“I am going to die,” I thought to myself, quite matter-of-factly, as I stared down the ski slope.
It was the second time in my life that I had been skiing. I’d had a lesson this time (yes, one!) and was feeling confident on the green runs. My boyfriend (now my husband) and another couple of friends wanted to get back to the lodge on a blue run and invited me along. “Ok!” I agreed.
One other girlfriend had left the group at the chairlift to return that way instead. But the start of this run had seemed easy enough. Oh how I wished I had joined her now! The slope was steep, long and icy. But I could not face the humiliation of turning around and walking back up to the chairlift. Quite literally, I was prepared to die instead.
There are some experiences that we decided very early on in life (maybe when we were only babies or toddlers!) that we could never let ourselves experience again. Some scary event that we were simply too young to process happened, and our mind associated that experience with death. We then grew up doing anything and everything possible to avoid that situation and the feelings associated with it. It was too overwhelming, too frightening. It was unbearable. Living Wisdom calls these our UBFs (Un-Bearable Feelings).
These UBFs are the root of our over-reactions. They are in fact not feelings as such, but interpretations of our experiences. They are presented in the format of ‘feeling like a…’ something, so they are referred to as feelings, but they are not the basic feelings of fear or sadness or frustration. Even the faintest hint of these UBFs can launch us into full-on survival mode – fight, flight or freeze – and we lose our grip on reality.
I had two major UBFs – feeling like I had failed, and feeling like I did not matter. I think all perfectionists share the ‘failure’ one, but you may need help identifying any others. (Tip: A Living Wisdom counselor is trained in identifying them!). These UBFs and the lies that supported them (I must be perfect to be loved. I am not enough. I don’t matter) ruled my life. Every experience was filtered through these lenses. Every decision revolved around avoiding these things – though of course I was completely unaware of it! What UBFs might be controlling you?
Survival kits are basically the means that we develop to avoid our UBFs. Our weapons of choice to deploy in order to protect ourselves. Perfectionism itself is a kind of survival kit to avoid the feeling of failure. Here are some others that were my favourites that you might recognize:
- Blame it on someone else or their provocation of me
- Avoid attempting things I thought I would not be able to do well
- Push myself to the absolute limit if I had ‘no choice’ but to do it
- Rationalising away the things I wasn’t good at by telling myself they weren’t important anyway
- Keep searching obsessively until I found something that worked
- Avoiding certain people and/or situations
- Avoiding saying things that might open me up to judgment or criticism
- Judging and criticizing others, and justifying myself
- And when all else failed, just explode in anger
You might have noticed from my ski story that I was more willing to face physical death than feeling like a failure. This is how neurotic these UBFs can make us. It was simply not logical to be more afraid of humiliation/failure than smashing myself into a twisted and bloody mess against a tree.
I did similarly illogical and dangerous things to avoid feeling like I did not matter. For example, there were five other girls in my engineering class at uni (three of which were my very close friends) and group work was usually done in fours. Whenever a group assignment came up however, I automatically cut myself out of the group to avoid being asked out. I’m sure my friends were mystified, maybe even a little hurt. I would also rather suffer and actually risk injuring myself (sometimes seriously) rather than asking for help from my husband to avoid hearing a “No,” or a grumbling and resentful “Yes.” Crazy.
I Know You’re Lying To Me
I needed to start facing these feelings instead of running away from them. They had to become ‘normal’ and ‘bearable’, merely ‘uncomfortable’, not life-threatening. I had to choose to believe the truths I was telling myself despite what my feelings were screaming at me. I had to ignore my feelings and tell them to go away. I had to tell them they were lying to me. But I was not alone. I did my part and God did the rest – the work I could not do – of healing my heart and allowing me to feel again.
It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life when I actually let myself feel ‘not mattering’ for the first time in forever (about a year after I first started counseling). The kids had set it off and I remember saying to myself, “I really don’t matter to them right now. Right now, they really don’t care about me.” I was in absolute agony! I wept and wept. My heart felt pierced through and ripped out. But the agony eventually gave way to amazement – I could actually bear it.
And I realized something else. Right then I may not have mattered to them, but other times I did. And always, always I mattered to God.
More Helpful Truth Coaches
Failure is not unbearable now, it is merely uncomfortable. My feelings are lying to me.
Nothing terrible will happen just because I’m not in control.
However frightening or painful, this feeling is not about the situation in front of me.
I give my UBFs permission to exist. They are now normal feelings.