Mourning Philip Seymour Hoffman & Numbing Our Pain

What does addiction look like in your own life?

Grief And Loss: Philip Seymour Hoffman

We are all alike, in that we sometimes seek ways to soothe away the pain and hide our fears. When I first heard about the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman on Sunday and that it was likely from a drug overdose, after the initial disbelief and sadness, I couldn't help but think about how much pain he was trying to numb away and the demons of fear he was attempting to exorcise.

Though no one in my coaching practice has battled a drug addiction personally, every client has his or her way of dealing with their own way of pushing away fear and pain. Almost everyone I come in contact with — clients, friends, family, and acquaintances — have, at one time in their life, done something to numb them from feeling pain and to distract themselves from their fears.


People want to create lives they love, not simply exist.

Let's talk about the double-edged sword of emotions. As humans, we are wired for pleasure and believe that in order to be seen as worthy of love and successful, we must be happy all the time. No one wants to feel those shadow emotions: frustrated, disappointed, disconnected, sad, angry, etc. So, we do our best to numb them. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to take the edge of the shadow emotions away. Others turn to food or shopping. Still others turn to activities that will make them seem more worthy, like over-exercising or being busy all the time.


All of these substances and activities — drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, sex, exercise, and being crazy-busy — are ways to avoid feeling pain. They may not all seem to be self-destructive, but over time, numbing of any sort is going to move your further away the core of who you are meant to be and your ability to love your daily life.

In Brene Brown’s book "The Gifts of Imperfection", she writes: "In another very unexpected discovery, my research also taught me that there's no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was 'taking the edge off' of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy."

Our emotions are meant to guide us to our authentic way of being, like an internal GPS system. When you are numbing out the "bad" feelings, you're also cutting away your ability to feel the really good emotions, like joy, peace, bliss and excitement. Numbing isn't just about avoiding emotions; it's also about avoiding fear.

I'm not talking about the fear of being attacked by bears or a fear of heights or spiders ... this is about those internal fears: the fear of failure or success; the fear of being judged, embarrassed or rejected; the fear of intimacy or commitment. Almost everyone I work with believes that he or she is alone in these fears, and is reluctant to talk about them because they believe they are the only one who has these fears that are so deep and personal. And the admitting of the fears would give credence to the fact that we are afraid.


These are the kinds of fears I know that we need to explore because when they are secret, they grow in power in our minds. Because, when we get down to it, our biggest fears aren't about spiders and snakes. What we really worry about are deeper issues, like what keeps us from stepping up in our lives. In an attempt to exorcize these demons of fear, it sends us towards the numbing activity of our choice: drugs, alcohol, sex, food, shopping and being busy.

These internal fears keep us feeling unworthy of love and acceptance for who we really are. We hustle for worthiness and love and don't talk about it because, in some ways, it has become such a part of our existence that we don't even realize we're hustling. But the hustle isn't really a dance, is it? It's the gremlins and shame and that inner critic of ours that fuels this feeling that nothing we do is good enough. This is the belief that drives us to the if/then way of thinking: "I would prove I am worthy and loveable if I were just  ________ (thinner, smarter, richer, famous, had a better job, etc.)"

Because we are unable to solve any of our problems by becoming thinner or richer or any of these things, we turn to some form of  comfort: a glass of wine, a bowl of ice cream, a shopping spree, or a calendar full of activities. And any of these things can become an addiction that becomes destructive.

The death of Hoffman simply reminds me that we are all alike. We are all looking for ways to numb our pain and soothe our fears.


We may not be lost in an addiction that is as self-destructive as heroin, but in our humanity, we are all looking for something to remind us that we are worthy of being loved and accepted. Numbing our pains and hustling for worthiness aren't the answers. The answer is simply this: knowing that we are more than our pain, and worthy of being loved and accepted for who we are, including our fears and our flaws.

We must extend grace to those who are trying to numb their pain and exorcize their fear. And we must especially extend kindness and grace to ourselves, when we behave in ways which are merely and extraordinarily human.

Debra Smouse believes in that in order to create a daily life that you love, you have to allow yourself to feel and begin to understand that you are worthy of being loved for exactly who you are. Visit Debra's website and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.


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