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5 Reasons to Quit Intellectualizing Your Emotions

5 Reasons to Quit Intellectualizing Your Emotions

If you’re an intellectual you’re sexy, but if you intellectualize you’re using a defense mechanism.

The problem is that it’s not so easy to know which side I’m on, and when that is happening. Start with the definition. Intellectualization is defined as an attempt to keep yourself removed from feeling emotions.    As we can guess, the line between when you’re using your mind for wise action and when you’re using it for emotional suppression is often blurry.

Check out mindfulness. At a very high level, doesn’t mindfulness ask us to watch our automatic thoughts, impulses and feelings from the place of “observing” them instead of “being” them? In a sense, mindfulness is saying you don’t have to “be” your feelings. Isn’t intellectualization trying to do the same thing?

There’s more.

Intellectualization fails to protect us

What if I come with an innate personality trait that just makes me process information and subtleties very deeply? In the head, that’s a whole lot of intellectual stimulation for about 20% of the population. Could it be that what’s normal and innate for me has been confused with intellectualization?

What about IQ? Studies after studies show a high correlation between someone with anxiety to also have a high IQ. This high IQ gives many rewards. We solve problems, we get creative and make shit happen. If we’re trying to solve our troubles, what’s wrong with that?

I prefer to shift the discussion from what is right vs wrong to goals and intentions. What are you trying to accomplish when you use your mind to solve your pain? It is here that we start to see that when my goal is to “discipline” the mind from creating feelings by way of arguing with it through logic and intellect, then the strategy backfires in the long run.

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In other words, when we do anything to suppress the mind as opposed to allowing it, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Intellectualization makes us feel smart and wise, but bury anything beneath that surface, the picture becomes quite different.

Here are 5 reasons why intellectualization fails to protect us, and what we can do instead.

1. Intellectualizing emotions does not make them go away

Most of us are terrified of difficult emotions. Fear, anger, sadness and grief are not just painful psychologically, but also physically. How should we find solutions to this pain?

If my tooth hurts, I’ll go see my dentist. If I get stuck in traffic, I’ll reschedule my meeting. If I lose my job, I’ll move to a cheaper state. If X was the problem, I found Y as the solution.

Problem-solving works, doesn’t it? When I have a problem, I will fix it. When I fix it, the problem seems to go away. My tooth does not hurt. My rescheduled meeting turned out fine. Moving to a cheaper state saved me the money I didn’t have in the first place. Problems got solved. They cease to exist.

The problem is that emotional pain cannot be problem-solved in this way, if the end goal is to get them to “cease to exist”. Intellectualization is trying to do that. When we intellectualize, we are bargaining with the mind. We’re saying “Hey mind, look here. You are wrong. There is no need to feel “this” and here are a 100 reasons why.” Look at your own experience. Does any kind of bargaining with the mind – so that it does not create the emotions you dislike – work?

When you “tell” your mind to not feel jealousy when your best friend gets married before you, does it listen? If you “explain” to your mind that its fear of meeting new people is unwarranted, does it stop itself from feeling afraid? If you “analyze” your painful past memories and trace it to your abusive childhood, do the memories show gratitude to your “aha” moments by never coming back again? If you “argue” with your mind that its obsessions and compulsions are faulty, does it stop creating them?

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Probably not. If they did, intellectualization would be classified as a “treatment” and not a “defense mechanism”.

2. Don’t assume it’s therapy or the “adult” thing to do

Think about it. What appears to happen in therapy? We talk, talk and talk some more. We psychoanalyze our childhood, analyze “cause” of behaviors, and try to come up with a plan to not make the same mistakes again. This is important work. It does make sense that if we don’t know the why of our problems, how can we know the solutions to fix them?

But good therapy recognizes that when the “intellect” is trying to reject emotions, it backfires. A competent therapist will urge you to learn how to shut up (they don’t say it like that) and feel your pain. Sometimes therapy doesn’t reach that far, even if we’ve spent years doing it. Much of what we ending up learning is that we need to “talk” out our problems. Even if we secretly suspect that this talking and analyzing are not helping that much, we don’t know what else to do. So we talk some more. Dr. Campbell, I need an emergency session with you this week.

Talking is also more acceptable than crying. It’s the “adult” thing to do. I’m a grown up, I can handle it. I’m not going to cry like a baby. Sure, don’t cry if you don’t want to. No one is asking you to. But find a way to figure out what else to do with and for your emotional pain, because could it be that intellectualizing it sure as hell isn’t helping either?

So if problem-solving internal pain doesn’t work, then what does?

3. Make space for your emotions by allowing them to just be

What our emotions are begging from us is a little bit of permission and space to exist. Sure, we may not like some of them or always understand why they have to show up (or still show up) in our lives.

But part of the reason they show up in the first place is because you’ve demanded them not to. That’s the reason for their hissy fit. Research makes it very clear that similar to thought suppression, emotional suppression produces counterproductive results. Our logical solutions to push them away end up creating the very scenarios we want to avoid. We become entangled in them even further.

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So then if difficult emotions can’t be whisked away, then what am I supposed to do?

Allow them. The more we allow our difficult emotions by way of accepting them, the less likely they are to bite us.

The reason we don’t allow them is because we’ve made terrifying assumptions of what our life will look like if we “allow” our emotions.

4. Getting closer to your feelings is not going to sabotage your life

I believe this is the real source of our struggle. At some level, we are aching to just allow ourselves to be. We are tired of intellectualizing our pain but the alternatives seem terrifying.

We imagine a tug of war. Our difficult emotions are the monster on one side and “I” am on the other. I know I’m not really winning this war, but at least pulling the rope trying to win it, is still a whole lot better than giving up and being sucked into that deep, dark, bottomless pit between me and the monster. Right?

What are we so scared of? What do we imagine will happen if we let our emotions have a little space? Are the emotions going to sabotage my life? Will I fall into clinical depression? Will I lose my mind, abandon my responsibilities and retire into an ashram? Will I make decisions whose repercussions I’m not prepared to handle? Will I become a self-consumed narcissist or maybe a silly, clingy, whining little child again?

It’s usually not so dramatic. The way you decide to feel your emotions is totally up to you. Some choose meditation or yoga or cooking, others choose a sport, while others prefer crying on a friend’s shoulder. While the style of feeling emotions differs, the intention either way is a good one. I’m trying to connect with how I feel instead of distancing myself from it through denial and intellectualization.

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Why is feeling it better?

For starters, it’s more respectful of yourself. Even if that pang of jealousy is unwarranted, it shows up for a reason. Figuring out the reason is important, but if you’re attempting to not feel it (with intellectualization), what you’re saying to yourself is this. You don’t have permission to be a full human. It’s no surprise then that your human mind will start a war with you.

Secondly, distancing yourself from it may have protected you now, but feelings have a way of catching up in the end. It’s horrifying in the long run that despite your loud and confident intellect, you still feel like shit inside 10 years after your wife left you.

Thirdly, “feeling” it instead of denying it gives you a chance to see your own coping and resilience. It’s really an opportunity. We push pain because we’re don’t have faith in our ability to handle it. With time and willingness, we get to see that feeling emotions didn’t indeed hijack my life, on the contrary it opened it up.

5. Don’t be afraid to think

None of this is meant to get you scared of thinking itself.

If you are human, you will think. The mind chugs along in the background doing its thing. It analyzes, predicts, forecasts, concludes, warns and evaluates. If you’ve spent enough time living on this planet, your mind has enough fodder to feed on. If you’re an HSP or someone with an analytical mind, you are likely to be thinking even more than the average person. Don’t be terrified of the mind. Because then you will try to suppress it, which only makes matters worse.

The trick is to “watch” this mind when you can. That’s what mindfulness is asking you to do. And that’s the difference between mindfulness and intellectualization. Mindfulness will ask you to separate yourself from your thoughts by allowing them to exist. Intellectualization tries to rationalize every reason in the book why they shouldn’t. Which never sits well with our mind.

Intellectualization is terrified of feeling emotions. But is that really an authentic life? Is that even a good enough life when you’re scared of your own self?

Featured photo credit: www.shredfat.com via shredfat.com

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Namita Gujral

Anxiety Coach

HSP, Highly Sensitive Person 6 Decisions a Highly Sensitive Person MUST make (Part 3/3) The Biggest Fight of the Highly Sensitive Person (Part 2/3) How to Thrive, Not Hurt, as a Highly Sensitive Person (Part 1/3) 5 Reasons to Quit Intellectualizing Your Emotions How to Overcome Anxious Thoughts With Milk, a Hat, and a Post Office

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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