Addressing Emotional Pain #1

”Tears expand you, they don’t diminish you.” ~ Michael Ondaatje
“We are expanded by tears, not reduced by them.” ~ anon

I’ve learned many important things about pain, physical and emotional, in my various treatment sessions over the last year and a half.  I will share more of them here and in later postings.

If you experience pain, have you heard things like:  “It’s all in your head.”; “It’s psychological.”; “You have a low tolerance for pain.”; “You’re not handling pain very well.”; “Pull yourself together and quit complaining.”; “Tough it out.”; “Quit crying.”;  etc.

If so, how did that make you feel?  Did you feel like it was an attempt to minimize what you are experiencing, or that the person didn’t care about how you were feeling?  In my opinion, those and similar statements would hinder communication and trust at a time when support and encouragement are needed.  Did you feel like you were weak and that you needed to be a “stronger” person?  Read the quote at the top of this post again.

I’ve read some blogs by people battling a variety of health issues: chronic pain, invisible illnesses, undiagnosed issues, incurable illnesses, and much more.  I’ve read about how lonely, isolated and frustrated they feel from having limitations, or how they wish they could explain their illness and feelings in a way others can understand.  Some talk about how certain friends or family have stopped calling, emailing or visiting because their illness has gone on for a while, and how they desire support.  The list of experiences goes on, and the lack of understanding or insensitivity adds to their existing pain.

Pain is Pain

Regardless of where the pain originated (health, relationship, job, etc.), pain is pain, whether it’s physical or emotional.  Everyone is different, therefore, everyone experiences pain differently.  We can’t judge another person’s experience with or tolerance for pain because we are not in their shoes.  We don’t have their exact emotional or physical makeup, or experiences, and we cannot  answer for how they are feeling or doing.  It’s pain, and it’s very uncomfortable.

Emotions need an outlet

In my last post, I wrote about physical pain and that a useful technique is to distract from the pain.  However, emotional pain is different in that it needs to be processed and represented.  We process emotions by being aware of them, being present with them, and letting them happen using tools and exercises.  Emotions need an outlet (such as anger, fear, sadness, etc., etc.) – the energy from emotions needs to be released from the body, instead of getting trapped and harming the body at a later time.

You can google the internet for various lists of emotions, so I won’t go into them.  But, how do emotions occur?  Emotions are usually one of the following:

  • Result of the “immediate environment”
  • A fleeting memory
  • An archaic feeling, as if the feelings are on autopilot (“I feel like a kid again”), or from a strong conditioned response (warm cookie smells transporting you back to when you were a kid and Mom made cookies)

There is always a trigger with emotions.

Holding painful emotions inside us perpetuates in the body, accumulates, and harms the body later with muscle tension, pain, illness, etc., and the emotion remains there.  The body puts up a guard and creates an armor, a protective mechanism in the form of tight muscles, to protect itself from harm.  This is similar to the outer shell of a crab which protects the delicate tissues inside.  People need to work on softening the shell and healing those delicate, tender areas.  If we repeatedly trap our emotions, the tension builds and our shell, or body armor, can be more difficult to soften.

Letting an emotion happen is difficult because some people are taught that it’s not ok to have certain emotions or express them, and that emotions need to be ignored or suppressed.  That’s old school, but letting your emotions out is a difficult learning process if you have been taught differently.  Also, many people lead very busy lives, so emotions tend to get glanced over, lacking the time to be with those emotions.  In some cases it may not be appropriate or convenient to let out emotions when they are happening.  It’s ok to postpone addressing an emotion as long as you come back to it.  We also have to be careful who is around when we let out emotions.  Unfortunately, some people may see the vulnerability as a way to hurt you.

Remember, emotions are going to happen and they need to happen.  It’s a natural occurrence.

“A covered wound without changing the dressing doesn’t heal.”
“The mind heals over time like a wound heals.  It needs nurturing.”
“What you DO over time is what makes the difference.  Status quo doesn’t heal.
                                                                            ~ B.E.

“Crying is a cleansing process.  It makes you feel better afterwards.”  ~ P.J.H.

Next time, I will talk about the tools I have learned to address and process emotions.

Related article(s):


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mcolmo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:00:56

    Emotional pain is hard to deal with, it may lead to high levels of frustration too.


  2. ferguds
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:46:10

    Excellent post. Your teaching me lot.


  3. Chronic Pain Journal
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:01:23

    I completely agree with what you have said. I think that the depression, anxiety, stress and isolation that come with Chronic Pain affect the hormones and that continues the cycle of pain.
    That aspect of Pain is sadly discarded and ignored, which in turn creates more problems.
    Thank you for your article.


  4. Heather Whitley Gibson
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 11:11:24

    Great post! I have a new page because of personal reasons. Please feel free to follow me again at my new url I’m hoping to see you on my list soon. Thanks!


  5. zendictive
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 11:23:14

    I remember being in the ER and whining in pain… my mother tells me to use meditation and martial arts to over come the pain (she clearly doesn’t understand martial arts ) but I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and did contro; my tears and the way I expressed myself… but it never really took away the pain, just the way I was BEING… (~_~)


  6. granbee
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:35:19

    Ichi, you are truly blessed for so openly and unselfishly sharing these emotional issues with us. The ways in which you have found to cleanse yourself of these types of pains,to put them positive use, have been most helpful. Thank you.


  7. eof737
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 00:26:25

    Emotional pain is so hard to deal with because there are no visible wounds to treat. Pain is a big subject and I can relate because I live with pain and even wrote a recent post on exercise and pain… Many people don’t like to talk about it because of how others might react. Great post!


  8. Trackback: Musings: On Exercise & Pain… | Mirth and Motivation
  9. barefoot_med_student
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 02:57:50

    My mother is in the process of being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, something I have suspected for years but her doctors “did not believe in fibromyalgia”. She has experienced so much pain – physical from her condition and emotional from doctors who shunned her – and I am just so glad that we have finally found a doctor that believes in treating a patient holistically. I love the quote!


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