Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lighten Your Burden: Understanding and Dealing with Emotional Pain

Emotional Pain

Applying an ice pack on the back of your neck or just popping a pill can help you alleviate your headache, but emotional pain is not so easy to alleviate. As with other aspects of life, each person deals with it differently. Some people are able to endure blows in life for which others turn themselves to addiction or even take their own lives.

Of course it has a lot to do with the kind of experiences each person has gone through. People are more prone to psychological pain when they have been traumatized during childhood, have been under high levels of stress, or have recently suffered a loss.

Some say that emotional pain can be even more intense, more... painful... than physical pain. Recent studies reveal that the part of the brain that processes physical pain also deals with emotional pain. This means that just as we take steps to alleviate physical pain, we need to take action against that deep sadness that can ruin our lives. Like physical pain, emotional pain can become chronic and cause other health problems.

Brain Lobes
One of the many things the parietal lobe integrates is major sensory inputs such as pain receptors.
(Courtesy of e-Science)

Psychological pain is one of the most common pains. We live surrounded by people and, therefore, we are vulnerable to rejection, abuse, hurt with words, humiliation, betrayal, etc. On the other hand, we also live with loved ones and if for some reason something bad happens or worse, we lose them, the emotional pain can become unbearable. The funny thing is that if we decide not to have contact with anybody (as it may happen during a depressive episode), then solitude can also cause psychological pain. Other factors and traumas linked to it include (but are not limited to) childhood abuse or trauma, sport injuries or falls, surgery, a car accident, a personal disappointment (guilt, failure, loss of work, divorce), and terminal illnesses or disabilities (whether it's personal or a loved one's).

Depending on the severity, treatment can range from home remedies to the need of professional help. If you are having thoughts of suicide or intentions to hurt someone please seek professional help right away; give yourself a chance, you deserve it.

There are ways to help you cope with emotional pain. The first step is to recognize that it is there. Many times people say that happiness is a decision that is made and period, but it's not always like this. Even people who decide to be happy may not be happy. Psychological pain is as real as the physical and, therefore, needs treatment. If we have an inner suffering we can not simply decide to be happy. That would simply be pretending and deceiving ourselves (and maybe make you feel worse).

Once you know that you have internal pain, now you must identify it. If you like to write you can answer the questions that I've left here, in a paper. If you don't like writing, you can use a recorder and record your answers. Make up your own questions too. It is important to do this to put the pain into perspective. In my experience, some problems are bigger in the mind than when put on paper. I often use questions like:

  • Do you always feel that way or are there certain events that trigger this emotion?
  • What happened to you today that caused you this episode of psychological pain?
  • What are the events in your life that you can not forget and keep you from being happy?
  • What are the possible roots of your emotional pain?
  • What resentments do you have with nature, God, life, your parents, etc.?
  • What are the factors at your fingertips that would help you feel better?
  • For which people or things you have in your life are you grateful?

Crying is a way for the body to vent. To suppress crying is to deny the organism this way of escape and it isn't healthy. When you have been repressing your feelings for a long time and the emotional pain has become chronic, it can be difficult to cry. If that's the case the previous questions might help trigger crying; if so, do it. You will feel much better after you have cried!

Talk to someone you trust or with a therapist. One of the reasons why therapy makes people feel better is because people generally cry while talking about their problems. This relief is a kind of internal cleansing. Tears eliminate toxins that cause stress. Therapy also helps you maintain a focus on a healthy self-image and the positive aspects of your life.

Emotional Pain
Credit: The Good Human. (Click for article)

Many people find comfort in their religious or spiritual beliefs. This is something very personal to each other and it is not the intention of this post to criticize or defend any particular beliefs. Some people find solace in the church, others prefer meditation and yoga.

There are self-help books and religious leaders who sincerely want to help people, but you have to be careful because today there are many people out there who take advantage of the faith and the need of people for their own benefit. Sometimes people with emotional pain and discouragement become vulnerable to scammers who offer them full happiness and prosperity. These scammers range from online course sellers to cult spiritual leaders and even popular religions who appear to be honest but are not.

Courses and literature that make you great promises that are too good to be true, most likely just that and are a scam. Same with "religious leaders" who ask for money, total humiliation and blind obedience in exchange for [insert deity name here] to heal your pain. If the person to whom you are entrusting your problems begins to make you feel uncomfortable and to asks too much of you, it's better to get away and find someone else.

Let's not forget:

  • Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins which are powerful chemicals that give us energy and lift our mood.
  • Take a sun bath early in the morning. Sunlight helps improves mood and stimulates vitamin D production. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to depression.
  • Rest well. For good mental and emotional health, getting enough sleep is important. The average adult needs from 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily.
  • Put your pain into perspective. Aside from writing, you may find and put focus on activities that allow room for creativity. I find repurposing and flipping furniture, for example, to be very rewarding; I appreciate both the changes and the process, and it gives me a chance to value what I do. Find your niche and channel your pain - it can be cathartic. 

Psychological pain sometimes causes people to act recklessly. Don't make major or split decisions while you are going through a time of emotional pain; try to meditate and let a few days pass before you decide what you are going to do. 

They say that time heals everything, but the truth is that, just like when we get a cut, emotional pain leaves a scar; so after deep emotional pain, there are sequels, flashbacks and rumination. The pain of losing a loved one, having suffered child abuse or other trauma may never be erased, but with the time comes forbearance. Forbearance doesn't heal the pain, but it helps lighten your burden.
Thanks for reading.

Suggested Read: 7 Practical Strategies to Overcome Emotional Pain by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

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Borderline Personality Disorder
Personal Health Definition
Substance Abuse and Addiction

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