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From Fear to Freedom: A Journey of Embracing Life, One Avoided Emotion at a Time
How confronting our avoiding emotions is the pathway to anything we want in life.
“What’s the emotion I’m avoiding?” I asked myself, as I sat on my meditation cushion for my daily emotional inquiry practice.
My wife and I had recently talked about removing her birth control device to get ready for parenthood.
I knew I wanted to be a father. But when I pictured a future scene where my wife told me she was pregnant, I didn’t feel the full-body excitement that I expected and wanted to feel. Instead, the excitement was mixed with some dense ickiness that I couldn’t quite understand.
I sat in the stillness of the inquiry, allowing an answer to arise.
An image flashed into my mind of my father’s face. He was a hard-working immigrant who’d spent much of my childhood working 6 to 7 days a week at the family’s herb store in San Francisco Chinatown. And while I’m proud for my roots and the legacy he’s built, he also wasn’t the emotionally available father that I had wanted and needed growing up.
Suddenly, it became clear. A part of me subconsciously felt afraid that as a father, I might be similarly absent — that I might be overly focused on my work and not give my children the presence I wanted them to have.
I tracked down the fear in my body as a tension in my left shoulder and a heaviness in my heart. I felt the sensations, welcoming them, letting the grief of having an emotionally unavailable father (and my fear of becoming one) flow out of my system as tears — until the sensations eventually dissolved in my body.
I re-pictured a future scene where my wife shared that she was pregnant. This time it felt clear. I saw myself full-heartedly celebrating the news with her.
Later that afternoon, I started gathering and organizing parenting resources in our family’s Notion page.
This was the year that I’d be ready for fatherhood.
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The Thing Blocking Your Way Is An Avoided Emotion
Fear and grief, the emotions I had avoided, had prevented me from feeling fully prepared for parenthood. I had to confront them before I could wholeheartedly and enthusiastically move forward.
I’ve discovered that this is true more generally between our desires and our emotions.
Anything that gets in the way of what we want in life ultimately stems from an avoided emotion.
What makes us hesitate approaching the person we’re attracted to and who could potentially become the love of our life? It might be an avoidance of rejection, of unworthiness, or of shame for feeling our desire. It might even be an avoidance of success or the impact a connected, heart-felt conversation with them might have on our life.
What makes us hesitate to ask for the promotion or the raise or to pursue our calling? It might be an avoidance of failure, of undeservedness, or of judgment from others.
What makes us get into fights with loved ones — our partners, our parents, or our friends? It might be an avoidance of the pain from being hurt or of hopelessness. Or we might fear rejection so much that we choose to reject them before they could do the same to us.
What makes us procrastinate on things we know are important to us? It could be an avoidance of overwhelm or of failure.
It’s the avoidance of difficult emotions that holds us back from our dreams and creates unwanted behavioral patterns.
If there wasn’t an avoided emotion, any action that we authentically wanted to take would feel easy.
We’d approach the person we’re attracted to.
We’d ask for what we deserved.
We’d quickly resolve any triggers that arose.
We’d actually get shit done.
We rarely think twice between the impulse to use the toilet and our body’s movement to use the bathroom. We just go and take care of ourselves. Choices feel easeful and straightforward when there’s no fear or other difficult emotion blocking our way.
Leadership coach Joe Hudson explains in Art of Accomplishment, “If you are in [an experience] where a choice has become a decision and all of a sudden there is a lot of thought [and energy] put into it… you are operating in some fear.”
When we’ve felt through our avoided emotions in an experience — and when we’re no longer reacting from avoidance — what would otherwise feel like big, weighty decisions reduce down to straightforward choices and actions.
Facing Our Emotions Is A Learnable Skill
The beautiful thing about confronting avoided emotions is that it’s a learnable and practicable skill — one that gets easier with time.
For the past six years, I’ve been rigorously approaching the practice of identifying and confronting the emotions I’m avoiding.
I’ve trained in multiple modalities and worked with different teachers and coaches — all with the intention of hunting down and feeling through avoided emotions. (My morning emotional inquiry practice weaves together teachings from EmRes, Joe Hudson, ISTA, and a few other sources.)
I’ve created Uncomfortable Conversation challenges to intentionally confront my fear of tense conversations — telling a co-worker he intimidated me, reaching out to a friend I hadn’t talked to in a long time, even experimenting with asking a stranger for money.
I’ve played a game where I’d hop into the front seat of every Lyft or Uber ride and get into as deep of a life conversation with the driver as possible. Two years and 350+ rides later, I feel so much more comfortable with vulnerability and learned how to quickly create deep emotional intimacy.
What’s the point of doing all this?
The more we exercise our muscle to confront our avoided emotional experiences, the more powerful and free we become.
When we no longer live life from a place of avoidance, but from a place of choice, there’s nothing we can’t do.
As Peter Bregman, the author of Lead with Emotional Courage, writes, “If you’re willing to feel everything, you can do anything.”
Moreover, the confronting of avoided emotions is something we can actually learn to enjoy.
Going to the gym and working out used to be a chore. I’d need to do various hacks to get myself into my workout clothes and out the door. But at some point, that switched. My body learned that it actually felt good after working out and started looking forward to it.
Similarly, my body’s been learning that it actually feels good to confront my avoided emotions because of how much peace, clarity, and aliveness I feel on the other side of letting the emotions flow.
What’s an emotion you’ve been avoiding? What if you felt through it all the way, so that you’re no longer avoiding it? What might that open up for you?
Thanks to Vincent Tam, Mark Walker, Tommy Dixon, Amer Ameen, and Sipho Alexander Morrison for reading early drafts of this post.
Join to learn powerful practices to strengthen your muscle to confront avoided emotional experiences and create the life you want.
P.S. You’re Invited to an Opportunity for Powerful Transformation
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Joe’s course stands out as one of the most life-changing and one of the highest-ROI investments I’ve ever made.
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His intensive 8-week course is an experience on how to find meaning beyond accomplishments and to create more enjoyment life.
He’s by far one of the most masterful coaches I’ve ever worked with. I’m continually blown away in watching work his magic on someone in even just 10 minutes. And this is one of the few ways to work with him.
You don’t have to take my word for it — you’ll have a rare opportunity to experience Joe’s coaching during a free, 90-minute Q&A session on Tuesday, May 16th at 9am PT.
And if you decide to apply for the program after the free session, thanks to their generosity, you can get $500 off enrollment with the discount code EDMONDLAU.