Are You A Perturbaphobe? There’s Help For That!

A new illness is sweeping this country, and you may have it! Answer the following questions:

  • When a friend starts telling you their troubles, do you get a glaze in your eyes and look for the nearest door?
  • When you see a post that describes a social injustice, do you immediately move on to the happy image of kittens right below it?
  • When someone starts talking about their depression or anxiety, do you go into fixit mode and tell them that they can make a choice to be happy? Then tell them to go out and jog a mile or two?
  • Do you go to the ends of the earth to avoid conflict of any kind, even when something really needs to get resolved?
  • When you start feeling upset about something, do you quickly try to distract yourself?
  • When a loved one tells you they’re struggling with a chronic physical condition, are you quick to liken it to the flu you had last year and quickly got over?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are a perturbaphobe!

Perturbaphobes have a built-in, gut resistance to anything that is unpleasant or potentially upsetting. A healthy person has an ability to experience their own, or a friend’s, or even a culture’s distress without internally feeling overwhelmed, avoidant, or externally shutting down or judging another. They know that the less they resist discomfort, the quicker they’ll be able to move through it, discharging the stress, and feel fine again.

Sooner or later, for the perturbaphobe, the saying, “that which we resist, persists,” shows up in, at the very least, a certain superficiality or difficulty with intimacy, and at worst, actual physical illness. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and stress-related disorders such as cardiovascular illness are some fine examples of it; even cancer has been linked to what I would call stress-banking, the storing up of difficult emotions that remain unexpressed in our systems.

Hey, be easy on yourself! You probably got told, as a kid, to go into your room when

Hey, be easy on yourself! You probably got told, as a kid, to go into your room when you were sad or angry, and don’t come out again without a smile on your face. You might have had your physical complaints dismissed or minimized. Or you got schooled in a misperception of positive psychology. Positive psychology doesn’t tell you to ignore, or “get over,” your fear or shame, it just encourages the recognition that your pain is not your only truth.

When I work with traumatized clients, who can no longer avoid the pain triggered by a recent event, one of the first things I teach is “resourcing”. It’s in my Trauma 101 kit. Simply being able to sense, with your eyes, ears, nose or other senses something pleasant and comforting actually allows you to move deeper into your distress. Yup. When you recognize that you can develop skills that let you feel the perturbation without getting swamped by it, the prospect of processing any difficult emotion or physical condition doesn’t feel so scary.

Just a brief note before I close: don’t walk into the ghetto of your mind alone. That is, if you don’t yet have the emotional strength to process without getting stuck even more deeply, in what Peter Levine calls the Trauma Vortex (think sinkhole), you might want to throw out a lifeline to someone who can guide you. Sort of like a personal trainer, helping you to find your edge and “feel the burn” without damaging yourself.

There is help for perturbaphobes, so that someday, we can all make compassionate room for our pain, or another’s, and the healing that comes with it. Peace!