You can’t manage symptoms you’re running away from.
In order to manage symptoms, we have to accept that we’re experiencing them, be able to describe them, and investigate what triggers or exacerbates them.
We have to look at them, in other words— even if we’re afraid.
We have to look at our symptoms even if we’re disgusted.
We have to look at our symptoms even if we’re worried about becoming overwhelmed— or feeling overwhelmed.
That doesn’t mean we have to like our symptoms, though.
It doesn’t mean we have to pretend we’re not afraid of them or frustrated by them.
Make no mistake: I get why so many people run away from their symptoms as fast as they can.
I get why people effortfully deny and disown their symptoms.
It’s because symptoms suck.
They make us feel weak and inadequate.
Usually the very LAST thing ANY of us want to do is hang out with our symptoms for any length of time— let alone get curious enough about them to keep track of when they’re occurring, how they’re occurring, and what triggers are sparking them or feeding them.
It’s completely normal to WANT to run away from our symptoms.
But, if we want to get better, we don’t have that option.
Trying to outrun our symptoms may, in the short term, produce a decrease in anxiety.
Many of our symptoms, especially when we’re talking about post traumatic symptoms, trigger what’s called the fight/flight/freeze response, in which our sympathetic nervous system takes over our decision making and does what it thinks it needs to do to survive.
Thus doing whatever we can do to just get away from our immediate experience of our symptoms makes a lot of sense— to our revved up sympathetic nervous system, that is.
The thing is, when we run away from our symptoms, we are GUARANTEEING that those symptoms will stick around.
We can’t change anything about those symptoms in a positive way if we’re constantly trying to avoid thinking about, let alone experiencing, them.
The only change that will happen as a result of avoiding our symptoms is, they WILL get worse.
Why? Because the temporary decrease in anxiety we experience by running has negatively reinforced that behavior.
(Negative reinforcement happens when a painful stimulus is removed— such as what happens when anxiety decreases. Whatever happened to cause that removal of pain becomes “reinforced,” meaning it’s more likely to happen again— and we say it’s been “negatively” reinforced because the reinforcement was accomplished by removing something.)
We don’t need to run from our symptoms.
We do need to figure out what skills and tools are necessary to tolerate our symptoms long enough so we can stay present and actually deal with them.
Fear and disgust have a way of convincing us that we can’t handle situations that we actually CAN handle.
You’re capable of handing a lot more than you think you are.
We really do have to make a choice: retreat from our symptoms, or stand our ground and actually try to deal with them?
Only one of those options has a long term benefit.
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