat on message boards because you’re avoiding talking to your partner about how angry he or she made you last night.”
Do you recognise any of this?
I certainly do & I can see that the shadows these comforts cast are many & varied, including sucking away time & not being beneficial to my health.
And, as Jennifer says the ‘why’ is key isn’t it?
What’s really comfort
Of course, we both know that the ultimate comfort is to allow whatever wants to come up to do so, to feel it, let it move through you & depart. Be it sadness, frustration, anger, grief, whatever it is, letting it pass through you & out the other side is so much more healing in the long term than pushing it down with chocolate.
But we resist this don’t we?
To quote Jennifer Louden again; ‘Here is what is so much better than shadow comforts: being here. Being here, not numb. When you entertain the idea there is nothing bad about you that you need to fix, you relax a little bit. Relaxing is so good for your nervous system. That makes it easier to be open and curious, to pause before you open Facebook or the box of cookies, and ask, “What do I really want?” or “What would feel really good right now?” or “What am I hungry for?” You don’t expect an instant answer nor do you expect it to fit a “perfect picture” of being creative, industrious, or productive …. You listen and follow what you hear. You trust yourself.’
It comes down to noticing your patterns
I shoved emotions down for many years because it was the only thing I knew how to do. Today I know better & for the most part I allow feelings to come up. But I still have some habitual patterns & I’m reminded of this quote from Viktor E. Frankl: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom’.
That’s what I’m doing now, working hard to break those patterns I’ve developed over years. I aim to catch myself before I respond in my habitual way & ask myself one of Jen’s questions What do I really want?” or “What would feel really good right now?” or “What am I hungry for?” And then take time to pause & listen to my heart & what it truly wants.
Sometimes I get the answer & others I don’t & there are also times when my habitual response happens before I’ve noticed. And I always try to be kind & self-compassionate. I remind myself that these are habits that I’ve had for years & they’re not necessarily going to change overnight.
I also remind myself of Brené Brown’s words that, ‘when you numb the dark, you numb the light’ which means that when you decide not to feel grief, sadness, disappointment – all those dark emotions – you will also miss out on the light emotions such as joy and happiness.
This has certainly been my experience, I notice that now I’m not numbing those darker feelings, I feel so much more happiness and joy. If you imagine emotions range in intensity from zero to a hundred, I used to go up to a maximum of maybe plus and minus fifteen. These days that range is so much bigger and is extending all the time as I continue with this work.
And listening to the voice inside which knows.
Deep down I know that I find true comfort when I listen & respond to my heart which knows what I really need.
That inner knowing has always been there, sometimes guiding me to stay & allow the emotions to come up & pass through, others it wants me to get outside, call a friend, read, do a yoga practice, meditate, write in my journal or do some embroidery. And I haven’t always listened but instead turned to the quick fix/shadow comforts. These days I’m trying harder to listen & to listen & act on what my heart wants. And also accepting that sometimes it just might be chocolate
What about you, do you recognise yourself in my story?
You know I often end with some questions, so now it’s your turn
How do you recognise yourself in this?
What are your patterns, what is it which disturbs you so you turn to your shadow comforts?
What specifically are your shadow comforts & can you recognise the long shadow they cast over your life?
And, what first step could you take to change those habitual patterns?
I’d love to read your responses in the comments below
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