Learning to hold pain is one of life’s greatest lessons: This blog explores the structure of pain and ways to work with it and not against it.
When facing trauma or painful situations, many people unconsciously allow their pain to take root in their entire way of being. This results in people actually becoming the pain. When this happens the pain acts like an anchor which becomes so heavy that it will not allow a person to move forward. Like an octopus with tentacles, the pain will infiltrate every aspect of life. We become ‘stuck’ or ‘captured’ by it and find that we are not able to begin the healing process.
Trauma and pain has no structured definition
Pain lives in the interpretation of the person who experiences it. When we become the pain we will project it outwards i.e. how we show up to the world and to others. It will therefore become part of our identity. Pain can range from:
- a breakdown in relationships/ friendships
- issues at work
- issues at home
- from past experiences and/or fear of the future
Learning to hold pain in one hand as a separate entity (it belongs to one aspect of life) and not allowing it to take root at our core is a challenge the majority of my clients wrestle with.
Learning to hold pain is challenging.
I would like to legitimize each one reading this post and acknowledge that at times our pain seems overwhelming and that circumstances are unique. However, we are not powerless to our circumstances as there are ways to work with pain. Yes, 100%, pain is sore and we can expect to experience a measure of good and bad days as we move towards healing. However, it is important to realize that when we choose to live in our painful experiences for an extended period of time they have the potential to turns into moods. Moods range from self-pity, anxiety, depression etc. Once these moods take hold they will dictate how we interact with ourselves and with others. We have therefore become hi-jacked by the pain.
When pain becomes your identity it will:
- Monopolize your internal dialogue
- Result in high levels of anxiety and stress as the nervous system is triggered by your interpretation of the event.
- You will begin living in and out of the the stories you construct about the event
- Monopolize the conversations you have with others as you seek reassurance that you are ‘right’
- Impact your eating and sleeping patterns
- Impact your ability to function as a whole and to perform your job effectively
- Induce feelings of wanting to isolate
- Actively look for ways to escape (e.g.) alcohol, narcotics etc.
Emotions are triggered by external events
If am involved in a relationship and the relationship ends. My relationship belongs to one part of my life. It doesn’t encompass all the aspects of my life. It does not belong in the category of my job or in the relationships I have with my family/ friends. However, once we embody the pain we will become subservient to our emotions and to the moods they bring. Once this happens we have become trapped in the pain. It is helpful to remember that emotions are triggered by external events, the event does not live inside us. Our interpretation of the event lives inside us. Therefore, it is our interpretation of the event which triggers the nervous system. It truly begins and ends with us.
Through my experience of coaching in the area of pain and anxiety I have compiled a check list which will guide you through some fundamentals towards producing an internal shift.
Ways to move from being the pain towards holding the pain.
|Your Identity lives in pain||Pain belongs within a segment|
|The pain has infiltrated every aspect of your life leading to high levels of anxiety and/ or depressive episodes. Feelings of resignation have taken root within i.e. ‘there is no point’; ‘nothing will change how I feel’|| Observe the pain and acknowledge its presence. However, recognize that the pain belongs to one aspect of your life – it does not represent all aspects of your life. It isn’t ‘you’ so do not permit it to take hold of your identity and mimic the |
person you truly are.
|The nervous systems response to pain||Ways to calm the nervous systems response|
|In response to becoming the pain, the nervous system is perturbed (triggered) and your body will be constantly braced for action (response). One will potentially experience: |
– Tension headaches and tight shoulder blades
– Sleeping patterns will be disturbed
– Eating patterns will either be emotional/ loss of appetite
| In order to calm the nervous system the following have proven to be extremely effective:|
– Meditation (a quick search on YouTube will assist in directing you to various guided mediation clips)
– Breathing exercises: These exercises trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which signals the body to relax.
|Resisting (swimming upstream)||Acceptance (flowing with the current)|
|When we become the pain we resist letting go of it. We hold ourselves back and constantly relive the breakdown in our minds by playing the story over again trying to decipher what went wrong. This includes reliving the story |
through constantly speaking to others about the injustice of it. Questions such as ‘why me’; ‘what could have been different if x,y,z had happened’; ‘if only I had said/ done x & y’.
– In resisting acceptance, we hold ourselves back and delay the healing process
– When we continue to resist the facticity of the situation, we continue to trigger our nervous system and will therefore live out of a mood of anxiety.
|Accept that pain is a facticity of life (experiencing pain in one’s life is inevitable). It is helpful to recognize that acceptance does not mean that you approve or agree with the situation – it simply means that you acknowledge that it has happened.|
– Recognizing that such episodes will pass in time. It is always helpful to cast your mind back to past similar experiences in which the pain, in time, past
|Refusing to listen to the pain||Listen to the lessons pain offers|
|Every experience in life has a hidden lesson. When we continuously live in our breakdowns we close ourselves off from our innate wisdom. We therefore and close off our listening to what our situation is trying to teach us about ourselves.||When pain is held in one’s hand VS becoming one’s identity, we are able to observe it objectively. Conversations with pain may take the form of a need for us to have more personal boundaries. |
|Living in the past or in the future||Living in the present|
|When we allow ourselves to live in the past we, will typically feel easily overwhelmed with regret or guilt. When we choose to live in the future, we will typically live in anxiety. ||In the present, nothing is a threat. When we live in the present moment, the past no longer has a say in our lives (we have closed off that dialogue) and the ‘closed door’ of the past will therefore no longer hold guilt or pain. The future contains no expectations |
and therefore no anxiety. It rather presents itself as a future filled of opportunity.
Audit your interpretations and work alongside your emotions
Remember that our emotions are messengers, nothing more. Should we choose to listen to them, and work with them, rather than resist and fight against them they will start to serve us. Therein lies the difference: emotions serve us VS us serving them. Bring your attention to instances in your past which still trigger your nervous system and ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I not listening to? (what is the message)
- What is my interpretation of the event?
- How is my interpretation serving me? Don’t be too quick to say it isn’t – if it wasn’t serving you, it would no longer trigger you. At times, interpretations can serve us on the lines of “this interpretation makes me feel justified (I’m right and they’re wrong/ better than the other key players in my interpretation” Take time to truly listen to your interpretation.
- Am I lost in the story that surrounds my interpretation?
- Who are the key players in my story?
- Is my assessment of the key players in my story grounded? (true or embellished?)
- What would it feel like to move forward and leave this in the past? (imagine yourself feeling this freedom)
- How can I restructure my interpretation of the event to better serve me?
- Do I give myself permission to live in my new interpretation?
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Richard is an I.C.F Registered Ontological Coach with over 650 hours of practical coaching experience. Contact Richard directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a coaching session.
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