There are these moments in life when it all starts to feel too much.
Perhaps it’s the continual work demands, stresses and requests that play havoc with your sense of wellbeing.
Or maybe your relationship and family life keep going around in circles, the same old arguments, routines.
Nothing ever seems to change and you feel increasingly trapped. To the point, where you feel it might just be easier to run away.
It’s an exciting fantasy. Pack a bag, slip away unnoticed and start afresh. Or less drastic, turn your back on the difficulty and just take time out, unencombered by the day to day and to feel free.
Of course there are other forms of escape that may resonate:
working even harder, TV, shopping, food, sex, drugs, alcohol, compulsive behaviour. Same root cause, different solution.
The temptation of freedom
So freedom. A very alluring word that one. The big question here, is freedom from what?
Since we’re on a journey about running away, let’s take a brief detour at this point. That question about freedom, could equally be asked as ‘what are you running away from?’
Ask people that question and most would perhaps answer about getting away from the difficulty, the discomfort, the trappedness.
And the wonderful idea that things would be better elsewhere as clearly the problem is about the here and now of their difficulties.
It’s difficult to argue with that idea in some ways. Being elswhere, obvious as it is, has the illusion of being better than here in this, whatever this is.
When I hear someone talk about running away, I wonder about what part of them wants to run away.
Is it the young child within that can’t bear conflict, or distress?
Is it the adventurer who needs to feel freedom?
Is it the part of them that doesn’t feel heard or valued, is it the part of them that can’t say no?
5 questions to ask if you feel like running away
So here are 5 questions you can ask yourself, if you feel like you want to run away:
What or who is it that you are running away from?
What is it that this situation or person is doing that is causing you distress?
What would you like to say to them that can’t be said right now?
What would you like to change that feels stuck right now?
If you could wake up tomorrow and a miracle had happened, what change would you see in your life?
These questions can help you get a perspective on your experience and to start to sort out what feels difficult and true for you about it.
Back to freedom from what?
But there’s another perspective you can take on what’s going on. Back to my question, ‘freedom from what?’
What if it wasn’t a situation or person you were running away from? What if it were your own feelings?
Often in counselling, when we cut past the story, it seems also true that while the events and interactions are distressing, the feelings about them that go unspoken, unheard, unresolved are equally powerful and distressing.
The running away impulse can be to get as far away as possible form the anxiety, stress, sadness, shame, disappointment, anger, humiliation.
And of course the reality is that those feelings come with you, wherever you go.
The excitement and distraction of running away might quell or quieten them for a while but most often they will bubble up again, at first quietly making themselves known: a small knotting in the tummy, a sense of unease , a niggling frustration.
Slowly, or maybe not so slowly, the feelings will amplify until here you are again. Same experience, different place.
If you find yourself changing job, interests, friends, partners on a regular basis, this may resonate strongly with you. Or if you are more in the camp of feeling trapped and running away, the chances are you stick at things, bear the discomfort to a degree but feel stuck with it.
Coming to see a counsellor can help you work through the symptoms and story and get clear on that, and also start to work more deeply into the feelings and needs that are going unmet.
What can help?
Practical exercise: The letter to your runaway self
Find a quiet space where you can spend some time and reflect. First be in contact with your breath and pay attention to the rise and fall of your breathing.
When you are ready, get in contact with the part of you that wants to run away. Bring that feeling vividly to mind, the thoughts and feelings that lead you to want to escape.
Now imagine you are writing a letter from the part of you that wants to run away. What does it want to say to you? What might it need and want right now? Where does it want to go and why? How would life be when it got there?
When you’ve written this letter, take some time to read it and get a good sense of what it’s saying and how it feels. Then write a reply. What does the runaway part need to hear from you? How can you support it with compassion and understanding? Is there anything you can say that will keep it here?
Again once you’ve written this letter, take some time to read your response and see how it feels to hear from the runaway part of you and the part of you that can offer comfort.
Do you feel like running away and need a safe space to come and talk about it?
Whether it’s anxiety, depression, anger or something else you’re experiencing in your desire to run away, why not get in touch to make a first counselling appointment? I offer counselling in Totnes and online. It’s a safe, confidential space to explore all your fears, stresses and hopes and to find a way through.
I particularly specialise in helping those who’ve been parented by a narcissist or experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect.