What is Emotional Pain?
Emotional pain is what we feel when we experience negative emotions. Although it is not the same as physical pain, it can be just as intense and even more debilitating. Emotional pain can show up in the form of depression, anger, hate, guilt, shame, loneliness and fear.
We identify our emotions as feelings. We also express our emotions through our feelings. Our feelings begin as thoughts. We have an experience and then we decide what the experience means. In her book, Mind Over Medicine, Dr. Lissa Rankin explains how our perception or what we think about something determines which type of chemicals are released by the brain.
So, while our feelings begin as thoughts, they take on a physical form when they are converted into chemicals. Each emotion we experience, both good and bad, is triggered by a unique chemical. These chemicals are more commonly known as hormones. Hormones play a crucial role in triggering and managing emotions.
Have you ever felt like you have no control over your emotions? This sense of having no control is not unusual. Over time, the brain links certain experiences to certain emotions. If we practice this pattern of thinking and feeling enough, it becomes a habit. Much of our emotional reactions occur because of our “habit of thought”. Which is why sometimes, we are overcome with emotions before we realize it.
What Our Emotions Tell Us
Many clients have come to me in deep emotional pain. Their emotions have become so powerful that it impacts their ability to function. They struggle to make decisions, they lose all motivation, or their emotions negatively impact their relationships.
They want the pain to go away. They don’t want to feel anxious, or afraid, or guilty anymore. Essentially, they want to stop feeling. Maybe you can relate. I know I can. There are moments when you just want to stop feeling because it weighs you down; like the world is caving in on you.
But our emotions serve a purpose. They are meant to be experienced because they are very important messages. In general, emotions help us to identify which experiences bring us pleasure, and which experiences cause us pain. More specifically, our emotions guide us to and through experiences. They are nature’s navigation system: our own internal GPS.
Ways to Cope with Emotional Pain
The problem is that we don’t always understand how to manage this system. Instead of managing our emotions, we often let them control and dictate our behavior. We let our thoughts/experience trigger our emotions when we should be using our emotions to create thoughts and experiences.
Have you ever had something wonderful happen and then it seemed like other good experiences just seemed to come your way? Or that feeling of falling in love where everything just seemed so perfect and magical. You may not have realized it, but your good emotions were causing you to have other good experiences.
Say you got a compliment that made you happy. That feeling of being happy can influence how your day goes at work. It will alter your thoughts, perception, and behavior because you are still producing your happy chemical.
So, why is it difficult to sustain these good emotions? It’s simple. We’re creatures of habit. We often revert to our habitual way of thinking. If we have an experience that habitually triggers our anger (say, someone eats your lunch from the workplace break-room) we go right the feeling without any effort to control it. The anger response is on auto pilot.
Coping with our emotional pain requires us to practice self-awareness. There are simple mental activities you can do daily to become a better manager of your emotions.
- Recognize the ways in which you try to avoid your pain. Avoidance doesn’t make the pain go away. Unresolved pain will manifest in other ways such as health problems.
- Recognize the ways you may be trying to numb your pain. A dependence on food, alcohol, drugs, sleeping aids, sex, gambling; these are common ways people attempt to numb their pain.
- Begin your day with a daily reminder that emotions are only information. They exist to direct you. They were never meant to control or consume you. Remind yourself that you are more powerful than your emotions.
- Become an observer of your patterns. Which experiences seem to always be linked with negative emotions? Which experiences make you feel joy or excitement or peace?
- Tap into your memory and find experiences that made you feel good. When your old negative patterns of feelings start to creep up, quickly call up the feel-good emotions by recalling fond memories.
- Find healthy ways to express you pain. Emotional pain needs to be expressed. The only way to reduce its power and influence on you is through expression. Talk with someone, write about it, cry it out of your system, exercise it out through your body. Emotional pain is physical energy so find a physical release.
Rankin, Lissa. Mind Over Medicine: Scientific proof you can heal yourself. Hay House 2013