The Beach-Ball Effect

Debbie Ford
From Why Good People Do Bad Things: How To Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

Every aspect of ourselves that we’ve denied, every thought and feeling that we’ve deemed unacceptable and wrong, eventually makes itself known in our lives. When we are busy building a business, creating a family, or taking care of those we love, when we are too busy to pay attention to our emotions, we have to hide our dark impulses and shame-filled qualities, which leaves us at risk for an external explosion. In a matter of minutes, when we least expect it, a rejected or unwanted aspect of ourselves can pop up and destroy our lives, our reputations, and all of our hard work. This is what I call the Beach-Ball Effect.
Think of the amount of energy it takes to hold an inflated beach ball underwater for an extended period of time. The moment you relax or take your attention away from keeping it submerged, the ball will bounce back up and splash water in your face. The Beach-Ball Effect is at work when you have suppressed something deep within your psyche, stored it in the recesses of your subconscious, and then, just when you think everything is going your way, something happens: You send a slanderous e-mail to the wrong colleague. You get lured into betraying someone you love for a night of meaningless passion. You get behind the wheel of a car after having three drinks and get arrested for drunk driving. You get caught dipping into your family’s trust fund. You fly off into a rage in front of your new lover. You make an inappropriate comment that costs you your job. You blow an important deadline right before your big review. You haul off and hit your child in a moment of frustration. In other words, the beach ball-your repressed urges and your unprocessed pain-pops up and hits you in the face, sabotaging your dreams, robbing you of your dignity, and leaving you drenched in shame.
How many more blatant acts of self-sabotage do we have to witness to understand the devastating effects of denying and suppressing our unprocessed emotional garbage?
Don Imus is a perfect example. Here is a man who worked hard to become one of the biggest radio and TV celebrities in the country over the course of thirty-five years. His entire career was based on communication. And in less than one minute the career he had spent years building was destroyed. The beach ball bounced up and hit him in the face.


Mel Gibson built the persona of someone who takes a moral and ethical stand for others and creates movies with strong spiritual messages. And although he vehemently denied accusations of anti-Semitism in his movie The Passion of the Christ, in one drunken tirade the attitudes and beliefs that were hidden in his shadow couldn’t be held down. When pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence, he shamed himself with a barrage of outrageous statements.
There are countless ways for the beach ball to pop up and smack us back into reality. It could be something as small as picking a fight with your husband right before you are about to go out on a long-overdue date, or criticizing your child in front of her friends after spending months trying to build her trust. It might be procrastinating on updating your resumé and missing a huge opportunity, or spending a night in front of the refrigerator after dieting for three months. Maybe it manifests itself as oversleeping and missing your best friend’s bridal shower or calling your lover by the wrong name. Maybe it’s making a smart-ass comment to yourself while thinking someone had already hung up the phone when actually they had not. As long as we are unwilling to look at the beach balls that are lying just beneath the surface of our consciousness, we will unknowingly have to live in fear of the moment they will pop up and the effects they will have on our lives and the lives of others when they do. And believe me, it is a rare case when we are the only ones who get hurt; more often than not, our unprocessed pain will hurt many people. Many lives will be inconvenienced, many hearts will be broken, and some nearby innocent spectators will get caught in the splash.
Let’s think of our suppressed emotions and disowned qualities as human lava. Lava exists beneath the surface of the earth. If there are no steam vents at the earth’s surface to release the pressure of the powerful force that lies beneath, its only outlet comes in the form of an eruption. Likewise, within our psyches our dark urges and impulses build up, and unless we find safe, healthy ways to release them, they express themselves in inappropriate and potentially dangerous ways. By acknowledging, accepting, and embracing our dark side, we create natural steam vents within ourselves. By providing an opening, we eliminate the worry about an explosion because we are allowing the pressure to be released in a safe and appropriate way. But when it is concealed in darkness, repressed out of shame, and denied out of fear, the shadow has no choice but to erupt. The mental and emotional outpouring that follows has less to do with our circumstances and who is around us than it does with our need to release the pressure.

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