A Great Human Struggle: How to Deal with Emotional Pain?
One of the greatest struggles of human existence, if not the greatest, concerns the question of how to deal with emotional pain.
Psychological suffering is truly one of the most difficult parts of human existence. The human race has been conscious of it as a grave difficulty for pretty much as long as there have been humans.
The Globe and Mail recently ran an article by physician Gabor Maté, an Order of Canada recipient with a particular interest in childhood development and trauma, and addictions. He argues strongly that our society needs to understand that addiction is rooted in deep pain and despair. As he states,
[A]ddiction is neither a choice nor primarily a disease…. It originates in a person’s attempt to solve genuine human problems: those of emotional loss, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection. It is a forlorn and ultimately futile attempt to solve the dilemma of human suffering.
Maté invites us to see serious addiction as an unsuccessful attempt to cope with overwhelming emotional pain. We can relate compassionately to that, because very many of us have had to cope with the reality of emotional pain. I know I have, and I suspect that you, too, have also had that experience.
Emotional Pain in Human Life
Acknowledged or unacknowledged, emotional pain is in the life of every individual human being. How to deal with emotional pain is a question that all human beings face. At certain key times in our lives, the intensity of pain may make the question urgent. This may be particularly true at times when emotional pain is associated with major life transitions, such as illness, job loss, illness or disability of a child or adult family member, the loss of a loved one, marital breakup, and many more sorts of issues.
Such pain can be debilitating. It can stop us in our tracks, bringing our lives to a standstill. It can be even worse if we deny the pain’s existence, and try to act as if it isn’t there. This can easily lead us into the grip of serious anxiety and/or depression.
Denial of Emotional Pain
Denial of emotional pain takes many forms. One of the most significant ways in which people can end up denying their emotional pain is through addictions. Though we tend to think of alcohol and drugs, there are actually many kinds of addictions related to seeking relief from pain. Addictions to food, the internet or social media, pornography and overwork are only some of the possibilities.
Sometimes, when emotional pain is related to overwhelming experiences of trauma, individuals can deny their emotional pain, or can be completely dissociated or cut off from it. To live in denial of traumatic pain often only makes it worse.
How to Deal with Emotional Pain
Essential to determining how to deal with emotional pain is acknowledging to ourselves in full honesty that the pain actually exists. This is often not so simple or easy as it sounds.
One great initial challenge may be to extend compassion to the part of ourselves that is enduring ongoing emotional pain. It can seem easier to be stoic about pain, pretending that it doesn’t matter. However, healing only begins when we acknowledge how bad the hurt is. This is a particular challenge for men in our culture, but many women also find this extremely hard.
Equally challenging can be finding someone to talk to about what we’ve been through. This is an essential part of finding our own personal answer to how to deal with emotional pain. It can be very important to find someone who is not immediately involved in our family situation or our lives, who has the capacity to hear of our pain with objectivity, certainly, but also with care and compassion.
Depth case studies can be of tremendous value in this process. In many cases, it’s the best way to discover how to deal with emotional pain. A /a-midlife-transition can be an excellent witness to our emotional pain, and can help immensely with the process of self-compassion. Depth case studies also gives essential help in finding meaning and purpose in our life journey given what we’ve endured. This can be essential to the process of learning how to deal with emotional pain.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist
& Jungian Psychoanalyst
PHOTOS: Selena N. B. H. (Creative Commons Licence) ; (Creative Commons Licence) ;
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)