Emotional Bypassing + 3 Simple Steps to Process Your Uncomfortable Emotions
Shifting from emotional bypassing to emotional processing can look like -
Trigger Warning: This piece discusses suicide and some people might find it disturbing. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please reach out and ask for help. Consider seeking therapy, informing family, friends, or calling the suicide prevention hotline in your country. For the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both programs provide free, confidential support 24/7.
I want to take this moment to share a bit of a deeply personal and sensitive time in my life.
This story goes back to my junior year in college, circa 2002, Cleveland, Ohio. It was the year our world was turning upside down. The year when my uncle committed suicide.
It came completely out of leftfield, without warning. One day he was there, the next he ceased to exist. While my entire family was devastated, it was particularly difficult for my dad.
He was so deeply affected by his depression and grieving process that he barely interacted with us for almost an entire year.
He made sure that he provided for our financial needs, but he was emotionally and mentally absent in our home. We could barely feel his presence. It was as if we were invisible. Ghostly, he floated around, keeping to himself without making eye contact or communication. For the most part, his room and his bed became his permanent home.
I was old enough to understand what was going on and that I needed to have compassion for his process. But I missed and needed my dad, so did my mom and younger brother.
I guess that was also the time when I made a vow that I would never allow myself to feel that kind of immense sadness.
I promised myself that I would never allow myself to be that sad or be impacted by events in such a way that it would take my life away, leaving me bedridden.
I couldn’t be depressed. I couldn’t go through the same pain. Ever.
So every time something difficult would arise in my life, my initial reaction would be,
“How do I fix this?”
“How can I avoid the uncomfortable feelings?”
“How can I distract myself?”
And usually this meant:
I have to keep busy.
I have to meet up with friends.
I have to go out for drinks.
I have to take on a new role, a new project, a new job, etc.
This meant that I had to do whatever was needed to redirect my attention away from the uncomfortable emotions - sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, etc.
This also meant that I forgot what it was like to be human. I disallowed myself to feel those myriad of emotions that are such a crucial part of being alive.
Because no matter how uncomfortable those feelings are, they serve a purpose and make us human.
These "dark" feelings are indicators that we have something to work on. And more importantly, they guide us and prepare us for the bigger challenges in life.
When we don’t allow ourselves to feel sadness, pain, anger, or fear, we miss an opportunity to grow and develop. So when unexpected events happen - that are totally out of our control like the loss of a job or death of a loved one. - the probability of falling into a deep cycle of depression and anxiety becomes more likely.
Because we didn’t allow ourselves to feel the smaller moments of sadness, we don’t know how to navigate the more intense and darker sadness, creating a bigger problem for ourselves.
Emotional bypassing is resisting the feelings that make us uncomfortable and immediately replacing them with positivity, joy, or simply ignoring them all together, keeping busy with other things.
This was essentially what I had done for many years in my life.
So, how do we process our emotions/feelings - particularly the shadow ones like anger, shame, guilt, etc.?
“Yes, this is how I feel.”
“Yes, this is how I interpret this.”
“Yes, I feel wronged.”
“No, I’m not going to ignore this.”
“No, I’m not going to pretend I’m happy”
“No, I’m not going to drink to numb these feelings.”
I know a lot of people will say to just be grateful.
Well, I have nothing against gratitude, but jumping into feelings of gratitude without processing the sadness/grief/anger is a perfect recipe to disengage from our bodies and fall into numbness and depression.