Pursue What Matters
Episode 214: Dealing with Distress and Detachment
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you overwhelmed or checked out? These are two common responses to stress. And here’s the thing they happen to each of us. Join me today to learn what you can do to help yourself overcome distress and detachment.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:14
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So I hope you’ll join me last week, we are doing a deep dive this summer into the power of curiosity. And so what I shared last week is that curiosity in a very real way is your secret weapon as a leader, whether that’s at home, or at work, and so I hope that you will join me for this series. There’s a lot of practical tips, daily behaviors that can really help you to increase your self awareness, strengthen your self leadership, and become the leader you are meant to be. And so today, we are talking about two culprits. So distress and detachment that really can get in the way of our self awareness, they really can get in the way of curiosity and curiosity is so vital when it comes to leading effectively. And so let’s learn a little bit more about these two culprits. So distress and detachment. So often, when we feel overwhelmed by life, we’re too busy, we’ve got too much too many demands, we’re not coping effectively, we turned to one of one of two coping mechanisms. Sometimes we use both of them. In fact, most of us use both of them known as distress, and detachment. And so again, before you feel badly, just know that we all do this to some degree. And so today, we’re going to learn about distress, and how this can lead to externalizing behaviors. And we’re also going to learn about detachment, and how this can lead to internalizing behaviors. So there’s a little psychobabble for you. But these are important concepts that can be really helpful for you and understanding your own experience. And then we’re also going to talk about the impact of numbing emotions, that in the short term, it feels like a good idea. But it’s not very helpful for us long term. And so when we think about leading, when we think about leading with curiosity, it’s all about increasing your self awareness so that you can build a search your foundation of self care in order to lead yourself and others effectively.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:04
As we move forward in this series, I’m going to give you a lot of skills related to the secure foundation. And so you know, we talked about last week, we talked about two primary reasons that we resist curiosity, and as a result, how we resist self care. So the two reasons I talked about last week were one you don’t think self care behaviors, like you don’t feel like you can afford to take time for self care. And second, which is a little more sinister, is you might not be willing to cultivate the skills required for self care. And so here today, we’re really going to be focusing on the specifics of what gets in the way of curiosity. And again, the big culprits are distress and detachment. And so as humans, we are hardwired to simplify our decision making. And we tend to move to extremes with our thinking when stressed, and when facing uncertain situations. And so there is absolutely a tendency in these situations to react in the extreme. So extreme emotions, extreme thoughts, extreme behaviors, and one extreme reaction. So I always kind of think about a teeter totter. And so on one end of that teeter totter is the extreme reaction of distress and externalizing behaviors. And so I’ll explain externalizing behaviors in a moment. And then on the other end of that teeter totter include detachment and internalizing behaviors, and I don’t know that I haven’t seen many teeter totters around, I think they decided to get rid of them because they’re not that safe. But if you remember being on a teeter totter, and one of the one of the people jumping off or getting off the teeter totter, if you were there like you could end up in big trouble and So when we think about this stress reaction of distress on one end and detachment on the other, we are in a very real way, we’re putting ourselves on a teeter totter. And we’re setting ourselves up for D stabilization. And so we don’t, we don’t want to be on the teeter totter at all, because it really wreaks havoc for us in our well being and in our relationships with others. And so, I want you to just kind of picture that teeter totter and just consider how both detachment and distress might show up for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:37
So let’s turn our attention to distress. distress is often tied to externalizing behaviors, okay, and so when we’re stressed or overwhelmed, one reaction may be to externalize or emotionally and physically and mentally explode all over the place. So think external, our emotions, our thoughts all move external to us. So they move outside of us. Perhaps you can think of an example in your life, maybe from you or somewhere and someone else where you’ve maybe been on the receiving end of someone exploding or yelling or getting upset. These can include dramatic displays of emotions, so yelling, anger, sometimes violence, or physically, there may be an increase in physical symptoms. So for instance, your anxiety may or may skyrocket, you might find yourself really relying on on coping mechanisms to get you through the day. And so the thing to know about distress and the externalizing behavior, so, you know, again, some examples include anxiety, agitation, anger, fear, blame, and panic. So these behaviors really draw a lot of attention to themselves, as you can imagine, they’re kind of dramatic. And many people can be impacted by these behaviors. I mean, think of a time maybe you’ve been on an airplane, and there’s been an unruly passenger, it draws a lot of attention. And so as a result, right, though, these are really challenging behaviors to address, these, these behaviors can be often can be addressed more directly and quickly because they’re more visible. And so when these individuals experience stress, they, they react with a lot of distress. And, you know, they also create a lot of distress for others. And so it’s not, it’s not a great way to cope. And so, when we think about when we discharge our emotions through externalization, we express it outwardly.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:59
Everyone knows when someone’s experiencing this emotion, and they they get pulled into this, but these, these behaviors, right, this externalization can lead to a lot, a lot of problems. And so they can take a heavy toll on our relationships in the form of hostility, broken trust, hurt feelings and poor communication. So some of the ways that the discharging emotions through externalization externalization, they can lead to chronic stress, strained relationships, like I mentioned, unpredictability, right? Like you just don’t know what you’re going to see with someone distancing by others. So people get scared, and they distance drama, think about people in your life who might might bring a lot of drama with them, you’re probably seeing externalizing behaviors. And then, of course, broken trust.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:01
So when we rely on these externalizing behaviors, over time, we make ourselves more vulnerable to addictive behaviors as a way of coping, because when that distress is high, we’re really trying to bring down the intensity of the distress and so we think about those numbing behaviors that are designed to kind of numb our emotions. So whether that is binge eating, binge watching something, drinking drug use, that sort of thing. And so obviously, that can be a big problem, if that’s what we’re relying on, to get through the day and to get through our stressors. So now let’s turn our attention to detachment. So this is the other end of that teeter totter. So when we rely on detach detachment, in response to stress, we typically He moves to internalizing behaviors. And so just like externalizing behaviors is expressing our emotions, outwardly, internalizing behaviors kind of caving in, and keeping those emotions under tight wraps internally. And so, you know, with externalizing behaviors, we throw the grenade in a crowd, emotionally. And with internalizing behaviors, we throw the grenade internally. And so the collateral damage is in the psyche and our internal experience. And people might not know that you’re distressed or upset on the outside, because you’ve just got a smooth surface. On the outside. And so when we think about this other extreme of internalizing, we tend to shut down emotionally, physically and mentally. So this is when stressors feel so overwhelming that the solution is to emotionally cut off, or non one’s emotional experience as a way to cope. So some of the things that we see here is detachment, flat aspect. So there’s just not much emotional expression, being withdrawn. Sometimes you get the fake nice, right, like, I’m fine, you don’t get much in the way of interaction or depth of connection, and a feeling of overwhelm. So they’re just like high stress all the time. And like, there’s no way to help or to kind of reach it, right, like if you’re an interaction with them. And so we also right, we see depression, here, there’s a lack of creativity and innovation, you have the muted expressions, right, so the effect and lack of facial expression or engagement. So if someone’s struggling with detachment, right, they might stop exercising, they might begin sleeping more, or reduce social engagement. So we just see kind of a withdrawal from life. And the tendency to internalize can be deeply painful for the individual experiencing it, right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:10
So if you think about some of the symptoms of what the internalizing behaviors look like, it’s miserable there, there’s a lot of suffering. That happens, even while others are minimally impacted, right, so others might not have a clue about what’s going on for the individual. And so you know, as a result, this way of coping, that detachment can be even more insidious than the distress and the externalizing behaviors, because it can go unchecked for longer periods of time, right, because people just don’t know that someone is struggling. And so these individuals are very often very difficult to read. So sometimes they come across as super cheery or fake. But, you know, if you interact with them, it’s just something just isn’t quite right. But you might not be able to put your finger on it. And so what happens here is that in an effort to numb or cut off the overwhelming emotions, all emotional connection is numbed. Because we can’t numb selectively, right, we can’t just numb the negative stuff, we end up numbing everything, which is connection and joy and happiness. And this is where we really see depression, loss of connection. And over time, we see loss of hope. And so obviously, this is more insidious, and it’s it can be devastating for folks. And so, these individuals are known as internalized errs, because they tend to internalize their emotional experience. Again, often people in their lives don’t understand the significance of the emotional distress. Because the individual really will give little to no outward sign of that emotional disturbance that’s happening under the surface. These individuals detach from their emotional experience through emotionally mentally and physically shutting down. They also detach from others through isolating, disconnecting and shutting down communication. So you might get to the point where you’re scared of others and their emotions. And you know, if people see your distress, that they’re going to be worried about you, but they won’t really know what to do often. And so these individuals numb emotion through these internalizing behaviors that again leads to detachment. And this is also another path just like distress. It’s another path that can lead ultimately to a more significant reliance on addictive behaviors in order to cope and so again, obviously, we don’t want this happening for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:55
So though we present these concerns as opposites right, I’m Talking about two ends of the of the same teeter totter, it’s really important to keep in mind that distress and detachment have the same root problem, which is difficulty coping with emotions, resulting in a pattern of avoidance over time. The details of that pattern of avoidance just look different on one end of the continuum versus another. And so regardless of whether you discharge emotions through externalizing behaviors, or non emotions, through internalizing behaviors, what is true in both conditions, is a difficulty with emotional coping. And that’s really the heart of the matter when it comes to distress and detachment. And so though these concerns present as opposites, they’re the same root problem. It’s also important to know and I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s really important to keep in mind that we all numb to some extent, okay, so don’t be getting down on yourself. If you recognize some of these behaviors, I’d probably be surprised if you didn’t recognize some of these behaviors. But here’s what’s true, we want to be wary of numbing behavior that becomes our main form of coping with stressors. It is understandable to have some numbing behaviors in in certain situations. But we don’t want a reliance on these numbing behaviors in order to get through the day. And so when we think about externalize errs, they turn to numbing behaviors in order to gain a sense of containment of their emotional experience, sense, emotions have been discharged, and they can feel quite chaotic, right, those emotions are really overwhelming, and they’ve created a lot of chaos both for the individual and for others in their realm. And so numbing behaviors used by external advisors serves to turn down the volume, or the intensity of emotions, whereas for internalized errs, they may turn to numbing behaviors as a way of channeling the internal chaos and distress that is being experienced. So additionally, when we think about these numbing behaviors, and this is paradoxical, so it’s an interesting thing to pay attention to, for internalized errs, Nami behavior can be used in order to quote unquote, feel something for internalizes. Because internalize errs tend to have their emotions blunted because of their extreme emotional experiences. And this can happen for external users as well. And so these numbing behaviors can be a way of feeling something even though it’s not productive, even though it’s not helpful. And so, in this way, sometimes numbing behavior can be used to either turn down the emotional intensity, or turn up the emotional intensity for the individual. And so that can, again, paradoxically that can be kind of tricky to think about. But that does happen for folks.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:13
So I want to just give you some examples of some common numbing behaviors. So one that many of us engage in at different points is Mindless Eating, drinking to take the edge off shopping, binge watching Netflix, or Hulu or whatever. Pornography over eating over exercise working too much, right? That’s a big one for a lot of people is being a workaholic, emotional eating. Another one that’s very common these days is mindless or obsessive social media use. So I like to call that the scroll hole. We just get stuck in this mindless use of social media and we’re not using it intentionally. We see binge drinking rigid exercise, gambling, sex can be used this way. Obsessive cleaning, misusing prescription medication, rigid control of self or others, food restriction. Okay, so there’s a lot of ways that these behaviors can show up. And so if you heard some there, that you know, kind of hit a little close to home, don’t, don’t be alarmed, but this is just this is an opportunity really, to, to work towards more self awareness just to pay attention to how these behaviors might show up for you. So I just want to finish by talking about our tendency as humans to numb emotions. Like I said, we all engage in these behaviors to some extent, and one of the driving beliefs under emotional numbing is an underlying belief that I can’t cope or that Emotions are bad and must be contained or numbed into oblivion, there can be these core beliefs around the idea that life is too overwhelming, or a feeling of not being able to face reality. And so once this story or this belief sets in, then really you have one option, which is to avoid and numb numbing is another way of talking about avoiding. But here’s the rub. Because emotions are a natural and normal part of being human, they’re going to fight for expression, which can put you in a tug of war with yourself, because you’ve got this super ego, right, this part of you that believes emotions are the enemy. And so working really hard to, to contain those emotions to push them down, while emotions are part of what it means to be human, and so they will fight for expression. And so that’s how these numbing behaviors if left unchecked, over time, they can turn into addictive behaviors. And many of the numbing behaviors I noted in that list, you probably recognize that many of them can take on an addictive quality if we’re not careful. And so what we also know is when you work to distance yourself from unpleasant emotions, you also detach yourself from pleasant emotions. Like I’ve said already, you cannot selectively numb emotions. And so what happens is we just kind of have this baseline of depression, or dysphoria. And so the net result results is loss of connection, meaning, purpose and hope. And of course, we don’t want that for anyone. That’s a really, that’s a really hard way to live.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:55
And so I just want to share a quote from Dr. Brene Brown. So she defines addiction as chronically and compulsive, compulsively numbing and taking the edge off of feelings. And so from her, she said, Before conducting this research, I thought that no mean and taking the edge off, was just about addiction. But I don’t believe that anymore. Now, I believe that everyone numbs and takes the edge off, and that addiction is about engaging in these behaviors, compulsively. And chronically, the men and women in my study who I would describe as fully engaged in wholehearted living, are not immune to numbing. So again, we all engage in to some extent, back to Bernie, the primary difference seem to be that they were aware of the dangers of numbing, and had developed the ability to feel their way through high vulnerability experiences. And I just love that, right. So instead of resisting our emotions, learning to move towards them, to learn what you can from them to help yourself, breathe and, and acknowledge what you’re going through. And so I hope with the podcast today, this has given you an opportunity just to develop a little more self awareness about how these numbing behaviors might show up for yourself. So that, you know, maybe you maybe you just identify one behavior. And let’s increase some awareness about that. So a couple of questions that you can ask yourself. So let’s say you get you get yourself caught in the scroll hole, you could ask your question, this these questions, how are you using the behavior? What is your intention? Are you present? Are you mindless, and so one thing that you could do as it relates to social media is only get on social media when you have a specific intention? in mind, so Right, like, I’ll get on to check comments, or to share to my story. But but then otherwise, I really hop off, I don’t spend much time looking on my feet or, or scrolling. And so checking in with yourself and asking, like, what is my intention here, you can also set a timer to help yourself. So if you find yourself getting caught in that scroll hole and towards that mindlessness, you can really help yourself to to bring in awareness and choose something else. So the other thing to pay attention to is when you’re stressed and facing uncertainty, one of the best things that you can do is slow yourself down and slow the process down. One of my favorite ways to do this is through paced breathing. The second thing we want you to do is to get curious about your emotions, your thoughts and your physical responses and on the situation at hand. So don’t move straight to criticism or judgment that can you get curious about Wow, why did I have such a strong reaction there? Because as you can have that curiosity In that software awareness, you start to get clues about what you need. And that leads us to the third question, which is to ask yourself what is needed here. And what does right action look like here? Sometimes What’s needed is to walk away. Sometimes What’s needed is to set a boundary. Sometimes What’s needed is to take a nap go outside. And so when you can bring in that curiosity, you can in a very real way, help yourself so that you become less reliant on detachment or distress behaviors. And that’s really the key because you deal with the stress in the moment.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:42
And so today, we learned that distressful emotions lead to externalizing behaviors and chronic stress, including strange relationships, unpredictability, distancing, drama and broken trust. We also learned that numbing emotions lead to detachment and internalizing behaviors. And that’s where we can have the smooth surface on front, but kind of felt like a train wreck underneath. And the last thing that I just want to bring home again, is that it’s impossible to selectively numb unpleasant emotions. So numbing leads to the numbing of all emotions, including happiness and joy. And so part of how we really learn to lead ourselves well, is by being awake and alive to all that life has to offer us, which includes the painful emotions and the happy emotions. And so making a commitment to live life on life’s terms without the numbing behaviors can go such a distance for helping you to not only help yourself, but to help others as well. And as we move forward with the series, I’m going to share really practical behaviors that you can engage on a daily basis to help you do just that. So in the meantime, head on over to my website, to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/214-distressanddetachment And of course, join me on Instagram, I always have more resources related to the podcast. So @dr.melissasmith I’d love to connect with you there. I’d also appreciate it if you take a minute and review the podcast on Apple or Spotify. It helps people to find the podcast and that gives me great feedback about what you find useful. Again, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai