Living with Emotional Pain and Breaking the Cycle

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Why all the Pain?
It’s a question on every human’s mind whether they realize it or not. Some believe they have an answer and think no more of it. Some flounder unable to accept its inevitable presence. To ask ‘why’ is futile. There are a billion and one answers. On a purely physical level, pain is necessary. Without it, there could not be life. It acts as a very efficient built-in alarm system. As we evolved over the millennia, our alarm system adapted to our increased levels of mental and, ultimately, emotional activity, serving us in much the same way as its physical counterpart.

What is its origin?
When we experience emotional or spiritual pain, it is a sign that something is amiss. It is a chance to learn and to grow. The problem is that we cannot always pinpoint the exact source of meta-physical pain. When we are children, we may touch a hot stove and quickly learn that a hot stove is trouble. When we feel upset or down, we may kick and scream, or sulk and cry. If our parents are well-developed and present individuals, they understand how to interact with us in a stern yet sensitive manner. On the other hand, if the parent has intense, unconscious pain then they may unconsciously choose to abuse or neglect that child. And what of a child who is experiencing severe neglect or any kind of abuse? How does one cope with the intense emotional pain that follows?

That same instinctual mechanism used for the hot stove tells our brain that we must find the source and make a mental note that it is ‘bad.’ So what does our 5-year-old self do? He thinks for an instant that the source is some authority figure, a parent or guardian, but quickly rejects that hypothesis. Why? Because to a child, the grown-ups are the gods—inherently good.  They cannot be bad (the source of pain.) What happens next is a reversal. Because the child has rejected the true source, he turns on himself. If the grown-ups are good and they are doing these things to him, then he must deserve it; he must be bad. If he’s bad then he is the source. Then the only way to stop the pain is to fix himself, to become good. He may spend his whole life trying to be good, but always believing otherwise. He may have children and start the cycle anew. OR he may choose a new way to live and to break the cycle.

How do we break the cycle?
There are many paths. Some may choose intensive therapy. Some may ‘find God.’ Some may throw themselves into a fulfilling career. None of these are inherently right or wrong ways to cope with and defy pain. The ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ comes from within ourselves. Therapy will do you no good if you are unwilling to do the work, to face the pain head-on. It has the potential to become another painful child-parent association. Finding God will fail you if you dump all of your pain on God and believe he will do all the work to fix you. A career will only be a distraction if your life becomes all work and no introspective play. What is the point? It comes down to one thing: Presence. You must be present enough to realize that first of all, pain is there. Accept the pain and you put space around it. Secondly, when there is space, it gives room to question held beliefs about the source of that pain. You may believe you are ‘bad’ and thus the source, but if there is space, you will see the potential fault in that logic. Lastly, you must realize that you are not your pain. We tend to identify so heavily with our emotions, especially negative ones, that we believe they are an intrinsic part of our being. It is not so. Accept that your pain informs your existence, but it is not you. Not at the core. At the core, you are pure, non-dualistic, brilliant consciousness deserving of love and peace.

When you CHOOSE to be present, you are on the path to liberation. It can only follow that the cycle will be broken. Does that mean you shouldn’t go to therapy, find God, or get a career? Not at all. It simply means be careful; be aware. BE PRESENT as you do those things. Granted, it’s easier said than done. But I didn’t say it was easy. It’s the simplest thing one can experience; yet achieving it consistently can be the most difficult. The key is to implement practices into your life that move you toward that state. If you’re new to all of this, I strongly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. I also strongly recommend meditation. Find what works for you and spend the much needed time and energy on yourself.

By Terence Stone

For more on coping with pain, this article though seemingly simplistic, has some very insightful tips.

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Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.

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  • You’ve summed up what it takes to cope with emotional pain very well here. Being present really does seem to lessen the acuity of emotional pain. Accepting feelings as they come, unfiltered, and riding them out makes it possible to let go and move on.

    • Terence Stone

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, Helena. Thanks for reading.

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  • I’m happy to have come across your blog. Thank you for sharing and all the best to you

    • Terence Stone

      Thank you for the kind words. And you’re very welcome. Wishing you all the best.