When did being uncomfortable become such a bad thing? Of course, it makes logical sense that none of us want to feel uncomfortable, but is it really so bad? If fact, could it be good, helpful even?
Feeling uncomfortable with being uncomfortable typically starts in our family of origin. In some households negative emotions or expressions such as anger or sadness are uncomfortable, not acceptable or even tolerated. In these households, caretakers may express negative emotions either verbally or nonverbally towards the child who throws a temper tantrum, cries relentlessly or whines incessantly. The general message to the child from the caretaker is “your negative emotions are bad and make me uncomfortable.” Many children internalize this message early on, and quickly develop a subconscious pattern of avoiding or rejecting uncomfortable or negative emotions.
In the adult world the avoidance of feeling emotionally uncomfortable can sometimes look like procrastination. The adult who is uncomfortable with negative feelings may avoid tasks or challenges that feel overwhelming or difficult. This, in turn, can start a detrimental and sometimes debilitating depressive/anxious psychological cycle. For example, the cycle starts with the individual feeling challenged or overwhelmed by a difficult task, say a paper they need to write for college or a presentation a professional must give for work. The overwhelmed individual then procrastinates completing the task because they are demotivated by the negativity they associate with uncomfortable feeling. The individual may then procrastinate even more, possibly not finishing the task and intensifying the negative feelings about themselves. Ultimately, this can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety that they were trying to avoid in the first place.
It is normal for all of us to feel some discomfort with having to complete that big project that will determine our final grade or that seemingly massive presentation that will determine whether we will get the promotion. When there is a lot at stake, we feel pressure to perform and some of us feel this in a very negative and uncomfortable way. But what if we are able to reframe this to mean something positive? What if… we approached uncomfortable feelings with a positive mindset?
Embracing those uncomfortable feelings can be beneficial. Pushing ourselves through difficult tasks when we are uncomfortable can be an invaluable growth opportunity. Think of a time when you had to do something extremely difficult that made you feel uncomfortable. You learned from that, right? This is because that intensity of emotion, possibly negative emotion creates a hyper awareness that allows you to absorb and process information more effectively and efficiently. This is why some of our best learning and growth happen when we fail.
Just live long enough and you will be challenged by difficult and uncomfortable situations. For instance, currently about 50% of marriages fail and for those going through separation and divorce, there is significant suffering and many uncomfortable situations to manage. Those dealing with separation or divorce are often forced to manage a dramatic reorganization in their lives, such as child custody, dealing with finances, housing and finding new companionship. There is often denial and avoidance with facing these changes because of how foreign and uncomfortable they are. Yet, the denial and avoidance typically only prolong the process of change, making it infinitely more painful. Challenging yourself by reframing your mindset and giving yourself permission to get comfortable with the uncomfortable will provide you with the greatest opportunity for growth, change and eventual peace.
Then how do people get comfortable with being uncomfortable after years of avoidance, denial or flat out rejection? It has to do with how you frame your thinking. When you are feeling uncomfortable, instead of reacting negatively to the feeling, frame it as a positive sign. A sign that this uncomfortable feeling is be an opportunity for you to grow and learn.
To strengthen your sense of comfort with being uncomfortable, try something that makes you uncomfortable every week. It could be as minor as making a phone call to network with someone for work or as big as deciding to leave that dead end job. Approach and embrace your uncomfortable emotions; use them as a tool to determine when you need to act rather than avoid and watch the positive change.