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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dealing with emotional pain

Dealing with emotional pain has to be one of the most challenging things that human beings have to deal with during their lifetime. As Ian Thorpe once famously said when talking of the pain associated with swimming at a world championship level; “physical pain is nothing compared to emotional pain” – the pain that makes your heart ache and life no longer seem living. Whether it is a relationship breakup, a family loss, betrayal or extreme disappointment, at some point in our lives we all have to deal with it, and like everything, we can choose to do it well, or become victim to it.

The feeling of discomfort associated with intense emotional pain will often see us try and avoid the pain – drown it out with alcohol, sex, food, medication and people, which may give some temporary relief but ultimately means that we are actively avoiding the pain, and avoidance inevitably comes back to bite us. Although much more difficult, sitting with the pain, seeking some deeper understanding of the scenario and working towards making peace with the situation a crucial component of the healing process. Sure, we can do small things to make ourselves feel better; get a massage, cry with friends, listen to our favourite songs and wallow for a while but actually accepting that a degree of pain is a part of being human is a key component of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

In this model, rather than direct energy towards fighting an emotion such as hurt or pain or even behavioural changes such as eating less, ACT would encourage individuals to sit with the pain and look for the good that can come from working through it. Easier said than done admittedly, but knowing that growth generally does come from pain as well as the development of new personal resources to deal with pain better in the future does help somewhat. In addition to some good wine, good friends and some serious tears for a day or two to get it all out 