Figuring out what to do with emotional pain is the foundation of psychological health and happiness. It usually takes us a while to piece things together.
Phase 1: We Don’t Realize We’re In Pain
We don’t realize we’re in pain. Sure, we may be doing weird stuff with food, alcohol, drugs, sex, unavailable men/women but we think all is well-ish and we just need to sort some stuff out “out there”. You know, get into shape, get a promotion, find “the one” etc.
When we’re in this stage of the process, even in the moments before we go on some addictive loop (anything from a food or alcohol binge to bombarding an ex with texts) we often can’t identity that we’re in pain. We’re convinced the problem is primarily the food, alcohol, the other person etc.
Phase 2: We Realize We’re In Pain And We Don’t Like It
We don’t want to want to feel the pain. It scares us and we try and make it go away. In this phase Dr Gabor Maté’s “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain?” starts to make sense. It’s clear we’re running and numbing. We realize our behavioral loops are an attempt to manage pain.
Our search begins in earnest – psychology, spirituality, Chinese medicine, Prozac, yoga, ayahuasca, the list can be long. Most of the search, however, is really a thinly veiled attempt to find ways of getting rid of the pain without having to feel it.
At this stage, we try and sit with our feelings but it’s nearly impossible – it feels like the pain is going to tear us apart or drown us or kill us. It’s difficult to stay with.
Phase 3: We Learn To Drop Into The Pain and Feel It
Some things we find on our search have helped a bit, but nothing really works in the way we’d hoped it would. The more we realize that nothing works, the more we get there’s no way around the pain – we’ll have to actually meet it. It’s the beginning of befriending the pain. We get curious about it and increase our tolerance for sitting with the discomfort.
The more we sit with it the more we realize emotional pain is just physical sensations or energy – heavy energy, contracted, pulsing, pressure, racing, emptiness, fullness etc. We start to see that it doesn’t stay constant. It shifts and changes and moves, all the more when we’re not bracing or tensing against it.
And when we’re not believing our thoughts about it being dangerous or problematic (we tend to label pain so quickly in our culture) we start to be able to ride the waves. They flow through us more quickly. They’re not as scary. And we start to trust that we can in fact process pain by opening into it. And for those who are interested in a spiritual lens, the pain becomes an invitation to seeing that all is one energy, that all is one (not in theory but actually in our own bodies).