My daughter and I love to sit and watch a programme on the BBC called “Call the midwife“. It’s a wholehearted, back to basics series where you inevitably meet the physical pain of childbirth with a human condition story. Now my daughter always asks, “why does it hurt so much?” “Because without the pain your body wouldn’t know the baby is coming” I reply. “The pain protects the mummy and the baby. This is good pain”.
Of course she doesn’t really understand, but all pain is a message to us that something is wrong and the pain will intensify unless we fix it somehow. Unfortunately the pain we feel can also hurt others and a pain reaction is started that is difficult to stop.
When I think of pain I think of toothache. It starts of as a little discomfort. So I take a pain-killer and carry on. I know the pain is there and something is wrong, but I carry on hoping it will fix itself and I can carry on as normal. Of course this is temporary, and I am just numbing and the pain needs to tell me something is wrong so it gets louder. No matter how many pills, shots of brandy or hot water bottles I try, the pain intensifies until I see the dentists and the problem is fixed. Unfortunately whilst I have been managing, albeit ineffectively, I have also been distant with others, short-tempered, and grumpy. The pain reaction is starting.
We all know the best thing is to see a doctor or a medical professional when something is broken and needs fixing but rarely do we take our own advice. Neither do we offer the same advice when we see emotional or inner pain. We become part of the numbing process too.
The inner pain is the most destructive pain we feel, mainly because we are so ineffective at fixing it ourselves. We see it as different to physical pain, because we attach guilt, fear, shame, anger or hatred to that pain. Those are emotions we don’t like to admit to others, let alone anyone else. How often do you hear people say I feel ashamed of myself or I feel guilty? The pain often comes from the past and hasn’t yet been processed. As Rafiki says, we can learn from it.
Here is the thing… WE ALL FEEL. You can’t have happiness, joy, freedom, calm or peace without the ability to feel all the other emotions. Stop numbing them, because you can’t pick and choose which one to numb, you have to numb them all.
We are masters at concealing pain and there are four ways we do it.
Run/Hide. We see people run from their emotional pain all of the time. Often they don’t know they are doing it, but others can see it. It may show up in behaviours such as lack of commitment, unfaithfulness, eternal drifter or traveller, flitting or always on the move. Or we may others physically and emotionally retract. They may hide away and become distant, going away to lick their wounds. This is the fight or flight instinct, but for some, staying in the reactive behaviour long after the fearful moment has gone, shows us that they are still stuck in that moment.
Distraction. This is where we keep so busy that we don’t have time to think or feel. We get busy with a career, or with our hobbies or parenting, creating the perfect home. We clean, we tidy. We watch TV or play games. We have sex or watch it. We talk, talking just to fill the void, or play music to cheer us up. All of this to distract us from those feelings or thoughts that creep up on us in the middle of the night or when we least expect it.
Numbing. Like the paracetamol numbing is a great temporary medicine to numb the pain. The problem is that it wears off so we need to take more. Numbing is destructive in the long-term. So we break up from our partner and hit the town to forget. We drink and get smashed, maybe have a fling to numb the pain even more. Or food (too much or too little) maybe your pain-killer, or drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, or perfection. All of these pain killers mask the pain for a moment or a few hours, but the pain is worse afterwards.
Reaction. Everyone knows that a dog in pain can bite. Well so can humans. We feel such shame or guilt that we start to push others away. We have all been on the end of someone’s reaction, when they just want to pick a fight. As parents we see our children do it and as partners we do it to each other. You didn’t start the fight because the bins haven’t been taken out, there were other feelings and thoughts going on. Some turn this reaction physical, by hitting, abusing or bullying. Others use emotional abuse. We put others down to make ourselves feel better or highlight others shortcomings to conceal our own.
When we try to run, distract, react or numb, the pain message gets louder and the impact on others gets stronger. The pain reaction is growing until it breaks. Those moments of breaking point, despair, or rock bottom…. Those are the moments of change. Through the destruction we can rise.
Surely if we could only learn to understand our pain and recognise it as a messenger then we could use it for good. Embrace the emotions to move you forward. Forgive and let go of past pain to move forward and live.
Talking therapies are effective at treating inner pain. Releasing the pain. Whether that is therapy, counselling or coaching, all support us in meeting the pain and learning to let go. Meditating, exercise, walking, being in nature are also great ways to find calmness and listen to your thoughts.
So to break the pain reaction we need to stop doing the things we have always done and start doing things differently.