How Do I Understand, Embrace, and Deal with Painful Feelings Instead of Shutting Down?

Pain, Change and Growth like a flower in the wilderness

By: David Lechnyr, LCSW

In our efforts to escape pain, loss, and suffering, we often miss the very happiness that we are searching for in life. When painful feelings get pushed to the side, we find ourselves falling apart, our relationships suffer, and often we just simply “shut down” in an attempt to avoid feeling, experiencing, and changing. Paradoxically, our attempts to “not feel” robs us of our own growth, which requires us to be vulnerable in the present moment.

Irritability, anger, tension, outbursts of temper are common during times of stress and problems. Sometimes we end up dealing with things by getting divorced, falling deeper into depression, or we simply run away hoping to escape our pain and suffering. All of this is known as they myth of control. In reality, there is only one approach to suffering that has any permanent benefits that is critical to making any lasting changes.

Life as a Journey

We all enter life searching for how we fit into this world that we have been born into. We reach out like we are in a small boat that is setting out on a journey into the new and unknown. The more we experience this journey, the greater our wisdom. This provides us with many more ideas and inspirations.

However, as we become more involved in our life’s journey, we start to encounter the universal experience of fear. Though we might become anxious when facing fear, it’s important to realize that this is a part of being alive in the world.  It is a universal feeling that we all have when facing the new and unknown.

The experience of fear provides a deeper understanding of feeling vulnerable in the present moment and situation. However, what is important is that we need to know fear. We need to become familiar with it and to face it directly. The goal is not to solve problems, but to use our feeling and experiences as a way of undoing our bad habits from the past.

In other words, there is only one way of finding happiness in life. It is through facing suffering and moving toward the painful situations to with curiosity. We have this mistaken belief that we need to “run from fear.” No one tells us that the solution is to move closer to it so we can become familiar with it. When we don’t face fear, we experience panic, anxiety, and become upset at even the slightest hint of fear.

What is required is that the next time we are faced with fear and pain, we have to consider ourselves lucky. It takes courage and an understanding that even brave people experience fear. The key is to keep exploring the feelings and not run away from them even when you encounter something which may not have been what you had thought or what you had wanted.

When Things Fall Apart

When we face pain, suffering, loss, grief, or other crises in life, we experience it as having nothing to grab hold of at a time when the pain is so deep. However, when things are falling apart, we should realize that we might be close to a new understanding and way of living. We have choices to either shut down or to reach out to touch that new experience and understanding.

Difficult times are a “kind of testing” and a “kind of healing” all put together into one. The goal is not to solve things. The goal is to encounter the change that is happening. This requires “feeling things fall apart, change, come together again, and then fall apart again.”

To do this we have to all for “room for feelings” such a grief, loss, suffering, and joy. Most importantly it is critical that we allow “room for not knowing or having all the answers.” Suffering is something that all human beings have to know and experience. We need to realize that things are always in transition in life whether or not we even realize it. We rarely every find things ending up like we had dreamed or hoped that they would be in life.

The Teachings Of The Moment

Our feelings offer us moments that can teach us about what we are holding back in life. These feelings teach us to face the fear, lean into the fear, and to let go of our desire to collapse and back away from what it is that we need to face and grow from.

Humans rarely see change, or new situations, as opportunities for teaching. We actually hate change and want to resist it or run like crazy. When we face fear, we have to see that it is “telling us” that we are entering “unknown territory” and the course of our journey in life is now changing. There is always more to learn in life if we give ourselves a chance to experience the moment of fear.

The job is to not try to rid ourselves of the thoughts, but rather to open ourselves to their true nature and meaning for us as we are on this “new journey.” The trick is to move toward allowing gentleness and letting go in our lives. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become in our lives.

Much of the pain that we experience in life are the ones that we give ourselves. This is because we “buy into disapproval from others and then continue to practice it on ourselves.” We are not trying to be perfect, to make pain go away, or even becoming a better person. We come to realize that whatever we experience is neither a beginning or an ending. We come to understand that our emotions have the power to run us in circles and away from facing ourselves.

This is when people tend to run from marriages, get upset and angry, and blame others so as to “avoid feelings” and to “get the upset out of ourselves.” It is a time when we want to “do something” to avoid the pain of the stress and problems of the moment. This is especially an issue when we have been having problems over an extended period of time (“one thing after another”) and it seems overwhelming and never ending. This is really when we try to “control something” and to “run from our problems.”

Embracing Change and Growth

Change requires understanding that obstacles are not our enemies. Problems and sufferings are our friends. Problems, suffering, and obstacles are the way life shows us where we are stuck at in life.

We are all “addicted” to avoiding pain and suffering. We reach for anything that will block it out. However, nothing really goes away until it has taught us what it is that we need to know.

What we have to know is that the essence of life is that it is challenging and “ever changing”, requiring more of us as we grow to face the unknown. We have to understand that to be alive and fully human, we are constantly being challenged, thrown out of the nest, and forced to face those feelings that we have tried so hard to avoid by our constant busyness.

In our efforts to “be perfect”, we keep seeing our imperfections. We need to accept ourselves with these imperfections and learn to slow down so that we can experience ourselves in the moment. Wisdom can only be found in our own experience. What helps is learning to be kind to ourselves while learning to respect ourselves the way we are at this point in life without needing to do anything through acceptance.

We become free when we regard our thoughts and emotions with humor and openness to others. We fear openness to others because it triggers old messages of confusion which, in the past, we did not feel brave enough to deal with. When we begin to just try to accept ourselves, with all the various emotions that people normally experience in life, we can let go our attempts to be busy to block our fears and insecurities.

There is no certainty in life. Everything is always in flux, always changing, and always challenging us to grow, face, change and find new ways of being in the moment. The mistaken belief is that you had to be perfect and responsible for others happiness. In reality, none of us are perfect. It is critical that we accept ourselves as we are: Flawed human beings who are trying to the best we can to “experience this journey of life” that is so full of numerous emotions and feelings.

Photo credit: Pixabay/LarsBorris