The most reliable way to heal emotional pain is with action. When we’re in pain, most of us tend to wait to change until we “feel better.”
The problem is, when we wait to “feel better” (less anxious, less depressed, more confident, etc.) before changing our behavior, we’re likely to stay stuck in our emotional pain, and healing generally takes much longer.
How many times have you said, “I’ll get a better job after I feel more confident about my experience level?” Or, “I’ll start dating again after I feel better about how I look?” Or how about, “I’ll be able to drive again when I’m less nervous about all the cars on the road?”
I said all the above many times until I realized this mindset was flawed. Waiting to heal my emotional pain until I felt better didn’t work. I finally got that I had to take action in order to change.
A Few Problems with Waiting to Change Until You “Feel Better” To Heal Emotional Pain
- You can’t learn new things without doing them — By definition, change means learning to act differently. Acting differently means learning new things, experimenting with new skills and behavior. Sometimes change involves trial and error. And that means doing. No one ever learns to be different by just sitting around and thinking about it. Change is action-oriented.
- It’s easier to change your actions than your feelings — You can’t always control how you feel. Emotions can have a mind of their own. They’re not always rational. Sometimes they’re downright bizarre. Think of the last time you experienced a significant mood-shift. Maybe you felt sad or depressed, only to find those feelings had changed a short time later. What made them shift? You probably did something that lifted your mood; you went for a walk, called a friend, went to the gym, etc. What we do effects how we feel. When we change our actions, our feelings usually follow.
- You emotional pain probably won’t feel better until after you begin changing — If feelings follow actions (and not the other way around), it’s unlikely you’ll feel more confident, attractive, or stronger by engaging in the same old familiar behaviors. This doesn’t mean you have to change everything to feel better. But you at least have to start making changes to begin reaping the emotional benefits.
- Waiting can become an excuse not to change — Human beings tend to fear change. Sometimes we go to great lengths to avoid it. Waiting until we feel better is a great way to avoid the anxiety that accompanies change. And because avoiding anxiety-provoking situations makes anxiety worse instead of better, we’re unlikely to ever feel better enough to actually change.
Postponing change until we feel like changing is what my old therapist called “letting your emotions drive the bus.” This is especially true of anxiety disorders and phobias. Letting irrational fears “drive your bus” isn’t a very skillful way to navigate through life. It’s like a school bus driver letting one of the kids take over. You stand a better chance to heal your emotional pain if you take intentional action before you feel ready.
Why Healing Your Emotional Pain With Action Works Better Than Waiting Around
- It’s active instead of passive — Studies have shown that people who actively participate in their own healing get much better results than those who don’t. Healing emotional pain like depression or anxiety is not a spectator sport. After all, it’s your life. Your active participation is required for a successful outcome.
- You’ll realize you’re stronger than you think — Those of us with anxiety disorders tend to underestimate our own strength. We’re actually much stronger and tougher than we think. We are capable people who can learn to handle life’s challenges in new ways.
- It grows your “confidence muscles” — Have you ever done weight lifting? Do you know why it makes you stronger? Lifting weights makes your muscles stronger because it forces you to produce more muscles fibers. More muscle means ability to lift heavier weights. Building self-confidence is a lot like weightlifting. Challenging your coping skills with new behaviors makes your ability to cope bigger and stronger. And knowing you’re big and strong gives you a wonderful sense of confidence.
- It creates a better relationship with your emotions — Our emotions exist to give us pleasure, to help keep us safe, and to give our lives meaning. They are not meant to poison or completely overrun us. Emotions like fear have their place, but that place is not the driver’s seat of your life. Your emotions belong to you. That’s why they’re your emotions. You don’t belong to them.
- It builds self-esteem — Have you heard that saying, “nothing succeeds like success?” Feeling good about yourself is a direct result of succeeding, and you can’t be successful by being too passive. Self-esteem is built by learning how to successfully negotiate life. Negotiating means willingness to engage.
- You get to drive the bus — Your life belongs to you, to do with and to make of what you will. Your life is the bus, and like it or not, you’re the bus driver. Like anything else, getting good at it takes practice. Isn’t it time you started driving your own bus?
We’ve seen that waiting to change until you feel better is a pretty ineffective strategy for healing your emotional pain. It’s much better to be proactive. You’ll be amazed how much better it makes you feel.