Moving Towards vs. Moving Away

The most basic motivation of all life forms is to move towards that which is nourishing and to move away from that which is noxious. This is a motivation that humans share with even bacteria. In general we move towards that which nourishes us, and move away from that which is dangerous or harmful.

Also we have evolved so that danger cues trump appetitive cues. This is for a very good reason, because in the ancestral environment failing to act on a danger cue could get one killed. Unfortunately, this tendency continues to exist even where it is not helpful.

One thing that we know from psychology is that the moves that create the best lives, the moves that create vitality and joy are the moving towards. Moving towards things we value and care about creates a sense of joy, purpose and vitality. Self-actualization is a moving towards. Love is a moving towards. Connection is a moving towards.

Escaping from trauma is a moving away. Escaping from emotional pain is a moving away. The problem is that unlike with physical dangers, this doesn’t work with emotional dangers because you can not get away from yourself. This only allows for coping, which can be very important, but ultimately does not create healing, or a vital life.

This is one of the things that concerns me about the trans community. For most people transition is a moving away. It is motivated by dysphoria and pain. It is an escaping from the birth sex, not a moving towards the other sex. I think this is a key question to ask in transition. Are you moving towards something or moving away from something? I think in many cases it is a moving away. I have seen people for who it is a moving towards, and those seem to be the most healthy to me. The community glorifies dysphoria as motivation, that is not the road to wholeness.

If you are engaging in moving away behaviors, there is no shame in that. It is wired into our psychology and is a very basic motivation. We all have to cope the best we can, and do what works. It might be all you know, or all you can do at the time. Or it can hurt so much that is overwhelming. Have compassion for yourself for your coping behaviors. Adding shame only makes it worse. These behaviors have a good intention, if not always the best strategy. Moving away serves an important function, however the great things in life are moving towards.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between these two things in your head. It is important to gain discernment, to know what they feel like in your body. Perhaps there is an experience in your life that you know is moving towards, and another that you know is moving away. This might help you tell the difference. What you value, what is important to you, what you want to move towards, that is the inner compass.

Sometimes the pain can be so great that it feels all you can do is move away. Sometimes that is the best you can do. Even there, we find if you can mix in just a little moving towards something you value each day, that can help, that can help reduce the pain a little and to start the habit of moving towards things you love.

It may feel unsafe to let go of moving away behaviors. If it is too unsafe it might not yet be time. It might not be something you can do alone. That is okay too, I tried to do it alone for far too long, only with the help of others was I able to make it through.

One comment

  1. Thanks.. this is something that needs to be said. Especially, with the new found let’s cheer every individual questioning their identity, drive. Moving away, is a temporary solution and you gotta take it only when the action you take is reversible easily or involves short-term costs.

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