Emotional pain is something that seems to wiggle itself into the fabric of our lives. Mostly, I’ve felt like it’s been an uninvited guest in my own life, and I’ve had to really work hard to figure out our relationship. I wont lie; the language I’ve used for my pain in the past was often negative: Disruptive; Unsettling; Unwelcome; Overwhelming, Disorienting…
This kind of language left me feeling almost adversarial towards my emotional pain. The relationship was so draining; charged with tension and vigilance; like pain was my enemy.
Is pain my enemy?
As a therapist, I’ve always invited my clients to be very open about every aspect of their relationship with emotional pain. The good, the bad, the ugly; all expression is welcome. It’s part of developing language about our pain. However, to go even further, we must explore our relationship to our pain. We all know pain is inevitable, so, what kind of relationship are we going to have with it?
I really had to address this during COVID. Three valuable people in my life died suddenly, and I was swimming in the intensity of it. Quite frankly, it was exhausting. There were some days that the pain of grief was just inconvenient. It showed up unexpectedly, it was profoundly uncomfortable, I couldn’t seem to control it. This is when I realized that I was trying to battle it, while holding it at arms length. There was this sense that I was judging my grief rather than partnering with it. I knew I had to re-evaluate my relationship with grief if I was going to grow and heal. I was going to have to consider my attitudes about grief if I was to find meaning in the pain. So began my journey into the sacred.
One of my favourite definitions of the term sacred is this: “Highly valued and important; entitled to reverence and respect.”
Here at the Wellness Center I run, we value a holistic approach to mental health. That means we try to see the whole person when treating them, rather than narrowing the cause and treatment of mental distress down to just symptoms. That means that we must carefully and considerately treat each aspect of the person, as if all parts are intrinsically interconnected. We encourage exploration and nurture of spirituality in order to support optimum mental health.
Is it possible then, that emotional pain could be part of a sacred, spiritual experience? Could it be something we welcome and treat with reverence and respect? Could it be that it is here in our lives to grow us and show us unmet needs and unaddressed internal messages?
To answer those questions, we will have to explore how we have judged our emotional pain in the past and even how we have judged ourselves when we are in pain. Are we unkind to ourselves? Unwilling to allow ourselves space to feel powerful emotions? Uncomfortable with being unfinished?
Something to consider: Pain can be a messenger. It can tell us where we are missing out on much needed love. It can remind us of a need that has gone unnoticed but is worth fulfilling. It can be the voice that brings alignment into the heart.
There is no doubt that I experienced something transformative when I looked at my grief as sacred. I had been invited down a path that I knew was going to alter me, and grief was my walking partner. So, when the emotional pain approached, I stopped recoiling. I stopped trying to analyze it all in order to neutralize it. I welcomed it and felt it; believing it was a deeply sacred act to do so.
If this idea of creating a sacred space with your emotional pain is something you’d like to further explore, try asking yourself:
- Will I consider changing my relationship with my emotional pain?
- Could I see it as my walking companion rather than my adversary?
- Would I be open to having a sacred relationship with my pain? If so, what would that look like for me?
- What does the sacred mean to me?
As you explore this theme of the sacred, remind yourself to approach it all with big doses of curiosity and compassion. May it be a beautiful journey.
I love Dr. Kristin Neff’s tools for self compassion: About the Book
I also highly recommend Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Books & Audio