Nobody perfects the art of emotional numbing like the Highly Sensitive Person without a resilience strategy. The reason of course is that the HSP feels more deeply than average, with a nervous system more sensitive than 80% of the population’s. Factor in all the normal stresses of the world, then throw in something like a pandemic, or a tragic and terrible global conflict, and you get a lot of already weary people suddenly pushed beyond their limits into the realm of overwhelm.
What is emotional numbing, also known as emotional buffering?
Emotional numbing is the act of engaging in a behavior entirely motivated by the intention to not feel what we’re currently feeling. We drink to soothe social anxiety (rather than do the work to heal the nervous system). We shop to mitigate depression (rather than make the big changes our soul is asking for). We spend hours a day scrolling social media literally engineered to create addiction. We eat too much sugar because we’re feeling afraid. We watch too much Netflix because we’re overwhelmed with our life and need the escape to fantasy worlds where people have it much better, or much worse, than us.
Anything ~ anything ~ to avoid emotions that we aren’t comfortable with.
To be clear, everyone has a tendency to emotionally buffer. It’s just that within the HSP population it’s an epidemic.
So let’s talk about building resilience on the pathway to emotional freedom.
6 Steps to emotional freedom.
1.) Accept your emotions. Whatever you’ve been programmed to believe about so called “good” emotions, and “unacceptable” emotions–please throw it all out. Every emotion you feel is simply a call to action, a call for internal compassion, and a call to your own humanity. Nothing more.
2.) Drop the judgement. Emotional states are not meant to be judged. They are meant to be felt, without the burden of our cognitive subjugation. If there is one part of you who craves to be free–it’s likely your emotional expression.
3.) Engage your logic. From a biological point of view, there is scientific evidence that strongly links healthy emotional expression to physical well being. If we weren’t meant to feel it all, would emotions even exist? And would repression make us physically sick if we weren’t designed to express ourselves?
4.) Recognize your buffering patterns, and set strong, healthy limits around them. My current numbing pattern is streaming too much television. When I find myself mindlessly watching something I don’t even enjoy, I know I’m avoiding. I have trained myself to recognize when I’m spending valuable energy on an overindulgence that leaves me feeling worse. It’s a simple formula–a healthy expenditure of energy makes us feel stronger. An unhealthy expenditure of energy makes us feel worse. And often it’s a matter of dose. A little television is good. But when it becomes an avoidance strategy that feels toxic, that’s not so good.
5.) Understand this: Buffering is a lie. It wants us to believe that it will magically transform the emotion that we’re repressing. But the truth is, only facing it will. Working with the emotion, listening to it, being with it, and using strategies to alchemize it when it starts to take over our life is the path to untangling ourselves from our numbing patterns.
6.) Compassion is the way forward. Give yourself permission to rest when you need it, to express whatever you need to. Grant yourself the freedom to feel. Take some time for yourself. Make your needs priority one, for once.
Dear Highly Sensitive Reader, believe me when I tell you that your ability to acutely feel the full range of the emotional spectrum gives you as many advantages as it does setbacks. The first step in recognizing your super power is to understand and own your gifts–a process that can’t be done through avoidance, buffering, or numbing. You were born to shine bright.