Blog Short #65: How to Deal With Emotional Pain
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
Photo by valentinrussanov, Courtesy of iStock Photo
Let’s start with a quote today from Matt Haig found in The Comfort Book:
Pain is selfish. It demands full attention. But each moment is part of a totality. Each moment is a brushstroke in a painting—let’s say a painting of a river—which, when we stand back, can be rather beautiful. I have had moments of pain so strong I wanted everything to end. But standing back, they’re just shadows accentuating light.
Pain is a part of life, and if we use it right, it is “just shadows accentuating light.” That isn’t to minimize the sometimes excruciating experience and depth of it, but finding something of value in it helps.
Let’s dive into things that will get you through it and process it effectively.
1) Pain has its own time.
When you’re in emotional pain, it’s natural to want to get away from it. You might try and minimize, deny, distract or avoid the feeling. Or you might try to hurry it up.
The problem is that those tactics don’t get rid of the pain. It stays in some form or other – if not directly felt, then subconsciously planted where it comes up again and again until you deal with it. It’s best to let it have the time needed to recede.
If you burn yourself on the stove, the pain slowly subsides. You can put ice on it, which helps, but it still takes a certain amount of time to let up. Give it the time needed to play out.
2) It will eventually pass.
All feelings are temporary, even those that stay with you for a long time. How you feel right now is not going to last or be felt with the same intensity down the road.
When you’re in a lot of emotional pain, hearing that usually doesn’t ring true because of the overwhelming nature of it. It shuts out other feelings and dampens hope. Nevertheless, it’s true, and reminding yourself of it gives you some help. You’ll feel different in time, and the pain will let up.
3) Recall similar experiences in your past.
It helps to remember other times you’ve been in pain and lived through it. Depending on the source of the pain, you may find some solutions or help by remembering how you dealt with similar situations before. Maybe you took steps that were helpful, and you can retake those same steps now.
4) Write down your feelings.
When you write out what you’re experiencing, it does several things:
- It crystallizes. It shrinks down the overwhelmingness of the feeling by limiting it with words. That might sound ridiculous upfront, but let that sink in. When you assign a feeling to language, you concretize it and give it some boundaries, making it easier to wrap your head around it.
- It externalizes. It takes what’s in your mind out and puts it in front of you where you have some distance and can begin to sort through it.
When we’re teaching our young kids to handle their emotions, the first thing we do is help them assign words to express them. By giving them language, they can regulate them. Writing them out does the same thing.
Don’t worry that writing will make things worse or that you’re dwelling on the negative. In this case, it’s not so. It will help.
5) Accept the pain.
This is the hardest one, I think. Who wants to accept pain? But accepting it is the beginning of working through it.
Don’t suppress. That makes it worse. Feel your way through it, meaning let it have its time as you sift through the feelings and wait for it to subside. It usually comes in waves, and you have to ride each one, resting in between and taking solace. By going through this process, you’ll be able to take something from it that’s helpful. You’ll also prevent it from haunting you as you move forward.
6) Keep this truth in mind.
There’s no good without bad, no pleasure without pain, no gain without loss, no success without failure. They’re all intimately tied to each other.
Our job is to find the joy that rides just up above and permeates everything else. We have no choice. We’ll get the same lessons presented to us until we learn from them and move on. Keep going.
7) You are not your experience.
Even though emotional pain is sometimes totally overwhelming, you’re not your experience. You’re the “I” that has the experience.
Every experience has an effect on how you see yourself, but you have some control over how you make sense of that. You’re more than what happens to you.
This idea comes from Matt Haig’s book, but it’s also an Eastern concept that shows up in many spiritual contexts. It’s a bit lofty, but when you think of it and begin to see it in all your daily experiences, it gives you a different way of handling what comes your way. You gain some distance from what you experience and get a stronger sense of your “self.”
8) Find meaning.
The ultimate goal of pain is to find meaning.
- It may come as you work through a problem that keeps cropping up until you master it.
- It may come as a significant loss that is at first unbearable but eventually paves the way for an appreciation of something you hadn’t recognized before.
- It may open the door to a new direction you wouldn’t have taken on your own.
In all these cases, you gain new insight. Viktor Frankl says it perfectly:
In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering as the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.
General Things You Can Do That Help
- Don’t isolate. Stay in good company.
- Be kind and patient with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up.
- Stick to regular daily routines as much as possible. Get out of bed, shower, eat, go for walks, do the essentials.
- Don’t worry when you backslide. Just keep going.
- And if you’re heavily depressed or have a history of depression, anxiety, or some other diagnosis, don’t be your diagnosis. You’re more than that. You’re the “I” experiencing the depression, not the “depressive.” It’s a fine distinction but important.
- And by all means, seek help. Don’t go it alone. Talk to someone you trust. Seek therapy if needed.
Life is attitude in many ways. The right attitude when in pain is to know:
- There’s no wrong with it.
- You can stand it, even if it feels like it’s crushing you.
- It will let up eventually.
- You can help based on how you look at it and what you do with it.
I’ll leave you with one final quote, again from Viktor Frankl. If anyone knows about emotional pain from the inside out, he does.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way.
That does it for today. As always, I hope you have a great week, and I’ll be back to you next Monday!
All my best,