Stop Trying to Ignore Your Pain & Negative Emotions (And Do This Instead)
Today I wanted to offer my perspective about moving through pain. Surprisingly emotional pain has been shown in studies to simulate physical pain in the way it shows up in the brain.
“The only way out is through.” — Robert Frost
This quotation came up this morning as I opened my Insight Timer app, the app I use for morning meditation. It’s a thought and a refrain I use often as I coach people at the company I work for — people who are struggling with their mental health in some way, often anxiety, depression, overthinking, grief, anger, sadness, relationship problems show up in my inbox and on my schedule for coaching sessions. My job title is mental health coach, but basically I have conversations with members, and when we have a good conversation, they go away feeling better, lighter, more hopeful. Although everyone’s situations, thoughts, feeling, concerns are different and I’m simplifying it, that’s really the gist of it.
Something I notice a lot when I speak to clients is a knee-jerk reaction to make whatever strong emotion they’re feeling go away. It’s no wonder when we notice we feel “bad,” it’s a sign that’s something wrong so it’s only natural to want to push it away. But for perspective, if we noticed the “check engine” light on our car and took it to the mechanic, we would never think it’s ok for the mechanic to just cut the wire to the light in order to make it turn off.
But this is essentially what we do when we try to ignore, numb, or suppress our everyday feelings that come up that feel hard — they’re messengers that’s something’s gone wrong.
I heard someone say something profound this weekend, it was, “Transformation begins with the radical acceptance of what is.” It was from Nicole Sach’s, creator of JournalSpeak, and she’s associated with Dr. John Sarno’s work and TMS or tension myositis syndrome. TMS is a term Dr. Sarno dubbed to describe how emotions affect our physical body.
So back to Nicole’s quote — this fits in with everything I have learned over the years from my own spiritual practice and healing journey. It’s acceptance through letting go of whatever resistance you’re having to the present moment. And the present can simply be that you’re mired in emotional or physical pain, mad at yourself that you’re still in some kind of pain or discomfort mentally or physically, and worried you don’t know to fix this or that you should have figured out a way to deal with this already.
I’d like to offer a potential balm for when the the intensity of hard emotions in the present moment has you feeling completely confused and unable to reach any kind of acceptance. Learning what works for others can be helpful to see ourselves through the tough times, whether you’re able or wanting to work with someone to support you on your own personal healing journey or not. Here are my top two practical remedies/balms to put into practice on your own.
The first balm is an idea: Our feelings are just like these wild animals or small children that are simply different from our rational brains and thinking, so they require a different, softer approach. You’ll never get a small child to calm down by yelling at them louder. But making sure they know they’re safe? Talking to them with genuine understanding for what they’re going through, compassion, being present, no matter what’s going on and not reacting with your own anger but just being there for them until the feeling or situation passes, this is where the strength and power lie. This.
We don’t think our way out of scary emotions, we feel them and let them pass through without pushing them away or holding onto them, with as much empathy and grace for ourselves that we can muster. Concrete ways to practice this can be turning to a guided self-compassion exercise such as on Kristin Neff’s website or searching for exercises on the free meditation app Insight Timer.
The second balm I’m offering requires taking action. It’s the “how-to” portion of allowing the emotions to pass through so they no longer bother us.
I’m fascinated with self-healing methods that include self-expression, on both a professional and personal level — just allowing oneself the time, space, and intention to move through and clear out unresolved issues before they become embodied and show up as physical discomfort or disease in the body.
While the knee-jerk reaction is to push away what hurts or feels scary, the healthier route if you’re wanting to live a full, authentic, life as free from suffering as possible, is to GO there. Go deep into the pain, bring it up into the consciousness so that it’s no longer hiding and you can let it go. Something I use myself and recommend to others deep in the struggle at the moment is journaling and self-compassion daily in order to:
- assure and calm your nervous system that it’s ok to feel however you’re feeling
- allow you to express and complete your emotions in a healthy way (Emotions have a beginning, middle, and end, and I write more about how this works and how to move through them without getting stuck in them here.)
- experience the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” response and get out of “fight or flight” mode in order to experience a feeling of safety and wellbeing as opposed to stress
I literally equate writing in this way and offering yourself self-compassion for going to the scary places within yourself to caring for and mothering yourself like you are your own baby — allowing yourself to cry it out when you’re scared, upset, or things just aren’t right, then soothing yourself through the gentle touch, sway, and maybe a lullaby from mamma :)
Implementing practices into daily life for self compassion and self expression is the best way I can think to begin to heal from the inside out. We get this “build up” from our pasts and from daily living that just needs to be expelled sometimes, and journaling or expressive writing is a really healthy emotional tool to allow oneself to move through the emotions without getting stuck. I believe we need less “buy in” to the philosophy that our bodies (including our minds) are just problems that need to be fixed. And a whole lot more of us learning how to befriend our bodies and minds and connect back in with our own internal wisdom through practices like expressive writing and self-compassion and healing partners/mentors that we choose to bring us back into a remembrance of our own wholeness so that we can see it on this level of reality, in our physicality, in the cells, tissues, nerves, organs, and bones of our bodies.
If you’re looking for someone to help you to do this work of treating with yourself with compassion as you begin to build self awareness and express your emotional truth through the inner work of journaling, this is the sweet spot that I love to work with people around their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. I offer complimentary coaching sessions for people struggling with physical issues who are ready to heal on an emotional level to effect change from the inside out. Apply here.