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The TAO of emotional pain

The TAO of emotional pain

How do we deal with emotional pain? When it appears in our system we systematically fear it and allow this fear to lead us away from it. But is that the right answer? Are we sure that emotional pain is an enemy, and that it goes against our happiness?

All our emotional problems: depression, anxiety, relationship issues, psychological disorders and addiction are just different expressions of emotional pain. They are like the leaves of a tree and the emotional pain is the common root.

Where does emotional pain come from?

During childhood, and in our teenage years, we might have experiences that cause us emotional pain: abandonment, lack of love, rejection, abuse, trauma, isolation, manipulation etc.

Our basic needs were not fully satisfied, not satisfied at all, ignored or attacked. The intensity of emotional pain depends on age, psychological condition and the gravity of what happened.

When emotional pain occurs during these primary stages of life, we apply the pattern: "NO → avoidance". We say "NO" to the emotional pain, because we are too fragile to deal with it, and we avoid it to keep it away from our conscious mind.

If very young, we even begin to see the pain as a form of attention and love from those who care for us. The truth at that time is intolerable for our system.

What happens later on…

Growing old, we continue to repeat the same pattern "NO → Avoidance", developing it in different ways according to our life experience. We start to believe more and more that these strategies are "positive" while the emotional pain is "negative". We build a wall around pain made mainly from fear, anger and shame.

These protective strategies come at a great cost to us. The more we avoid situations that can reveal our hidden emotional pain, the more our freedom is limited. Over time, our protective strategies will stop working, or transform themselves into an additional source of pain:

"I always had to keep myself busy doing something, but now it is not working anymore, I feel bad even if I do something." Maria, Italy, 32

"I continue to seek the company of others, I cannot be alone anymore because then I'm feeling bad, I'm scared and I'm going crazy with anxiety!" Michael, UK, 39

Symptoms and psychological disorders are signs that our emotional pain is waking up, and asking to be reintegrated.

New awareness

In short, we have to realise that:

 The fact that our protective strategies have stopped working is positive even though sometimes scary.

 Our feared pain, labeled as negative, is in reality a call for a positive change.

 How, when and how long it takes to integrate our emotional pain is determined by our inner rhythm and life situation.

This is basically the time in which we are strong and mature enough to take care of our inner child and start to live in a new, free and emotionally richer way.

"What do I do with this pain?"

At this point my clients usually say: "Ok, but now what do I do with this pain?" In the past, when the pain was showing up, the tendency was to react with the pattern "No → Avoidance". Now, however, it's up to us make change to a new pattern: "Yes → Let it be".

They usually look at me with wide eyes full of dismay! I invite them to simply say YES to the emotional pain, to welcome it with love and let it be without doing anything about it, to simply feel that "it is ok". When we can have such precious moments we feel much lighter. It is like caressing the head of a scared and suffering child.

Basically, if we simply let it be and do not interfere with the flow, it goes away. In this deep acceptance, a more authentic identity arises.

"I will be entangled!"

Many clients tell me: "If I start to say yes to it, then I will be entangled in it and won’t be able to come out of it anymore!" This happens when we identify too much with the pain and become dependent on it. In this way, we apply just the "let it be" but not the "let it go". This comes from the heritage of judging ourselves in a negative way, because we didn’t receive enough positive support or we felt unsafe at an earlier stage in life.

We are so scared to surrender to emotional pain, that we fence a part of it off, isolating ourselves in that part and establishing our new identity there! It's like someone who is scared to swim in the river and decides to build a small pool by isolating a portion of water. The water becomes stagnant, no longer belonging to the river but becoming "his" or "her" water.

"I don’t want pain, I want happiness!"

We have been accustomed for centuries to think that opposites are two incompatible things: if there is A, there is no B; A is the negation of B and vice versa. In reality it is not like that. Many clients tell me: "I don’t want pain, I want happiness." A deep and authentic happiness is not the negation of emotional pain, on the contrary; it is what comes out of a deep feeling of acceptance.

The TAO of emotional pain

The truth about opposites is well represented by the symbol of TAO ("way", "path", "route"): the image consists of a circle divided into two teardrop-shaped halves - one white and the other black. Within each half is contained a smaller circle of the opposite colour. The two parts are connected and they complete each other.

Let's say that in our case the black space is the emotional pain, and the white space is happiness. The emotional pain has in itself a drop of happiness, and happiness has in itself a drop of emotional pain. They need each other in order to be; one without the other would be incomplete. Saying yes to pain means saying yes to happiness: we rise up and become the TAO in itself.

Walking the Way

Learning to stay in this subtle space of acceptance, not avoiding nor repressing pain, might take time. The great obstacle is that we are scared of being vulnerable, like we were as the child that got hurt. The main difference is that now we are no longer completely dependent on others. If the adult in us holds hands with the inner child, we can face any situation and there is no more space for so much fear.

Establishing ourselves in a vulnerable position is bliss, because as we get used to this state, we start to perceive its beauty and its power. This state is much deeper and more real than the one coming out of our protective walls. We become more authentic, open and free to express ourselves and experience life.

"By letting it go it all gets done.
The world is won by those who let it go.
But when you try and try.
The world is beyond the winning."
Lao Tzu

Somesh Valentino

Author

Somesh Valentino Curti

I am a certified therapist who helps expats facing difficulties in everyday life abroad. I graduated from the University of Torino as a Clinical and Community Psychologist in 2005. For...

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