Research has discovered that we experience emotional pain as physical pain. This means that when you are experiencing heartache, your heart actually does hurt – well, perhaps not your heart, but something in your body does hurt, and badly. You know this already, because when you feel heartache or anxiety or frustration, it hurts.
In my practice I have noticed people often have a very low tolerance for the pain of heartache – they want to make it go away as fast as possible. And this is understandable. When you have a headache, you want to take an aspirin; and if your body hurts, you want to rest, sleep or go to the doctor to find out what’s wrong.
It’s true – physical pain often does indicate something is wrong with our bodies. Emotional pain is different however, even if we experience it physically. The best way to deal with emotional pain is to feel it, without making it better, because great gifts are on the other side of feeling that pain.
In order to understand exactly what I mean, let’s first look at how we behave when we are in pain.
Since physical pain is indication of something gone wrong in the body, you might feel some anxiety or worry about having the pain. You may wonder if you are OK. You want the pain to stop, wonder if and when it will stop, and try to make a plan for how to end it.
Same thing happens with emotional pain. You may feel heartbreak or loneliness or even frustration and wonder if you are going to be OK. You feel anxiety about the pain and wonder if the pain will ever stop and if you are going to survive it.
Do you want help dealing with your heartache or emotional pain? I can support and guide you in both learning how to tolerate your pain, but also in reducing it effectively.
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The interesting thing is that you do survive it, every time.
Think about the last time you felt emotional pain.
Perhaps the last time was about a second ago, or perhaps a fairly long time, regardless, put yourself back there for a moment. Now let me ask you a question. Was your body OK while you were feeling that pain? Were any parts of you bleeding or falling off? Were you able to feel emotional pain, but still go to the bathroom, walk and talk?
Emotional pain is not like physical pain. It can be debilitating in that it can take away your desire to do things such as eat, walk, talk, function, but it does not prevent you from actually doing those things. While physical pain is sometimes a signal that something is very wrong, this is not exactly the case with emotional pain. That is why you do not need to be afraid of emotional pain. It is not going to kill you. It is not going to cripple you. It is not going to blind you. It does hurt, but with no real harm to your body.
Emotional pain is different from physical pain in another way. Physical pain often needs outside intervention to make it go away. You may need to take a pain reliever, change your diet, go see a doctor, have an operation, bandage the hurt part, etc. Emotional pain will go away if you feel it. Often you have to do nothing else. But if you do not feel, it can linger for a lifetime while you take many actions to avoid feeling it.
This means that when you feel anxiety about feeling heartache, and worry about how you are going to make it go away, and try to make plans about how you are going to alter circumstances and situations and people so that you stop feeling pain, stop. Remind yourself that nothing bad will happen if you feel pain, and it will subside after you allow yourself to feel it. You don’t need to do anything to deal with emotional pain. Instead, you need to be with it.
Deal with emotional pain by delving into it, making friends with it, feeling it until it stops and you are on the other end of it. If you able to do this, there will be gold on the other end.
Here is the gold at the end of emotional pain. Imagine the freedom you would have if you were no longer afraid of feeling emotional pain. If you were single you might be willing to get out there and date more, because you would know you could tolerate the pain of rejection and the pain of not meeting the right person. Or perhaps you would choose to be single and happy, knowing that you could tolerate the pain of loneliness.
If you were in a relationship that wasn’t going fast enough you would either be more patient because you knew you could tolerate the pain of waiting, or you would get out because you knew that you could tolerate the pain of letting go and being alone.
If you were married or in a long-term relationship, you would perhaps speak up for yourself more because you knew that you could tolerate the pain of your partner’s rejection or his or her displeasure with you. Or perhaps you would get closer to your partner because you knew that you could tolerate the anxiety you feel at allowing someone to get close to you.
If you were going through a breakup or a divorce you could allow the relationship to end because you would know you could tolerate the grief and sorrow of letting go and the temporary loneliness.
Do you see the power you could have over your emotional life if you were able to tolerate emotional pain rather than being afraid of it? It can be truly astounding how much easier and more peaceful life becomes when you are no longer afraid of feeling pain.
It’s true that no one wants to feel emotional pain, but as it is a part of life and unavoidable, better to know that you can tolerate it and get through it than to be afraid of it.
Now for the specifics of how to tolerate emotional pain.
Try the meditation below the next time you are suffering from heartache. But please keep in mind, this is only one tool in the vast set of tools for dealing with emotional pain. If the meditation below does not fit you, or does not help you feel better enough, I invite you set up a personal Problem Solver coaching session with me, where I will give you a set of tools to use specific to you and your pain.
Meditation instructions: You can use the meditation once a day, many times a day, or pick a favorite line and use it as constant mantra to help you cope with pain.
Or perhaps use this meditation as a template and create a few lines that fit your circumstances best. Feel free to leave your version below in comments.
(I have loosely based this meditation on meditations from the Blooming of a Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh.)
Instructions: Read this to yourself slowly and breathe.
Feeling pain in my heart, I breathe in.
Suffering from the pain in my heart, I breathe out.
Feeling my heart breaking, I breathe in.
Feeling as if my heart will break in two, I breathe out.
Feeling the pain is too great to live with, I breathe in.
Feeling as if the pain is going to swallow me up, I breathe out.
Feeling hurt, I breathe in.
Finding hurt where I want love, I breathe out.
Feeling frustration and anger, I breathe in.
Feeling frustration and anger boiling inside, I breathe out.
Wanting things to be different, I breathe in.
Wanting to change him/her, I breathe out.
Wanting attention, I breathe in.
Craving attention, I breathe out.
Wanting gentle touch, I breathe in.
Wanting loving touch, I breathe out.
Feeling I am not good enough, I breathe in.
Seeing nothing good about me, I breath out.
Feeling shame about my body, I breathe in.
Feeling that I am unlovable, I breathe out.
Feeling that no one loves me, I breathe in.
Suffering from not feeling loved, I breathe out.
Feeling frustration, I breathe in.
Feeling fear, I breathe out.
Being afraid that nothing will ever change, I breathe in.
Wanting love in my life, I breathe out.
Feeling fear that I will not have what I want, I breathe in.
Feeling fear and anxiety, I breathe out.
Noticing that I am OK, I breathe in.
Noticing that I am OK, I breathe out.