No one is immune from pain, neither physical nor emotional, but we often try to protect ourselves from the suffering it puts upon us–especially our emotional pain. We might hide it, dismiss it, numb it, let it build or even fear its power over us. All these conditions lay the groundwork for dismissing a real experience. We cannot heal what we don’t acknowledge and entertaining its absence will only increase our experience of it. In other words, trying to ignore our pain only gives it more power over us. So, how do we use this knowledge to help us encounter our pain?
Let’s take a look at the scenarios that interfere with our experience of emotional pain: when we try to hide and/or dismiss the hurt feelings inside us, we often actually intensify its presence. In fact, it can send us right off the deep end by infiltrating into good relationships where we proceed to bury it again. The real problem is that it never really goes away. It sits and festers, affecting new and old connections with those we value most. Sometimes it shows its face in a lack of trust with people; other times it could actually terrorize the love we feel for others. There are a multitude of ways it can destroy our lives if we allow it to; and we are allowing it when we don’t face it.
Another way in which we try to protect ourselves from emotional pain, is to numb it. This occurs when we turn to alcohol, drugs or food to try and distance ourselves from the intensity of our emotions. We mistakenly think that these forms of self-harm will save us from the lethargy, depression and indifference we experience when faced with raw despair. But what actually happens is that we set up a temporary relief station that, with time, only embellishes the heartache, actually making it worse in the long run. It doesn’t go away; it stagnates inside of us causing all sorts of physical and emotional suffering.
If, by chance or by design, we are given permission to feel our pain, we actually have better odds of surviving it. This is sometimes called “sitting with the emotion”. It becomes a thoughtful act of focusing on the pain on purpose, mindfully. It is giving yourself permission to feel. But why do we stifle our emotions in the first place? Why do we need our own approval or the acknowledgment from others to be able to feel? I mean, the one thing all humans have in common is their passion, their affectivity, their fervor for life. Even joy is illusive because with joy comes sorrow. With the light also comes the darkness. There’s really no escaping it and yet we try. Why are we, as a human species, so afraid of the emotional experience? Is it just our fear of what encountering the pain will be like? It would seem to be so. And yet, how can we honestly face our reality without facing both the despair and the joyfulness of our stories? I don’t think we can. What if this is the reason there is so much suffering by disease and illness? Think about this: is learning to tolerate our emotional distress the cure to our physical ailments?
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2 thoughts on “The Perils of Protected Pain”
I can so identify with numbing our pain with drugs and alcohol, this is what I experienced for many years. Now I am clean from all substances and I feel my pain, it’s not always easy but I am a strong believer that by acknowledging my pain I give it less power. Pain is not comfortable and neither is growth but it’s a must. One quote that brings me comfort is this “we grow through what we go through”.
So very true and I love your quote! Thanks for reading, oh and thanks for sharing with Sarah! I think I might do a re-blog on sitting with the pain and being curious about it. Curiosity is a big part of IFS work. It takes away the judgments we have about our inner world and allows us to communicate with ourselves in an open way and to listen to what the pain is trying to tell us.