The Surprising Effect of Emotional Pain


by Mike McKeown

Hello everyone. I hope you’re all doing well out there in internet-land. I wanted to come back around to the second installment of the pain series.   In  my Handling the Hurts article,  I addressed pain on a general level.  We talked a little about the different things that could derail people’s lives with regard to pain and also how some people respond to those types of pain. Sometimes it’s with addiction, sometimes it’s closing down, and sometimes it’s by falling into a deep depression.

Today I want to look a little closer at one of the kinds of pain that we all suffer at some point.

Emotional Pain

This type of pain can be described as a heartache that comes from an experience such as the loss of a loved one. For some, these painful situations spawn depression, anxiety, fear,  or guilt.   Some people are unable to stop thinking about or replaying these feelings and experiences over and over in their heads. Not surprisingly, these feelings tend to get worse when you continually replay the things that hurt you. They grow.  We often tell people that what they feed grows.  It’s plain and simple. If you feed those negative feelings, they will become bigger than they need to be and they tend to take over your thoughts as a whole.  This can affect every aspect of your life.  Not only do your moods become darker,  but your relationships,  and your personal and professional lives can become affected by this thought process.  Eventually, if you don’t reverse this way of thinking, it can dominate your thoughts constantly.

Did you know that emotional pain can actually be experienced in our physical bodies? You may have heard someone say it something hit them like a sucker punch or it made their stomach churn? This is far more than just an emotional response.  Research has shown that we experience emotional pain in many of the same ways as physical pain.  So it’s been medically proven that we can actually  feel that emotional pain somewhere in the body. This can come out as anxiety or a headache, or even a stomach ache.

You know, when we experience physical pain we are more likely to actually do something about it. We might go to the doctor or we seek pain relieving methods over the counter No one wants to be in pain all the time. However, the opposite too often runs true with emotional pain. Whereas we don’t seem to have difficulty treating physical pain, we don’t take the same sort of precautions when emotions come into play.  We want to stop physical pain as soon as possible. But many ignore the emotional pain that is causing them such trouble. Emotional pain and physical pain can both be paralyzing to us. Physical pain can actually  paralyze the body or immobilize a limb, but so many don’t acknowledge that emotional pain can be just as paralyzing.  It can take away your motivation to do things like eat, talk, walk, or work. Why am I sending so much time on this? It’s because many people do not associate their physical pain with their emotional struggles.

When we feel that physical pain, we are aware that it is a sign that something is wrong. We know not to walk on that ankle if it’s swollen or painful or that we shouldn’t lift that heavy box if our back is hurting.   Emotional pain is the same. We experience an emotional stressor or stressors and we begin to feel anxiety and pain. Often with emotional pain, it might feel like we won’t survive.

But if we acknowledge that pain, it won’t kill us.

And that’s my point. Emotional pain, as bad as it is, won’t kill you. Oh, it may feel like it’s going to. Trust me. It can be overwhelming.  But again,  you need to trust me here.  You aren’t going to die, or even lose a limb from the emotional pain. When we feel physical pain, we usually have to do some sort of action in order to stop it. That could be medication, or a diet change, or maybe even surgery. But with emotional pain, we don’t have a simple sort of fix that will make it heal. With emotional pain, we must feel it in order to rid ourselves of it. We must learn to sit with our pain and experience it until we have reached the other side of it. That sounds really deep and confusing doesn’t it? But if you don’t learn to feel it, and acknowledge it, then you’re just stuffing it down. When you do that, it will simply come back around again. That will force you to live it all over again. This often makes people seek other methods to try and make it go away. And that’s where we go to unhealthy patterns of behavior. Avoidance, severe introversion, or addictions are often how people try to self-medicate these painful situations.

The avoidance of these painful situations often results in fear and paralysis. We stop moving forward or we won’t take chances. But here’s where the powerful part comes in. Imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t afraid of emotional pain anymore? Imagine how free your life would be if you were not mired in the fear and suffering of facing emotional pain. Aren’t you tired of letting painful situations from your past control your future? It’s time to feel that pain, learn from it, and move on.

All too often though, that’s easier said than done.  Next time we will look some actionable steps that you can take now to work through and those painful emotions. Remember, the goal is to get to the other side!

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