I’ve been working a lot last year around our relationship to pain. Emotional and physical pain. I’ve observed that our natural reaction to pain is to try to avoid it, to block it or run away from it. After all, why wouldn’t we? Pain is painful!
However there are a few things I’ve learnt recently about it. Firstly emotional pain and grief. Whether we are grieving the loss of a lost one, or the end of a relationship or even a change of circumstances in life, grief is a natural emotion to feel. I’ve talked about grief in various posts in the past, from how to deal with grief or what I call the sixth stage of grief. However I still find that despite knowing all this, I personally always feel reluctant to allow myself to feel the pain and the sadness.
I met a client this week, who came to see me for something that seemed totally unrelated to pain. He had insomnia issues, and believed it was linked to various stress in his life. I immediately noticed in him a strong over analytical mind and a general need to feel in control – and that reminded me of me. When I used to have a lot of coping mechanisms to stay in control of my life, and more importantly of my emotions.
I have a natural tendency to be over analytical, and I thought it was just who I was until my EMDR practitioner years ago told me I had issues with control. I didn’t understand what she meant at the time but the penny finally dropped years later when I lost the control of my emotions due to intense pain.
Back to my client, when I saw those traits in him, I wondered if maybe there also was an issue with control. When we started to explore the patterns behind his insomnia, I got a strong sense that there was more to it than just stress related issues.
We decided that a process combining NLP and Hypnotherapy would be the most appropriate to deal with the insomnia at that stage, and sure enough as we started to dive into the depth of the unconscious mind, something else came up. At first it was emotional pain – unresolved issues from the past came up that appeared to be related to the insomnia. And then, my client felt a huge anxiety.
I decided to interrupt the process at that stage and switch to EFT to work on the anxiety. And as we explored what was coming up for him, it turned out that it was fear of feeling the pain from the past. It was fascinating to watch – even though looked very uncomfortable to my client – as I witnessed the beautiful complexity of our mind’s coping mechanisms. From avoidance to denial, then rationalising and back into the over analysing. Our mind has got a wonderful survival build-in mechanism. But does it always serve us well?
I finally managed to ground my client back and through a combination of some NLP dissociation techniques and EFT we reached once again a state of calmness. But what I realised is how scared my client was to actually face the pain that stems from his past.
And that makes me realise how often we get scared of pain. How clever our mind is to find multiple psychological coping mechanisms to avoid it. And how by repressing or avoiding it, we create mini ticking bombs that are waiting for us around the corner to blow up. Some people never get the explosion – and others face it full on when they’re experiencing challenges in their lives.
I’m also starting to wonder what makes the difference between the pain we’re scared to face and the one we are able to talk about or remember. And perhaps when we are anxious to feel hurt in a specific situation that’s coming up, it might be because we haven’t fully processed a similar pain in the past? So for example, if you are scared to be hurt in relationships – and I’m not talking about a simple fear, but a very intense one that may even prevent you to put yourself in that situation ; could it be because you haven’t fully dealt with how you’ve been hurt in your past relationship? Food for thoughts…
Anyway, what I’ve learnt in the past few years and through my own reactions to pain is that I had an unhealthy relationship to pain. Like most people, before I started to think about it all, I thought pain was bad. To avoid at all costs. And I did really well to avoid it indeed. And then it caught up with me.
So with a combination of somatic work and other holistic approaches, I’ve chosen to change my relationship to pain. And instead of avoiding it, putting my head in the sand and hoping it will stay buried and never bother me again, I’ve learnt to face it head on. To welcome it when it happens, to hold the space for it in my body, to breathe through it. Simply. To not try to change it, to not try to lessen it. To just allow it. At first. You may recognise the mindfulness approach behind those steps, as I described in an earlier post. Allowing and accepting.
And this is what my client was scared about. What most of us are scared about when we’ve buried our issues and the pain associated with it – and it becomes unavoidable anymore. I hear a lot of clients before embarking on a therapeutic journey talking about being scared of what they might find when they start exploring their past. The syndrome of the Pandora box. And it is scary. Because instinctively we know there’s pain. We know it’s going to hurt badly – that’s why we’ve avoided it for so many years!!!
But you know what? The fear of it, the idea we have in our mind of what it’s going to be like is MUCH more scary than the actual reality of it. Because we’ve actually been living with that pain for years. And even if we’ve repressed it or buried it, it’s still been there all this time, even if we were not conscious of it. And it has affected us. Yes it has. You may believe it hasn’t, but a lot of our behaviours, reactions, coping and defence mechanisms are actually totally dictated by that pain and our past.
But you’ve survived it. You’ve done better than that, you’re functioning despite its existence.
So the worst thing that can happen? Is just to feel it consciously instead of unconsciously. To feel sadness, anger perhaps and hurt. And yes, that’s not comfortable indeed. But that’s all it is. Uncomfortable. But you already know how to deal with it, you have done it before. Perhaps not with that intensity, perhaps not voluntarily, but you have felt pain, anger and sadness in your life. Haven’t you? And how did you deal with it?
I bet you that you’ve survived it (Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading those lines right now)! So what is there to be scared about?!
Now without dismissing the level of discomfort that’s attached with facing past pain, the best thing to do is to actually be accompanied by a therapist on that journey. Someone who will guide you, reassure you and support you whilst you burst the abscess. Someone who will hold the space and allow you to process that pain in a safe environment. Someone who knows how to facilitate that process so you can continue to function.
But it’s worth it. You may not realise yet how it’s been affecting your life all along. And when you come out the other side, you’ll be free. Free to be yourself at last, free from your past, free from having to constantly hide from the pain. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel pain anymore – but you’ll know much better how to deal with it, so it becomes an unpleasant memory rather than another ticking bomb.
Feel free to be in touch if you want to talk about this all. I’d be delighted to have a chat or read your comments below! 🙂