In my last post, I wrote that pain can be a red flag, informing us when something is wrong in our life and then motivating us to be proactive around the cause of the pain. However, most of us want to avoid pain. In the process of that avoidance, we cut ourselves off from one of our greatest life gifts: healing and the intimacy that can follow.
Many years ago, when Larry and I lived in Portland, I had a friend who was struggling in her marriage. I sat on the phone with her for hours over the space of a few weeks as she tearfully spilled out all of her unhappiness. Through the course of conversation, I told her it might be a good idea if she invested in both the issues behind this pain she was feeling and her marriage. I suggested marital therapy.
Her answer was quick and sharp. “We can’t afford that,” she said before changing the subject. She wanted to tell me about the 3,000.00 cruise she just booked.
I found her choice of investment interesting. She was willing to pay to be entertained on a Carnival Cruise, but she wasn’t willing to work through the devastating unhappiness she and her husband were experiencing. She hoped to literally cruise away from her pain and its messages, and she was willing to pay big bucks to do it. To take this one step further, she bought into the idea of romance, when what she was really looking for was intimacy. The pain in her life was trying to show her the way to the heart of intimacy, but because it didn’t look like romance, she turned away and invested in the cruise instead.
I’m not against cruises. Heck, I wish I could afford one! I’m not against romance, either. Romance is a wonderful. But when we’re unwilling to invest in our emotional pain and trade that work for recreation, our port of call will be nothing more than a carnival of distraction. In the end, that’s not very romantic.
Unhealed pain can lurk in the shadows of our lives for years beyond those distractions, sabotaging our most precious experiences, which more often than not involve our relationships. Even our most intimate and meaningful relationships can’t withstand the onslaught of unresolved pain for long without some consequence. And that consequence is often a loss of intimacy between us and those we love. It takes more than a cruise to sail through that unhappiness.
The brave work of investing in our emotional pain and any unhappiness we’re experiencing is a bit scary, and trying to decide how to go about that investment can be daunting. Here are some thoughts around investing in our emotional pain.
1.) There are thousands of self-help books written to address practically every painful issue facing us today. I’ve read several of these books (in fact, I’m reading one now) and a couple have actually changed my life. But choose wisely. For every problem we face, there are theories and methods of how to help, and many of them are helpful, but not all. Do some research. If you were booking a cruise, wouldn’t you check around to find the best one for you?
2.) Be careful when choosing to self-diagnose and then self-help. Often, we don’t know ourselves as well as we think. We can get ourselves into trouble when, for instance, we think we’re co-dependent, but we’ve really got something else going on. This can lead to ports of call that aren’t on any map, causing us to be lost at sea while we think we know exactly where we’re headed.
3.) If you’re dealing with pain or unhappiness, and you’re not sure why, or you know why and it feels really big, reach out to a therapist, group work, or some other kind of objective and professional intervention. But be careful when choosing a therapist or group. Don’t be afraid to shop around, and if after a couple of visits, the situation doesn’t feel right, then keep looking. Just like self-help books, there are lots of avenues a therapist can use to help a client work through pain. Some are more helpful than others.
4.) If you choose therapy, help your therapist help you. A good therapist is not there for validation or to make you feel good about yourself. A good therapist will help you work through your difficult and painful experiences. That means you won’t be leaving his/ her office feeling good after every visit. You may feel downright crummy sometimes. That’s okay. I’m suspicious of people who tell me they leave their therapist’s office feeling good after every visit. This stuff is hard work, and that difficulty should be reflected in your therapy. In other words, be honest and be willing to feel bad about everything from the poor choices you’ve made to the losses you’ve sustained or whatever it is that’s causing you to hurt. Get to the heart of the hurt, even if it’s a childhood hurt that may seem silly to your grownup self. That way, you won’t need your therapist’s validation. You’ll be able to cultivate a sense of self-worth which leads to self-validation, all of which aids in self-intimacy. That can help pave the way to intimacy with others.
5.) If you have chosen to see a therapist and you’ve found one who works for you, be willing to make a serious commitment. Therapy can be a novel experience for about the first six weeks. Then, things get tough. That’s when most folks drop out. So, if you can, try to commit to at least six months worth of work.
Our pain can take us through some emotionally difficult waters. That can be scary. But when we’re willing to spend the time and maybe even the money to sail those stormy seas, our destinations will be greater than any romantic Carnival Cruise could offer. Our oceans won’t always be smooth, but we will have tapped into the teacher of experience to manage those waters, and our reward can be an intimate healing for ourselves and those we love.