Emotional Awareness is Key to Relapse Prevention

One of the key steps to developing a safe environment that supports our recovery is to develop emotional awareness. As part of our recovery, we seek to grow in our ability to identify and tend to our emotions. If we don’t, we’re setting ourselves up for relapse.

The Habit of Emotional Ignorance
Many of us have developed the habit of ignoring and suppressing our emotions. We needed to do this when we were growing up, because the emotions we felt were overwhelming and debilitating. To cope, we learned to ignore these emotions, put on a happy (or at least neutral) face, and move on. But these negative emotions have a way of catching up to us. If not dealt with, our emotions lurk under the surface, building up into a grey cloud that fills our souls.

Even though it’s important to acknowledge the range of emotions we experience, these emotions don’t need to run our lives. Remember that all emotions pass eventually. We are not our emotions. The key is to accept and understand — not suppress — these emotions as they come up … knowing that they will come and go, while we remain in our essential personhood.

Addicts know all about using addictive behavior to mask pain, feel pleasure, and relieve boredom. If we feel too much or too little, we may be tempted to act out in an attempt to control the way we feel.

Using sexual behavior to cope with negative feelings only creates a vicious cycle that feeds itself. We feel bad, so we turn to addictive behavior. We may feel a short term rush of exuberance and pleasure, but then our emotions will drop into despair. Then we will then turn to other behaviors down the line to distract or pull ourselves out of that place of despair.

Being comfortable with “negative” or challenging feelings is not easy for anyone. It’s especially hard if you have denied, ignored, hid from, or lied about them for years. How do we do this?

How we Develop Emotional Awareness
It helps to describe the way you feel by writing in your journal each day. This helps us to get clear about what we’re feeling.

Of course it’s also helpful to talk through our feelings with other safe and supportive people. This may be your spouse, a counselor, or a recovery buddy. Talking through what we’re feeling and why can not only help us to clarify what we’re feeling — it can also help us to work through that feeling, and start to see things (and therefore start to feel) differently.

Free teleseminar on Personal Environments will talk more about this
I’m going to be doing a free telephone seminar on February 18 on “Personal Environments: the secret of success in recovery.” What this article talks about — emotional awareness — is a key part of the environment we need to create for ourselves if we’re going to have sustained recovery. I hope you’ll join us for this teleseminar. Click here for more information.

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