Step One Revisited: Run and Cover

This column might better be called “What Not To Do.” There are some times when running and covering will save your life, but when it comes to your emotional life, running and covering bring death. Unfortunately it’s what a lot of us do a lot of the time.

For a moment, let’s go back to the first step, Notice the Feeling, because if this step is not firmly in place and mastered, the whole process is doomed. Recall the first step: when a feeling comes to you, notice it. You don't have to do anything more. But there are two really important things not to do: Don’t run, don’t cover!

As I mentioned in step one, running from a feeling is often done by distracting yourself, with work or television for example, or with any one of a million things that need to be done. Running from a feeling can happen so fast–instantaneous and automatic–that the runner has no idea that he is running. This kind of response is often a deeply engrained habit.

Running from a feeling can be as obvious as physically moving away from the situation.

You can refuse to talk about a subject, you can avoid, confuse, and bully. You can get sick or have an accident. Or you can suddenly remember a phone call you have to make, a friend you have to visit, or an errand you forgot. Yes, really, none of this is an exaggeration. You can do anything at all to avoid noticing the feeling.

Covering a feeling is similar to running but not as effective. A common cover I mentioned before is joking or other types of humor. Other forms of covering: changing the subject, shifting the blame, denying the problem, pretending not to hear, blaring the radio, getting something to eat or drink. Even though some of these things can be normal parts of life, check closely to see what they might be covering.

The key idea in the first step is “notice.” That’s what we have to do with the feeling that’s there, just notice and accept it, experience it, just let it be.

So don't run away and don't cover. Just take a few deep breaths and feel whatever you’re feeling. Let it come, let it be there. Notice it. Be aware of it. The first step says, "Oh, it's you" to the feeling. It is an acknowledgement, a recognition that something new is there, something that wasn't there a minute ago.

At first you might not know what the feeling is, what to call it. That makes no difference at this point. What is important is that you know something is going on in you.

If at times you realize that you have run from a feeling or have covered it, don't worry. Go back to the feeling again. It will probably still be "there."

The amount of time you spend with the feeling does not have to be extremely long; a few moments are often enough. You'll find other feelings are with you for hours, weeks, years, or a lifetime.

It is important to make this first step a conscious step, because you can often miss it. You cover the feeling so quickly, or you run so immediately, that the feeling never has a chance. That is why so many of us can sincerely say I don't know what I'm feeling.

This three-step theory is built, in part, on the idea that the feeling "knows" what's best for it–and for you. The feeling can help you know just what to do with it. But it can only do this if it is allowed to stay around for a while to build a relationship with you, its owner. Your emotional well being depends upon the successful completion of the crucial first step.

© 2008 David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell


David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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