When we experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings, it can seem the most natural thing in the world to try to avoid them or push them away. The trouble is that if we depend too heavily on avoiding thoughts and feelings, we can create extra suffering for ourselves. For example, virtually all addictions begin as an attempt to avoid feelings such as boredom, loneliness, anxiety, depression and so on. The addictive behaviour then becomes self-sustaining, because it provides a quick and easy way to get rid of cravings or withdrawal symptoms.
The more time and energy we spend trying to avoid, resist or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings, the more likely we are to suffer psychologically in the long term. Anxiety disorders provide a good example. Anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experience; however, if we become preoccupied with trying to avoid or get rid of anxiety, we can develop anxiety about our anxiety. This then becomes a vicious cycle which is at the centre of any anxiety disorder.
An alternative way of dealing with unpleasant thoughts and feelings is to learn to observe our inner experiences with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. When we can take a step back and just allow and notice our thoughts and feelings, even the most painful thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories can seem less threatening or unbearable. Changing our relationship with painful thoughts and feelings in this way reduces their impact and influence over our life.
Below is a YouTube playlist of metaphors that illustrate this principle: