Pain changes people its inevitable, but pain is a sign of a life well lived. Through pain we gain wisdom and strength, its a sign that we are magnificently human. So when we learn how to feel deeply we are given an opportunity to truly live. This idea may seem foreign to many of you, we are taught from a young age that “negative” feelings are a sign of weakness. The “stronger” you are and the better you handle grief, sorrow and heartache, the more you are praised. When you are anything but positive, the world looks down on you.
So as a result, we put on a brave face, we smile and tell people we are okay. When we are anything but, in reality you are a wreck inside, suppressing your emotions and looking for as many possible ways to numb the pain. Often we turn to food, booze and drugs to comfort us. We move around feeling numb and listless. We are so afraid of feeling, we avoid talking about our real emotions and will do absolutely anything to NOT FEEL.
Pain has changed me too. I think it is impossible to go through life without pain. I know many people who try and avoid it, I have tried often. The problem is this, when we spend our lives fearing pain, we ultimately avoid all the other emotions too. Your mind and body cannot pick out the emotions it wants to feel, it doesn’t work that way. In numbing pain, heartache or sorrow, you inevitably numb joy, happiness and love. How do you measure fulfillment without knowing what its like to feel unfulfilled? How do you know the feeling of excitement, if you have not felt indifference?
“Psychological pain, mental pain, or emotional pain is an unpleasant feeling (a suffering) of a psychological, non-physical origin.”
Research suggests that emotional pain can be just as hurtful as physical pain. Sometimes referred to as “mental pain”, it can be described as feeling broken, wounded or inadequate. Each person experiences pain differently, and if not managed correctly can often result in feelings of depression, suicide and grief. Understanding the consequences of pain, it is easy to see why pain can change people. However, as I previously mentioned, it is HOW we work through this pain that ultimately dictates the quality of life we live.
Pain Demands To Be Felt
Yes, pain changes you, but change is not necessarily a negative experience. How do you think we evolve as a people? So, here is the catch. Life is full of pain, everyone experiences it, you cant run away from it. In actual fact the more you fight your feelings the stronger they become. So let me propose an alternative – EMBRACE IT. By accepting your pain you move forward, because pain demands to be felt.
I know that we are taught from a young age to avoid feeling unpleasant experiences. How often can you remember a loved one telling you to “stop crying”, or “don’t get upset” when something hurtful had happened? We are stuck with generations worth of unhealthy coping mechanisms, what we have been taught is wrong. By running away from sorrow, jealousy and insecurity we have made things a whole lot worse.
As a society we are encouraged “not to feel”, which is impossible. We have become so solution focused and analytical that we feel the need to correct these “negative” feelings and make them go away. We believe these feelings serve no purpose, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Why Feelings Are Important
1. Feelings inspire motivation and action
Emotions are often the precise thing that motivate us to make changes in our lives. If you think about any major decisions you have made in your life, how often were they inspired by a feeling? Think about how pain encourgaged you to break up with an abusive ex-partner or how stress pushed you to work harder. Feelings are the thing that pushed you to reconsider a career path, or encouraged you to lead a more meaningful life. No matter what choices you have made in your life, they are always supported by an emotion, good or bad.
2. Emotions allow others to understand us
How would people be able to interact with you if you didn’t show emotion? Feelings teach people about who you are, what you are feeling and how to approach you. You wouldn’t have made that great business deal if you didn’t show emotion. People respond to you based on what is going on inside of you. Your friend would not have comforted you, if you didn’t show them that you were sad, scared or disappointed, and your boss wouldn’t have promoted you if you didn’t show determination or resilience.
3. Feelings give us the ability to understand others
Emotions provide valuable information. Without feelings we could not communicate with people. Emotions are a gauge we use to respond to people appropriately. They are used to build deep and meaningful relationships and they teach us how to manage even the most inappropriate of interactions.
4. Feelings Make You Stronger
When we explore pain, we need to look at what happens when we go through a painful experience. If you have ever gone through a horrible experience, you know how terrible it can be. However, this is a gift, because when we experience pain we become more compassionate and empathetic towards others. We learn how to respond to people with kindness and love. Emotions make you appreciate the people around you, and strengthen the existing bond with the people you love.
Pain can change people for the better and when we allow the pain to exist, we can learn from it and experience it. It is in the pain where we heal, it is in this experience where we learn to deal with the world as it is, in the here and now, and not as we wish it to be.
Feeling ALL types of emotions serves an important purpose. When we start to question what role feelings play in our lives we can move toward understanding who we truly are. Accepting the pain we feel, leads to an amazing sense of self-awareness. This in turn can be a positive experience. When we explore painful feelings, the focus moves from feeling overwhelmed by emotions to realizing that the pain we feel can do something good for us.
Feelings help us to become adaptive. They assist us in sorting out what we want, think and believe. Understanding this fact teaches us that pain doesn’t have to be scary, it does not override reason, we still have free will and a choice to decide what we do with this experience. Pain can be felt and let go without overwhelming us.
Accepting pain does not mean we allow the feeling to dictate our behaviour. We do not have to lash out or numb ourselves. When given the opportunity to express and sit with pain in a healthy and supportive environment we are less likely to fall apart and feel victimised. In reality when we learn how to feel our pain it makes us stronger and more resilient. Often struggling with our emotions is what leads to suffering.
Pain vs Suffering
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”
We all feel pain differently, our experience of pain is unique. I have had many a bad experience. I have felt grief, sorrow, anger, hatred you name it I have felt it. Pain is a part of life, I am not alone, we all experience loss in our lives. The difference between pain and suffering is choice. We cannot stop the feeling of pain no matter how hard we try. Pain will come, and it will probably come often. When we resist working through and accepting pain, this is when we suffer.
When you try and suppress or numb your “negative” emotions, you only make yourself feel better temporarily. Ultimately, what you have done is deal with the symptom, not the cause of a much bigger issue. I promise you, when you do this, it will rear its ugly head again, causing you even more pain in the future.
What Is Suffering?
Pain becomes a problem when suffering becomes the norm. Suffering is how you relate to your pain, it is an interpretation of your experience. Feeling pain and experiencing its sensation can be done without fear and judgement. When you remain in the present moment, with pain, and become curious and open-hearted to it, this is where healing starts. Alternatively, we can get lost in pain and become burdened by it. When this happens we start to exaggerate emotions, feel hopeless and trapped – this is suffering.
Suffering is the story we tell ourselves, the inner critical voice that feeds our emotional monster. This inner voice is fueled with self doubt, and is not to be trusted. When we tell ourselves things like, “Why does this always happen to me”, “I always have bad luck” or “I will always struggle” we are suffering. The biggest problem with suffering is that it makes our problems a lot worse than they need to be. Suffering is a slippery slope and is easy to fall pray to, and it all happens so fast.
Suffering is an emotional reaction to pain. When we feel bad our brain immediately trawls through its history files. It does this as a means to survive. If the brain can remember a time we felt bad previously, then it will remember how to defend itself from the pain. Unfortunately, what happens is that it brings back all the painful memories of our past, and perpetuates the feeling of pain. Often we haven’t found a solution and the mind convinces us that we will always feel pain.
If we understand that the mind works this way, it teaches us that this form of thinking is habitual. When we look at suffering as a form of habit, it can allow us to break free of this cycle and move forward.
How To End Suffering And Start Living
When we work through our pain, and eliminate suffering altogether the changes that occur are quite profound. So, how do we work with pain, and increase our tolerance for the emotions we will face on a daily basis? How can we end all our suffering and actually start living the life we deserve? Well, let me highlight a few things you can implement that will go a long way to help.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Modern day mindfulness treats not only emotional but chronic physical pain too. Mindfulness teaches us to embrace pain. Through mindfulness meditation and practices we come to understand how to observe our emotions and intentionally invite them into the present moment, and sit with them. This type of practice is contrary to what we have been taught, but immensely powerful.
When we bring awareness to how we are feeling, WHILE we are experiencing it, we start to work with our emotions and move toward healing. Mindfulness views emotions as messengers for the mind and body. Through mindfulness we want to know what our feelings are telling us. When we embrace the pain, the suffering stops.
The pain is no longer happening TO YOU, so you are no longer a victim to it. It is in this moment when you can start taking responsibility for your feelings. The pain may feel intense, thats okay, sit with it. As an observer you will come to realise how much of your pain is caused by misconception and exaggeration, and in this clarity you will find resolve.
2. Increase your tolerance for emotions
Let go of your preconceived ideas of how you think you should feel and just feel. Sometimes we get an unexpected emotional reaction to a feeling. When I get really angry I cry. I used to think there was something wrong with me, why was I crying like a baby when I was mad? Now I just embrace it.
Emotions are neither “good” or “bad”, they just are, so sit with the feeling and just breathe. Remember you don’t need to try and stop yourself from feeling and you definitely don’t have to allow your emotions to dictate your behaviour. Try and look for ways to calm the feeling without indulging in it. If someone has made you furious, instead of mentally building an argument or exaggerating the situation in your head, allow the emotion to fill you, let it subside (it will) and let it go.
3. Label your emotions correctly
Your emotions don’t control you. Pain can negatively influence you only if you allow it. But pain can change people in such profound ways when we learn how to manage our emotions effectively. This all starts with labeling our emotions correctly.
“Putting negative feelings into words can help regulate negative experience.”
It is important to ask yourself what you are actually feeling when an emotion comes up? Often we will mislabel how we are feeling, and might think we feel angry, when in actual fact we are disappointed or ashamed. When we are able to get to the crux of an emotion we can work through it approriately. Additionally, the action of labeling emotions often neutralises the intensity of the feeling, giving us space for thought and introspection.
Journalling is a wonderful way to make sense of your emotions. Not only is it a cathartic exercise but it illustrates how and what you are feeling about a situation or event. If you have never kept a journal before or struggle to get going, take a look at my blog post about journalling for beginners here.
5. See a Therapist
If all else fails, and the pain you are experiencing feels overwhelming, I strongly urge you to go and speak to a professional. Speaking to a professional can honestly help you to make sense of everything going on, in and around you. Not only can they help you to label your emotions correctly, but they can give you a safe space to pour your heart out and then provide you with the much needed tools you need to have a meaningful and fulfilling life.
When we embrace and accept the pain we feel, we truly know what it means to live! The secret lies in how we work with this pain. Emotions will always be there, they will come and go till the end of time. The trick is to feel the pain fully and try to make sense of it. Remember, we can feel all our feelings at once and still decide how to act and move forward. When we sit with the pain in the here and now and become curious to our sorrow, we are more likely to feel joy, love and peace. Yes, pain can change people, but it is in this moment where we begin to live our most meaningful life.