The first time I heard the expression, “pain is your friend”, I struggled to accept the statement. However, with time I realised there was so much truth in those words. Pain is certainly not the kind of friend that you think of fondly but more the kind who tells you truths which you would rather not hear.
Like a true friend, Pain’s job is to alert us when something is amiss in our lives.
Whether it is a physical pain, or emotional pain, pain’s job is to signal to us that something is wrong. Understandably many of us are pain averse, because it hurts. If it didn’t hurt, then it wouldn’t warrant attention. However, our aversion, usually pushes us to want to numb the pain rather than listen to it. Like the faithful friend who decides to tell us some home truths but we choose to cover our ears to drown out her words.
I was raised by parents who mastered the art of numbing physical pain fast. If you had a headache, they would quickly reach for pain relief. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I realised that pain relief tablets didn’t actually cure my pain, instead they altered my perception of the pain. Think of pain relief as the more optimistic friend who prefers to keep things light hearted, more fun, and not too deep, unlike the other friend.
Realising this about pain relief, I started cutting down my use, and learned to listen more to my body through pain. Pain soon revealed that my headaches were caused by dehydration, excessive coffee intake, stress, worry and lack of sleep.
Many of us treat emotional pain in the same way, by self-medicating to numb the pain, because it feels so unbearable. We self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, self-harming, and many others ways. However, whilst self – medication might alter our perception for a while and give temporary relief the pain doesn’t go away. When our physical pain becomes unbearable we usually visit the doctor for further examination. The physician’s goal is to locate, investigate, diagnose and treat the pain. Emotional pain is no different if we embrace this principle and know that there is power in leaning into the pain, rather running from it. Pressing in on the pain, although never easy, helps us to locate the root of the pain so we can begin the journey of healing, rehabilitation, and liberation.
My personal journey
For many years, I shut out emotional pain as soon as she beckoned. Food was my self-medication of choice and my “optimistic” friend who only stayed for a little while and came and went as she pleased. With the support of my counsellor I learned to let pain in slowly. At first she was only allowed to stand at the door, so I could ask her to leave if I couldn’t bear her presence any longer. Slowly, over a period of time, I invited her in. After a while she had a seat, and gradually I learned to listen to her words without closing my ears or shutting her out with food. I soon realised she was a friend and I could trust her. She advised me, cautioned me, corrected me, empowered me and released me. Now when I hear her calling, I am able to embrace her, knowing that her intentions towards me are good.
How to sit with your pain – Feel it, Own it, Explore it
- Feel your pain. Try to sit with your emotions by paying attention to your feelings, without judging yourself. I use a term I coined “the ouch factor” with my clients. What is the ouch you are feeling? Is it hurt, shame, jealousy, betrayal, do you feel like crying? It helps to speak out what you are feeling. For example, “I feel ashamed” “I feel like crying” “I feel horrible about myself”
- Own Your Pain – We tend to struggle to own our pain, because the pain is usually associated with a judgement of ourselves and shows a side of us we don’t want to accept. For example, it might feel really difficult to own feelings of jealousy or envy or hate. But the emotion already exists and until we own it we can’t address or begin to understand it.
- Explore your pain – Once you have been through the process of feeling and owning our pain, you are then able to explore and understand it. Remember that pain is a signal that something is amiss within us. We can use our pain to direct us to the source. What triggered the feelings? What was the experience? What does it say about you? How do you feel about you? What is the way forward?
Working through emotional pain in this way is a powerful self-awareness practice and can really heal painful emotions.
Some emotions, particularly those caused by trauma and abuse may be difficult to work through on your own. If you need support and someone to come alongside you as explore this area, I am here for you. Feel free to get in touch.