Empowerment in Pain

Emotional pain is universal, but each person’s experience is utterly unique. A pang of anxiety, the dull throb of loneliness, the sting of disappointment or heartbreak—these are things we all feel, but respond to differently.  Some lash out, others hide away. I tend to minimize my feelings in an attempt to “not be a burden.” To be human is to feel, and feel deeply; however, pain tells us we are alone in our hurt and powerless against it. Rather than let it drive us apart, we have to choose to find strength and unity in pain.

Acknowledge the validity of what you are feeling.

Often when we are anxious, disappointed, or sad, the easiest response is to downplay the feeling or push it away. I have a tendency to pull the ol’ “somewhere in the world they don’t have food to eat” argument. And while it is good to have perspective, just because someone else’s pain is more visible doesn’t mean yours is invalid. Some of the truest words I have heard about pain were written by John Green. “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” I also find it refuses to go away until you allow yourself to truly feel it. The best way to have power in the midst of pain is to recognize it. Write down what your pain is and how it makes you feel. Say it out loud so you can hear it. This isn’t an opportunity for wallowing; rather it is a chance to be brave and conscientious. See your pain for what it is—a completely valid and powerful feeling—as well as what it isn’t—something that defines you or an intrinsic part of who you are.

Tell yourself the truth about your pain: it is not permanent.

Whenever I experience a moment of bliss—an unexpected gift, a smile from a stranger, the view from the top of a hard-climbed mountain—I find that the last thing on my mind is the concern of how long it will last. Happiness invites us to enjoy and be in the moment. But when I experience pain, it comes with an excruciating fear that says “You will always feel this way. This is what life is now.” It makes me feel like no one else will understand and that I will never heal. Pain’s power is in the lies it tells. Both physical and emotional pain can serve as a warning, alerting us to dangers so that we can change our surroundings or our circumstances. But when change doesn’t appear to be an option, pain can become panic-inducing—we fear we will never escape it. This is the lie we have to recognize and counter with the truth. The truth is that panic attacks end, heartbreaks heal, and disappointment fades. Your pain is not who you are, and it isn’t a permanent reality—you will not feel like this forever. When you are emotionally hurting, surround yourself with this truth even when you don’t believe it. Take your thoughts and fears captive and cling to this: you are going to be okay someday, even if that day isn’t today.

Do not allow your pain to isolate you.

When we leave our pain unchecked, it convinces us that no one knows the depths of our struggles and we miss out on the blessings we might encounter in the midst of the hardship. I recently met another young woman with struggles similar to mine: anxiety and thought-trains which tend to spiral downwards and out of control. We talked for hours, telling our stories, sharing our experiences, and encouraging each other in what we have learned. We were able to look at each other and say, “I understand,” and mean it, which is such an intimate thing. I experienced a strange feeling, one I can best describe as bittersweet redemption. The frustration I had been wading through for a year certainly didn’t vanish at once, but it didn’t feel so bleak and hopeless anymore. I wasn’t glad I had been experiencing anxiety, but I was grateful I had met this person and been able to relate to her on an unusually personal level. Our relationship is special because it has made the pain less toxic. Fear can isolate us into thinking we are on our own. Don’t give into those thoughts. There are people out there who can relate to how you are feeling, who have either gone through disappointment, fear, and frustration themselves, or are going through it currently. Finding those people requires you to be open about your experience, but the payoff is well worth it—practicing wise vulnerability not only allows us to heal, it provides an opportunity for others to heal as well.

Any season of emotional hurt, disappointment, or frustration is also a season of growth and openness. You have power—acknowledge your pain, be truthful about it with yourself, and be willing to share your experience with others. The result isn’t always immediate relief, but it is a step. Recognizing your power even while you are hurting is often half of the battle. Healing follows, as does growth and resiliency, and those are all things worth fighting for.

Kimmie is a resident of Los Angeles. Her robust understanding and knowledge of television made it impossible for her to select her favorite show. She knows what podcast you should be listening to and has yet to meet a frog she didn’t like.