How To Identify Pain (reprint)

We often have no problem identifying physical pain, but when it comes to emotional pain, unless it’s something obvious, we’re often unaware of the fact that we carry around pain in our lives and of the impact that it has on our behavior and the choices we make.

The other day I observed someone “losing it” with their child at a local Toys-R-Us store.

Of course, we all do this from time to time, but it’s important to know when we are crossing the line between appropriate behavior, in this instance expressing anger (as opposed to rage) or helping to correct a child’s behavior, and acting out our own pain on the child by over-reacting with rage or by undermining the child’s self-esteem.

The ways we act out our pain are often the ways our earliest caregivers acted out THEIR pain too (which is how we learned it), so we are simply repeating the pattern, never realizing what we are really doing or that the cycle must stop.

We also act out our pain in our relationships with other adults.

How many times have you snapped at your spouse or other adults in your life, such as co-workers, siblings, neighbors, or friends, and later felt guilty or ashamed about it? That was your pain talking.

We humans carry around an awful lot of subconscious pain around with us every day of our lives and we often act it out with our behaviors and our choices without even realizing it.

Examples of some behaviors which come from our pain:

-drug and alcohol abuse

-spending or gambling

-chronic anger or erratic behavior

-procrastinating or avoiding

-self sabotaging

-ignoring or repressing our feelings

-constantly searching for The Next Big Thing or The Key To Life

-need for constant stimulation or thrill seeking

-novelty seeking

-regularly engaging in risky behaviors or choices

-lack of true intimacy with other people

-inability to hold down a regular job

-narcissism of entitlement or feeling above everyone else

-needing to habitually control things

-sexual addictions

-lack of follow through or self-worth

-idealizing then devaluing people

Examples of where we get our pain from:

-alcoholic or drug addicted parents

-depressed or overly-anxious parent(s)

-absent or neglectful parents

-emotional, physical, or sexual abuse

-emotional role reversal with parents

-too much life responsibility too early on

-witnessing violence

-poor nutrition and other resources

-chaotic, hectic, inconsistent early environment

Every one of us can identify with at least one item from each of these two lists, and for most of us, more than just one. We ALL carry pain EVERY DAY. And we expose our lives and the people in our lives to this pain on a regular basis.

What we need to begin to do is to acknowledge that there is a “whole ‘nother universe” under the surface of our lives, one in which there are leftover feelings from as far back as childhood and the disappointments and betrayals we experienced back then with our primary caregivers…all the way up to present day hurts, whether they be new traumas or the triggering of those earlier, original ones.

We need to have a special place and some special people in our lives with whom and where we can talk about our fears, our anger, our anxieties, our sadness, our despair, our losses, our insecurities, our shame, our guilt, and all the other feelings which most of us carry around without ever really knowing or acknowledging it.

It’s like this: we can either Live our pain and have it affect everything, including the people, places, and things we choose to pursue in our lives OR we can begin to free ourselves by learning to Feel our pain by having and using the resources I just mentioned above to identify and to talk about it.

Try to make it a regular practice to talk and/or write about your pain. Put it into words. If you’re a creative person (or even if you’re not), put it into your art as well.

Your subconscious tries its best to process your pain for you in your dreams at night, but, for most of us, we also need a regular venue in which to learn to identify and to verbally express our pain so that we can be free to live our lives, not our pain.

I wish you all the best in your healing journey,

Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.

(Next time I’ll share with you the dangers of “making generalizations.”)


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