A client told me about a situation recently in which her boyfriend became less available to her for a week or so, and then the following week he was back to his usual level of accessibility. She confessed that she spent the week he was occupied miserable and desperate. She sent him texts and called him, devastated that he seemed to be going away.
“I’m going to push him away,” she told me.
We discussed what happened, how she went down a rabbit hole of fear, based on pain she carries with her, pain about abandonment, and pain that has nothing to do with her boyfriend. What my client did that week was romance her pain. She caressed and held her pain while her pain did the equivalent of saying, see? No one loves us. Everyone leaves us. I knew he’d leave us too. She fed it. She bought it drink after drink. She nodded along and wiped its tears. And she held back its hair while it got sick.
She romanced her pain.
So many of us do it.
For many, it’s old habit. It’s the path of least resistance. And it’s also a great way to avoid responsibility. If you romance your pain rather than simply feel it, own it, and allow it to move through you, then you are allowing it to be much more powerful than it need be.
Listen, you’re entitled to your pain. I said this to my client too. You’re entitled to how painful that old sense of abandonment feels. But it wasn’t her boyfriend’s pain. He hadn’t caused it. He didn’t have to carry it for her. He didn’t even need to acknowledge it. Someday, maybe, if they decided to make a more long-term commitment, if they got to know one another more intimately, she might teach him about her pain, she might say, “When you don’t call me for two days, my old pain creeps up. It would help me if you could just check in, or if I text you, you could say, ‘I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.’” That would be a nice thing for him to do. It would be loving, the sort of thing people who love each other do for one another because they don’t want them to hurt, and when they know that the other person is not going to make them responsible for their pain.
I have written before about how easy it is to be in love with our pain. There’s something about it, isn’t there? It’s so comforting, so familiar. It affirms our belief systems, even when they are skewed and self-harming. I like to think of my pain sometimes as a figure, a dark passenger, to use Dexter’s phrase. Sometimes, I want to make love to it. It is so needy, so desperate, and also so powerful. It is like every bad boy I’ve ever loved. But, I don’t let myself do that for long anymore.
It’s important to think about your relationship to your pain. Do you enable it? Do you wrestle with it? Each moment that brings it to the surface demands a different relationship, but most often, the best thing to do is to treat it like a small child that needs love. Sometimes, I imagine holding it, almost like that tired cliché of the inner child. But it helps. And then it quiets down and I can tuck it into bed and it leaves me be for awhile. I don’t avoid it anymore, like I did when I was younger and using men to feel better about myself. I also don’t hand it over to my husband, telling him he has to stop doing what he’s doing to make it feel better.
It’s my pain. You have yours too. We all must learn to be with it. We don’t have to love it, although sometimes we love it a little too much. But we do have to learn to carry it.