Emotional pain is a part of the human experience. Throughout each of our lives, we will all be faced with difficult and painful situations, such as heartbreak, the loss of a loved one, disappointment, and the list could go on and on. Suffering, on the other hand, is not necessarily a part of being human. Unlike emotional pain, suffering occurs when we are unwilling or unable to fully accept the situation that is causing us the pain. When we are suffering, we become stuck in the pain rather than being able to move through the pain. Being stuck in suffering can have a huge and negative impact on our lives, such as increased feelings of sadness and depression, lack of motivation, and feeling hopeless and helpless. Below are some ways to move through emotional pain and free ourselves from feeling stuck in suffering.
Physical Pain versus Emotional Pain
When I put my hand on a hot stove, it will burn causing my physical pain. Furthermore, if I put my hand on a hot stove one time, I will probably learn that putting my hand on a stove is going to hurt. As such, I will likely avoid putting my hand on a stove in the future. In the context of physical pain, it makes perfect sense that we would avoid doing things that we know will hurt us. In fact, it can be extremely adaptive and protective for us to avoid physical pain and injury.
On the flip side, avoiding (or attempting to avoid) emotional pain, in the long term does us a disservice. For example, if I were to get hurt by someone who was close to me, I may find myself withdrawing from others, building emotional walls, and other attempts to avoid getting hurt again. However, in this example, by attempting to avoid future emotional pain, I may actually be setting myself up for more emotional pain, such as loneliness, sadness, and by continuing to suffer from the original pain caused by the sense of betrayal from the original conflict. Furthermore, unlike the example of touching a hot stove, I am not able to control or predict what is going to hurt me emotionally, and as a result, I really cannot avoid emotional pain.
Embracing Emotional Pain
This may sound counter-intuitive on the surface; however, one of the easiest ways to move through emotional pain is to embrace it. I would imagine that as some of you read this last sentence, you might begin to wonder what embracing might look like. I wish there was a clear answer to this very fair question; however, each of us experience pain differently, and the way in which we move through the pain will again be unique to our own experience. That being said, here are some ways that some of you might find helpful in moving through and embracing emotional pain.
First, slow down and take a moment to acknowledge the fact that you have been hurt. As you do this, notice what sensations you feel in your body and where these sensations are occurring. What emotions and reactions come up for you? Embrace each sensation and emotion as it comes to the surface. If you feel like crying, practice allowing yourself to embrace these tears. As you do this, remember that there is no wrong way to feel; notice and practice letting go of thoughts that tell you otherwise.
Another way to move through emotional pain is to practice self-compassion. I would imagine that if most of us saw a small child crying, our natural urge would be to embrace and comfort that child through his or her pain; however, many of us do not offer this compassion towards ourselves. When you are in pain, practice comforting yourself in the same way that you might another person. Many of us can be quite hard on ourselves, and in early self-compassion practice this can become rather apparent. Practice embracing being perfectly imperfect.
You might also begin to practice letting go of emotional pain. Again, what “letting go” looks like will vary from person to person, but for me, letting go feels like a spiritual, emotional, and even at times, physical relief. One way that I practice letting go, is to imagine that my pain is a balloon. What I do with the balloon is my choice. I can choose to hold on the balloon, and carry it around with me everywhere I go. I also have the choice to let go of the balloon, and watch it, and my pain with it, float away into the sky. This choice is completely up to me, and depending on the situation, I might choose to hold on to my pain for a while to experience and make peace with it before I let go. Other times, I might choose to let go of the pain more quickly. Sometimes, I may find myself walking through life with no balloons. Other times I might have an entire handful of balloons, but it is only when I am ready and choose to let go of them that I can begin to move on through the pain.
Experience emotional pain is a part of being human; however, to a certain degree, what we do with that pain when it shows up is our choice. It is my hope that in reading this, each of you will have a greater understanding of how to compassionately embrace your pain, and begin to accept it fully as a part of life. Like I have mentioned a few times, we all experience and work through pain differently, so if there are other ways that you have found helpful in working through pain, please feel free to share them below. If it worked for you, I would imagine that others might also find this to be helpful.