I am a recovering fire fleer.
You may be wondering, what’s the problem with that? Aren’t you supposed to flee fires? Seems like a sound thing to do, doesn’t it? But alas I am not speaking of real fires. I’m speaking of emotional feet-to-the-flame kind of fires.
Martha Beck coined the term fire fleer in her book, Steering by Starlight. The goal of the fire fleer is to avoid emotional pain and discomfort at all costs by pretending that everything is ok and fine … when it’s not.
Often when you have fire fleer traits and you suffer a huge loss, life disappointment or even a seemingly small loss, you don’t allow yourself to stay with your uncomfortable feelings for longer than one hot second. Preferably, you quickly jam them down like a child trying to stuff all the clutter of their messy room into one tiny toy box. Or maybe if you’re like me and the emotional flames get really hot, you run madly for the hills.
Once you’ve reached the safety of the hills, you then pour all your energy into focusing away from any naggy or graspy feelings and toward future dreams or goals instead. But trying to distract yourself from pain and discomfort by focusing on the future and the positive things that may exist for you there often backfires and creates unstable conditions.
Creating the Monster
Here’s what happens. Fire fleeing doubles the discomfort because it creates resistance.
It doesn’t magically make the uncomfortable feelings go away. It actually creates greater tension. Now you not only feel the discomfort of the emotions, but also the uncomfortable energy of trying to resist them.
I am a great example of just how un-helpful fire fleeing can be as a coping mechanism.
A few years back I was in the midst of an ugly breakdown. I was trying madly to stuff everything that felt bad into the tiny toy box of my existence.
Depression and anxiety had become my constant unwanted companions. My beloved father had passed away and I was struggling not only with the grief of his death, but also with finding my way in the world as a new wife and mother.
The inside of me felt like an emotional war zone – the raging-afraid and grieving parts of me were battling with the parts of me that thought they shouldn’t exist.
Yes, my father was gone, but overall didn’t I have everything I thought I’d always wanted? Why am I so afraid? Depressed? Angry? and why do I want to cry all the time? I should be happy.
Nonetheless the more I resisted what I was feeling the worse I felt.
Years of stuffed emotions were creeping up from inside of me. They were like scary monsters I was trying to escape – but every door I opened there they were.
My mother would say, “Sometimes you have to sit and have tea with the monster.”
I did not want to have tea with the monster, and yet I could no longer escape it.
So with loving encouragement my fire fleeing self let go and sat down with the beast of my emotions.
It was different than I thought it was going to be.
It was uncomfortable and messy, like facing a problem you’ve been avoiding for a long time, but there’s also sweet relief that comes with not resisting what’s present any longer … like the feeling you get after tensing your muscles super tight for a minute (or a lifetime) and then letting go – it feels rubbery and relaxed not to be holding on any more.
The relief of letting go is what kept me coming back to the table and in the process a really beautiful thing happened …
My emotions were like the tiny irritating grains of sand that helped me create a connection to the pearly beauty of my inner wellbeing. I started to become acquainted with that still part inside myself that is always ok.
You can connect with the pearly beauty of your inner wellbeing too.
First, stop running. Imagine yourself in the safest most comfortable place that exists for you – maybe in the arms of a loved one or cozied up with a beloved pet. Then focus on your breathing and notice what it feels like to be alive in your body.
Second, see if you can note what you’re feeling emotionally. There are four basic emotions, sad, mad, glad and afraid. You may be feeling a mix of emotions or you may not be able to identify any right now. That’s fine.
Third, there is no ‘right or wrong’ way to do this. Whatever comes up or doesn’t come up is OK. It’s all just information. The more you can witness the energy of your experience without judging it and/or trying to make it go away the easier life becomes.
Fourth, for all you fire fleer”s out there, like me, who could win and Olympic medal in attempting to avoid uncomfortable emotions, (and this is really important, I say … lovingly … taking you by the shoulders) congratulate yourself for staying with your current experience for a couple of moments. (Also note that you’re still alive.) 🙂
That’s it. Take it slow – no need to try and force yourself to feel for an extended amount of time. As a fire fleer, one of the most helpful things you can build for yourself is the “knowing” that you can allow and experience your uncomfortable emotions and be transformed by the fire … maybe you’ll even find, as I did, that it’s different than you think.
If you”d like to learn more about the helpful energy of emotions and how to befriend them, please check out my new class The Magic of Emotions 101 here. (This blog post originally appeared as a guest post for Abigail Steidley”s blog at Anamsong.com on October 16, 2013)