Pain, whether it be physical or emotional, is unavoidable in life. We all try our best to avoid pain, almost at all costs. As a society, we make every effort imaginable to avoid, end, or numb, all pain in life. Yet, the more we try, I feel the more we end up still in pain and not feeling at peace or happy. According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.”
Talking about pain leads to many questions, both practical and philosophical/spiritual. In my life experience, I have found that the two main questions asked about pain are: “Why do I feel pain?” and “Why does a loving God allow pain?” For the purpose of this article, I would like to focus on the former question, why do we feel pain? Maybe if we understood the “why” we would better understand how best to cope with pain.
According to Barbara Finlay “The basic function of pain is the same for all vertebrates: it alerts an animal to potential damage and reduces activity after trauma.” Therefore, pain is necessary. Pain alerts us to a problem so that we stop and cope with whatever has happened. For example, continuing to walk on a broken leg causes more damage to the leg. The pain of the broken leg forces us to stop and deal with the break. The same is true when we are feeling an emotional pain. That pain tells us that we need to stop and deal with the cause of the pain, for if we choose to ignore the cause of the emotional pain, we will continue to live in an unhealthy way, never feeling truly at peace.
So why is it that we spend copious amounts of energy and money to avoid pain? If pain is “good” for us, why do we want to get rid of it? Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, for I am not saying that pain itself is to be desired! Rather, I am saying that pain is a part of our lives, and learning to cope with pain and not numbing or avoiding pain, will lead us to inner peace. In a recent article titled “How To Stop Using Hunger To Numb Your Emotions”, my recent podcast guest Brandilyn Tebo writes: “I fundamentally believed that I was not allowed to have what I really wanted until I proved that I was ’worthy’ enough. So I would rather numb my desires than feel them because not feeling anything was easier than wanting the fulfillment that I couldn’t have.”
I believe that Brandilyn’s desire to not feel is shared by many of us. In not feeling, our lives are seemingly easier. Yet, in not coping with the real reason of our pain, healing doesn’t take place, and one’s peace will not be realized. Not unlike a broken leg; numbing the pain does not heal the leg nor deal with the cause or issue of the pain.
Learning how best to cope with pain is not easy, but is doable and essential if you wish to find true peace, happiness and freedom in life.
- Acknowledge the pain. Avoid the temptation to numb and avoid the pain. Instead, recognise that the pain is telling you something. Reflect on the possible cause of the pain and look at ways you can cope with the cause. Remember, the pain is the symptom of the problem.
- Realize that you are not alone. Understand that what you are experiencing is also experienced by others. There is no pain that only one person in this entire world suffers from. Seek out others who suffer the same pain. Console and aid each other. When we help others, we feel better about ourselves. Seek out support groups, online sites, chat rooms, etc.
- Embrace your true self. Acknowledge that you are not perfect and that there are aspects of yourself in need of improvement. Yet, at the same time, there are aspects of yourself which are good and healthy. No one is perfect; we all have our flaws. Embrace that which you wish to numb, then do the work needed to make changes in your life. “I thought that if I allowed the rejected parts of myself to be expressed, that I would lose myself. What I discovered was that only through facing and eventually embracing these parts of myself did I truly find myself.” (Brandilyn Tebo)
In his book “Mosquitoes in Paradise”, Fr. John Aurelio imagines what would have happened had a mosquito bitten Adam or Eve in paradise. Would the bite have itched? Most likely. Wouldn’t that mean that pain was present even in paradise? Yes. Fr. John relates that the pain caused by the mosquito is not intentional, rather, it is a natural survival method for the insect, while the pain we suffer is a natural response from our body. Yes, pain is a part of our lives, but that pain does not have to wear us down. Embracing and learning from the pain leads us to a healthy and peace filled life.
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