It doesn’t seem to make sense, but when we desperately want relief from stress and anxiety, the thing to do is dive straight into our emotional pain.
It’s so counterintuitive – we’re trying to get rid of pain, why would we jump right into it?
Avoiding pain means we get to keep it – whether we suppress it, ignore it, or express it inappropriately. This keeps us sick.
Facing pain ultimately leads to healing – by understanding its source, addressing the causes, and eventually letting it go. This is the path to health.
Many of us walk around in pain, though it may take different forms. Angry outbursts; fear-based thinking; constant anxiety; high stress levels; depression (an attempt to subdue emotional pain); even overly perky and positive attitudes can mask inner despair.
Everyone in pain seeks relief. The methods are wide and varied, and some more successful than others. Just like any wound, we have choices for treatment. We can ignore it, try temporary fixes, or seek true healing.
Avoidance, or “The Band-Aid Approach”
There are many methods or “coping mechanisms” for avoiding our pain. These include depression, anger and outburst issues, isolation and withdrawal, and addiction, among others. For a time, these methods seem to work. The pain is dulled, and we might even feel good momentarily.
For example, practicing addiction – whether to substances or behaviors – can bring temporary relief when one:
- puts a drug in one’s body (drug addiction)
- flushes a drug-addicted loved one’s stash down the toilet (for the umpteenth time) (codependence addiction)
- accomplishes something in order to receive other people’s approval (performance addiction)
- buys a (probably unnecessary) new item (shopping addiction)
- overeats sugary items (sugar addiction)
- smokes (nicotine addiction)
Such relief is not true healing. It is merely distraction, avoidance, or denial of pain. Over time, our methods become less effective. Unfortunately, because of their compulsive nature, addictions keep ahold of us even when they no longer provide relief. Other methods of avoidance lead to similarly entrenched positions.
All of these approaches begin as the best solution we can find for our inner pain, but in reality they are just Band-Aids on the ugly, oozing wound of emotional devastation.
And worse, our attempts to avoid pain end up becoming part of the barrier to truly getting better. Addiction becomes a compulsive habit we have no control over. Depression becomes a deeper and deeper hole of despair. Isolation breeds isolation. And all make it difficult to reach out for help.
It is possible to overcome our dysfunctional coping mechanisms, but not without addressing the source of pain. When we try to fix our pain with willpower, quit addictions “cold turkey,” or “white knuckle” through it, we are still merely avoiding the real problem.
To Find Peace, Face the Pain
There’s only one way to heal emotional pain.
Turn around and take it on. Stop ignoring the oozing wound and start cleaning it out, medicating it, and carefully tending to it. This requires self-knowledge, commitment, and persistent follow-through.
These ideas may help:
A Process for Addressing Pain
This can take many forms – from therapy and 12-step groups to organized religion and other self-help programs. Every individual must find their own most effective method or combination of tools.
Support from Others
To do the painful work, we need help. Trying to “do it alone” has led to many of our unhealthy behaviors and kept us stuck. Look for a support network of friends, family, and institutions that understand your pain and won’t judge you.
An Excellent Self-care Program
To face deep pain, much of which we’ve carried around for years, it’s critical to take good care of ourselves. Daily attention to the basics – eating, sleeping, exercising – gives us the strength to focus on emotional wounds. Spiritual self-care includes asking for help when we need it, taking breaks from intense work, being gentle with ourselves, and using self-discipline but not self-flagellation.
Think of it as a long haul. We’ve carried this painful burden for however many years and it will take some time to put it down and clear the effects. Look for the resources and support to sustain the effort. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
Remember, Pain is Good!
Pain tells us there is something to work on. It’s a messenger, and if we listen, it will lead us to the places we need to heal. If we let it, pain can be our friend. It points to the vulnerable spots in our lives, and helps us focus a healing energy on them.
So let us be grateful for pain. Do not wallow in it, but look to it for guidance into the heart of the problem. Use pain as a starting point for healing.
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