Understanding how your mind works is the first step to Mental Wellness

Emotional Pain

It is common human behavior to avoid emotional pain at all costs. But what if it became public knowledge that you can actually use this pain to grow? What if it was known that it can be used to make you stronger, much more creative, kinder, and even wiser? 

For instance, let’s take Nietzsche’s well-known phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” What exactly did he mean by it? How can emotional pain build us up and not the other way around? The answer is simple.

Embrace your pain.

According to Buddhist teachings, on one side of the coin, there’s pleasure, but on the other there’s pain. We want to always receive pleasure, and inherently avoid or deny pain.  But, when we don’t accept emotional pain, that’s when we suffer the most.

When you resist an emotion, you’re giving it the power to remain. It is only when you accept and let it penetrate your heart, that it can finally dissipate gradually. You need to look straight at this pain, understand it, and observe how you react to it. That’s the true path of healing, growth, and resilience.

Lok at it this way:

If you drag your emotional pain and postpone needed inner work, you start accumulating pain. Picture a balloon being filled up with air. Imagine this air to be pain. What happens when it surpasses its air capacity? It breaks. That’s what happens when you postpone your inner process. The only way to become unbreakable, or invincible is to “let this air out.” Letting yourself feel this pain is a healing and liberating process that makes you stronger. 

If you don’t face pain, deny it, or “push it to the back of your mind”, you’re condemned to repeat it over and over again. It remains latent. This means enduring this unresolved pain throughout your entire life. If you don’t face your emotional pain “on the spot”, it will negatively affect the way you relate with yourself and others. It can make you very toxic. “How?”, you may ask.

Unresolved emotional pain is relived repeatedly daily and is usually reflected in your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It may “pop up” spontaneously, or it may be triggered over specific situations. How much inner strength can someone possibly have if they crumble down or are “triggered” by simple life situations?

So, how exactly can pain make us wiser and stronger?

There is a feeling of freedom once you accept that there can’t be life without pain. Once you realize you don’t need to protect yourself from it, you can become wiser from it by learning your reaction towards it. Think, “What is this pain trying to teach me?”, “What can I gain from it?”

Once we start making these types of inquiries, this is when you start getting to know yourself. That’s how you become wiser.

Think of a moment in your life when you failed at something. It was because of this failure that you were able to become a better version of yourself. Right?

It happens the same thing with feelings such as disappointment, anger, resentment, or jealousy. When you feel them, they’re far from being seen as blessings in disguise. But actually, it’s exactly in these situations when you’re gaining something more powerful.

These emotions become messengers that teach you what you need to learn; they tell you what your unresolved issues are. They become growth opportunities. Something that once triggered you now becomes insignificant. You become untouchable. This is how pain makes us stronger.

But what exactly helps you overcome emotional pain?

Or perhaps a better question would be, how can resilience be nurtured?

Some people tend to be more resilient when facing pain. This means that they are much more resourceful and much more resistant to pain. 

What’s the special recipe?

According to Boris Cyrulnick, expert in resilience, resilience is nurtured from a very early age. How prepared a person will be to face difficulties depends on how “safe” their environment was while growing up. This sensation of safety accompanies the person throughout their entire life, and it’s this sensation that gives them certain strength that helps them cope with pain.

This “safety net” starts with the maternal figure. If a child’s mother doesn’t feel safe in their environment, then she’ll transmit these sensations to their child.

Another way that resilience can be nurtured is by the interaction children have with their parents. For children to become resilient, parents must dedicate time to their upbringing. They must play with them, talk to them, and listen to them. This is what makes a person resilient. This also guarantees successful academic achievement in children. It provides children with the needed self-esteem that will help them thrive. 

Contrary to popular belief, protecting children from emotional pain does not make them stronger.

You can build resilience in children by teaching them how to grasp emotional pain and how to grow from it. Teach them how to “vent it out” creatively, and how to make meaning out of it. Help them feel safe despite the pain.

However, having a proper upbringing is not the only key to building up resilience. It is very important to consider what happens after a traumatic experience. To heal, it is necessary to feel emotional support, to talk about the experience, and to understand it.

Denial protects you because it doesn’t allow you to face the issue. But this protective denial blocks resilience. It hinders inner growth and strength. Teaching children how to handle these emotions at a very early age gives them a strong foundation on how to handle them in upcoming years.

In his book, “Man in the Search of Meaning”, Victor Frankl depicts his experiences as a victim living in a concentration camp during the Second World War. He mentions that when caught amidst a cycle of pain, people can become either victims or perpetrators. For instance, after liberation, some of his comrades would easily justify their immoral actions with their own terrible experiences. Unawaringly, they were replaying their trauma.

In this specific situation, an effective way to heal would be to express these hurtful emotions. But sometimes we don’t exactly know where this pain comes from. What are its origins?

This is where Psychoanalysis can help out.

It helps you uncover these hidden pain in your unconscious and understand its origins. By expressing this pain to your psychotherapist, you free yourself of it. A good therapist will guide you into observing this pain completely free of judgment. He will also guide you to feel compassion and acceptance allowing you to overcome your pain.

How can emotional pain teach you compassion and empathy?

You become more compassionate and kinder once you start accepting discomfort as well as those aspects in your personalities that troubles you. If you’re willing to feel these negative emotions about yourself and accept them, then you’re able to do the same for others. This is why compassion starts with emotional pain.

At the same time, after feeling and understanding pain, people want to help others because they know what suffering entails. It’s a defense mechanism that helps them fight their own pain. They focus on the pain others feel, but when doing so, they are helping themselves.

How can emotional pain make you more creative?

It is in the absence of joy that creativity thrives. Emotional pain inspires; it can be transfromed into an artistic masterpiece. Creativity becomes a tool that helps overcome emotional disturbances. In fact, artists sublimate pain through theater, art, and even sports. These creations then help others feel what they can’t express, and in a way help them silently heal their unexpressed emotions.

Inspiration and wretchedness are inseparable. We always want to get rid of misery rather than see how it works together with joy. But inspiration and wretchedness complement each other.

pema chodron

Frankl explains how despite misery, pain, and suffering, the inmates in the concentration camp would experience the beauty of art and nature as never before. They relied on songs, poems, and jokes, which would also help them forget. With pain, you become in touch with that sensible human side that can make you much more creative. You can then use this as a resource to overcome pain. 

What made the inmates in the concentration camp want to continue living despite so much pain and misery? What made them fight and survive against all odds? For some was the love of someone. Needing to survive because of that love. For others, it was the need to survive because there’s some life work, some pending creation, or some creative mark they must leave behind.

Finding meaning in life is what helps us endure some of the most difficult and painful situations.

So, emotional pain for the better?

Yes, you can use pain for inner growth. All you have to do is acknowledge it. View it as an external force. Observe it directly, become aware of it, and let it pierce your heart. Welcome it into your life and ask “What do you want me to learn?” This is how the healing and fortifying process begins.

This is when it becomes clear: sometimes when you lose you win.

Overcoming emotional pain can completely change your life. You don’t only regain strength, you also become kinder, wiser, and much more empathic. Once you understand our pain, it becomes natural to understand pain in others. There’s no way we can help others grow, if there’s no pain within.

The whole basis of Buddhism is “suffering”. These ancient spiritual teachings can easily guide you to understand emotional pain and grow from it. For Buddhists, years of mental training, and showing love and compassion to others, can free them from suffering. For them, the source of happiness is based on love.

Another way you can heal from emotional pain, conscious or deeply rooted in yourself, is by meditating. You can view a meditation routine as a therapeutic session with a psychologist. Picture yourself as your therapist, and regard your emotions and thoughts with compassion and understanding. Observe them; listen to them. It’s time to accept what is. 🙌

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Article by Sarah Peláez


How to reference this article

Pelaez.S (2020). Emotional pain PsycheSpot https://www.psychespot.com/emotional-awareness/emotional-pain/

APPA style references

Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. Simon and Schuster.

Chodron, P. (2000). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Shambhala Publications.

Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. New World Library.

Aprendemos juntos. (2018, December 15). V.O. Complète. Résilience : la douleur est inévitable, la souffrance est incertaine. Boris Cyrulnik [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9ugzdoc5JQ&t=2615s

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

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2 Comments

  1. Lourdes

    Thank you for this article. It help me understand the meaning of pain. I lived for a very long time avoiding my emotions. When I finally allowed me to observe and process them, my whole world changed. Now I pay more attention to my emotions and what they are trying to teach me. I feel more free, happier and satisfied with who I am and the path I have chosen to take.

    • Keep going! there is always something new to learn or to overcome. These are always opportunities for growth. Good luck on your self-discovery journey. We will make sure we continue to post articles that can help you keep growing.:)

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