Home | Flourishing in Life | Emotional Fitness | Pain is Pain
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | November 2016 (edited March 2, 2022)
We all feel pain. Whether physical injury or emotional stress, the pain hurts. "It's all in your head" advice serves no purpose when we are hurting.
In the darkest moments, a blinding fog obscures hopeful visions. We can’t see past the pain. The cold winter’s visit coloring the entire world as grey; but our lives, in time, will emerge from the frozen, thawing to the warmth and freshness of spring. Moods aren’t constant; they drift through stages; winters followed by springs, transitioning to summers and settling in autumns. The frigid days of winter lengthen, and the sun shines a bit warmer. New life quietly bursts through the frozen landscape. This constant circle of endings and new beginnings is taught by the seasons. We know summer will arrive; but during the frozen winters, we still are chilled.
Pain is pain; when we experience pain, it dominates consciousness, demanding attention and diverting focus. We naturally respond to the painful cues, signaling that something’s wrong. We are programmed to seek resolve from discomfort. Unseen urgings push for action.
Pain is essential. We instinctively pull our hand out of the fire. Without pain, protective reactions would slow, exposing us to deeper injury. Whether pain is physical or emotional, the hurt demands action to secure relief—something is wrong, and we need to attend to it, NOW!
"There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and have recovered hope."
Intellectually we grasp the purpose of pain; but understanding doesn’t soothe the ache; we still hurt. Conscious awareness of healing processes assists. We can direct mindful investigations, expanding the examination beyond immediate reactions. Pain still hurts even with mindfulness--life is complex. Pain pricks and prods the over-thinking mind, germinating constant thoughts, muddling our peace with unneeded messages. Healing from emotional distress is much more complex than pulling a hand from burning flames.
Pain, whether from stubbing a toe or breaking a heart, hurts. Emotions jump to attention, seeking resolution and comfort. The trigger and resulting pain are often over-simplified. We give simple explanations and burden a single element with the blame.
Any experience is more than the simple events but a host of causes and consequences; the final episode encompasses the happening but also our interpretation of the happening—minor events interpreted as major catastrophes feel like major catastrophes. Thoughts transform occasional missteps, snubs and slights into unforgivable attacks. The over-critical mind creates mountains of meaning from the mole hills of experience, triggering shame, anger and fear; we should never underestimate the power of the mind.
Thought-provoked pain still hurts, and still sounds a biological warning—alarming that something is wrong. But the something may simply be faulty churning of facts, spinning the emotional system into a panic. When we experience hurt, we should investigate facts surrounding the irritation. We may discover that the interference of faulty thinking, poking and pricking our psyche, making a relatively small matter into a festering wound.
A wrong diagnosis of cause prevents healing; we bandage the wrong wound, attacking nontoxic intruders. The clearer the picture, the more effective our response. If the root of the pain is thoughts, we must challenge them while refraining from pointless blaming. But if the pain is from being wronged, we also address this, distancing ourselves for protection.
Without proper focus, we errantly retaliate against the wrong sources, alienating possible support, confusing areas of personal control, and damage futures. Misguided efforts frustrate recovery. We fail to gain wisdom from the hurts; discouraged, we give up, pain intensifies, and psychic defensiveness intervenes. When efforts pull us further from desired destinations, we eventually quit struggling and get swept up in the strong currents of a painful existence of chaos.
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