Sometimes friends or family who know me as someone with great emotional self-control ask for advice on how to get through trying times. For me, there are 3 key elements to dealing with loss, heartache, or pain. If I am good at dealing with such things, it is only because I have been through enough that I have grown wiser and more durable along the way. Here is what I know about hurt and what helps me through the worst of times:
1. Remember it is supposed to hurt. Of course, no one likes emotional pain, like the end of a long relationship or the loss of a loved one, and we want the pain to be over as quickly as possible so we can move on. The trouble is we forget we are supposed to feel pain when we are hurt. If you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, it burns your skin. After you take your hand away, the pain does not immediately disappear. It throbs for minutes, days, or sometimes weeks.
Pain is your body’s way of alerting you something is wrong.
The depth of the pain we feel is usually commensurate to the time it will take to heal. If it hurts deep, it is going to take a long time to repair. It is too bad but it is also okay. It is the way we are intended to work. Rather than trying to ignore the pain (which is like trying to ignore a crying baby), listen to it. You do not have to agree with it; you do not have to accept it as an absolute; you definitely do not have to accept it as a permanent state. That is the beauty of emotional pain–it is 100% repairable. It might feel like losing a limb but it is not the same. Emotions heal. Emotional pain is your body and spirit crying out for care and attention because something has gone awry.
2. Treat the wound. What happens to a cut left unattended? It becomes infected and the increases the damage. Emotional pain is no different. If left untreated, it will grow worse and leave scars (and scars are okay, by the way–they are only reminders of hard-won victories you survived to tell about). When you are going through a heartbreak or emotionally challenging time, do what is necessary to care for your Self.
It is so important to treat yourself well when you are feeling down. Pamper yourself. Go for long walks and get a little exercise. If you like movies, go to a movie–treat yourself to a date with you. Reacquaint yourself with what you like about being you. Write. Draw. Take-up yoga. Go to a cafe and enjoy a latte if that is what you need. Take a relaxing bath. Be among people if it makes you feel better.
Hint: if you like attention when you are sick with the flu, then you probably want attention when you are sick with a heartache; it will make you feel better to be in public. On the other hand, if you normally like to lock yourself away, sleep, and be left alone when you have the flu, then you will probably benefit from living a quieter life and staying in but still taking care of yourself over a heartache. Either way is fine; do what works for you. Remember you are healing and do things that affirm your body and spirit; this is like dressing your wounds and changing the bandages as necessary.
Healing takes time. While you are taking time to heal, take advantage of the process to learn new things about yourself and explore new parts of your personality. Healing has to happen no matter what, but the hurting and repairing of damage does not have to suck.
3. Hurt, but only to the point you choose. I say it is important to hurt and acknowledge that pain requires healing, but you do not have to give everything over to the pain. When I have a headache, I often forget about it if I become lost in work or in a good story, until someone or something reminds me I have a headache and I feel it again. I can choose to suffer with the headache the whole time or I can choose to be in control and live normally with or without a headache.
Inevitably, because my entire attention is not focused on the pain, the pain slips into the background. It does not disappear (it is not supposed to) but it does not have to take center stage. Sometimes I even set aside time to feel the pain–for 10 minutes at home alone after dinner, for example. I use the time to really explore the pain, go into it and feel it all, but once I find that point where I know it is going to turn to despair or rage, I stop. I mentally choose to be in control, breathe, and turn my attention back to healing or something else. I might do this a few times during the healing process. It is good to know how deeply I am hurt so I can recognize the warning signs of big pain in the future and hopefully avoid repeating mistakes.
There is no way to avoid pain or emotional risk, but I have learned that I am in the driver’s seat of my life and my life goes how I decide it goes. There are many ways to deal with trying times (learning from your mistakes, seeking help from friends or therapy, practicing not being attached to outcomes, etc.) but the three principles I listed are the primary tools I use to pull through rough spots.
I hope they help you. Feel free to leave other suggestions or ask about specific situations in the comments or on Facebook.
The only pain we can not heal is death. Everything else is survivable.