A healthy response to pain is to recognize its value in signaling us that there is a problem, such as an unhealthy state to address. Due to its distressing nature, we are typically motivated to end the pain and to resolve the underlying cause, so that we will feel good. The desire to end pain and return to a state of well-being is a healthy, adaptive response. Both in the physical and in the emotional sense, the healthy goal of ending pain is to heal and take care of or resolve whatever caused it.
In the emotional sense, pain consists of distressing emotions, such as sadness, depression, anxiety, confusion, anger, hurt, jealousy, insecurity, etc. Sometimes, we focus more on the distress and discomfort of the pain, as opposed to the underlying problematic cause. In such instances, we may be motivated to simply shut down or not feel the pain. Psychologically, we may do this internally via various defense mechanisms, such as avoidance, denial, detachment, externalization and rationalization. For instance, if we are feeling inadequate and anxious in relation to failing at a task, we may avoid undertaking such tasks or any other similar performance demand. External means of shutting down or dulling pain may include drug and / or alcohol abuse, as well as behavioral acting our (i.e. gambling, reckless behaviors, excessive spending, etc.).
Such approaches may work temporarily by sparing us the anxiety or fear of failure. However, the cost or consequence of routinely avoiding performance tasks usually results in feeling stuck, at the very least. Additionally, the overwhelming fear and presumption of failure, along with the realization that we are not accomplishing something we want further reinforces a negative self-perception. This is often manifested by a sense of self-doubt, disappointment in self, and low self-esteem. Thus, the avoidance of pain ultimately fosters a self-fulfilling prophecy and fuels the very pain (deep down) that we wish to circumvent and not feel.
Another way we give power to pain is when we allow the pain associated with past events (i.e. our childhood, negative life events, traumas, failures, etc.) continue to prevent us from moving on in the present and beyond. An example of this is when we feel a sense of guilt or shame because of a past mistake at work and we allow that feeling to tell us that we are not competent. This negative internalization of past experiences and the continued focus on such negative during the present often results in our continually punishing ourselves and mistakenly misjudging or underestimating our abilities.
Stop giving power to past pain. Also, stop holding yourself hostage to the past.
Healthy Ways to Overcome Past Pain:
- Have compassion instead of self-criticism and negative judgment, toward the self, you were experiencing during the past, when you either experienced the painful trauma or mistake.
- Recognize and factor in where you were, emotionally and otherwise, during that time, to better understand decisions made then, that you may currently regret.
- Remind yourself that whatever occurred in the past is over and no longer occurring in the present (if the actual negative situation actually ended)
- Embrace a major difference between the past and now;
- Recognize ways that the past is over and that the present is better
- See how you are now capable of rectifying the problem. For example, you are now an adult and can take care of yourself; not the powerless child from the past
- Acknowledge ways that now, as an adult and as a function of being in significantly improved circumstances, things are good or significantly improved.
- If a painful situation from the past is ongoing, then decide how you desire and deserve to feel and address and resolve the source of the pain. This will enable you to heal, learn and grow beyond pain.
- Learn whatever valuable lessons the painful experiences may have taught you.
- Recognize how you have become stronger or have positively changed in response to getting through the past negative experience.
- Celebrate your triumph over the painful occurrence.