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Shame, Discomfort and Avoidance

This week I finally got around to doing some tasks I had been avoiding including updating part of my website and changing the leaves on the tree in my dining room. The leaves I had been avoiding since spring, but the website updates had only been on my list for a few weeks. While there was part of me that wanted to berate myself for not managing to do them, I know that wouldn’t change anything and there was a danger that it could have stopped me from moving forward with it at all. It was getting to the stage where every time I looked at the tree, or my computer, I started to feel bad about what I hadn’t done and wanted to avoid it.

It can happen in so many areas of our life, we don’t meet a deadline or an expectation, and we can start to feel shame, that we’re ‘not good enough’. Because this feeling brings discomfort, we avoid anything that might bring it on, including the thing itself. This is where the cycle of shame – discomfort - avoidance can begin and before we know it, it has started spreading out into other things. We might begin avoiding places associated with it, or people who ask us about it. The more we avoid the feeling of discomfort and shame, the more they spread out and the things we want to avoid become bigger. In trying to avoid discomfort, we end up creating more of it. Sometimes, we even try to shift this discomfort onto other people by parcelling it up into a package wrapped in blame and handing it to them. I wouldn’t recommend this as a helpful or long-term solution!

Often clients come to therapy because the strategies they have been using to avoid discomfort have stopped working for them. In Counselling we can work together to understand where the unhelpful strategies came from and identify more positive ways of dealing with the issue. I wish I could tell you that will be the end of discomfort, but that wouldn’t be honest, however what we can do is learn to ride the waves of it. Rather than being pulled under, we can use it to inform our choices and actions, because discomfort is just information, a way of letting ourselves know that something isn’t ok and needs to be addressed. The more we avoid it the louder the message will get, but if we listen to it we can use it to navigate towards comfort, to make the choice that is right for us.

Tree made of wool covered in fabric leaves against a pale green wall. Text reads ‘Shame, discomfort and avoidance’

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