Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Face Pain to Experience Healing Relief

3 tips to help you manage emotional pain so you can feel better.

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

“Am I running away from something by going on dates every night?”

When my client asked me this question, I commended her for turning inward and considering the motivation for her recent behavior.

I asked her what she would be running from.

Without a moment of hesitation she said, “from having to feel the pain of my marriage ending and my absolute lack of control over the future.”

After sitting with the gravity of what she expressed, I explained that I could understand why she would want to run away.

When feelings become overwhelming our nervous systems enter into the fight/flight/freeze response. Our body wants to preserve energy so we can function in our lives (take kids to school, run a meeting, cook dinner). We need to make sure we have all the energy we need, so running away from pain is a common adaptive flight response.

I recently asked Lissette LaRue, trauma specialist and success coach for executives and entrepreneurs, and the founder of Healing from Within, who specializes in helping people stop running from their pain, why she thought people might run from the pain of divorce.

Lissette reminded me that “even though we desire a more peaceful life the unknown scares us when we begin to consider a possible change. We prefer to be in control and know what we're dealing with versus awakening to the fact that our lives will no longer look the same.”

This fear of the unknown makes people vulnerable to engaging in behaviors that will keep them from feeling emptiness and pain. A large problem arises when we constantly avoid pain through unhealthy behaviors.

Lissette explains that it makes sense that we would want to run from our pain. As she says, “deep wounds become unearthed when we connect to our emotions because our bodies do not categorize them. When we feel them, everything comes up—even those from childhood. For example, when we experience grief, our body unleashes every bit of pain and suffering from the past. Even those that belong to our ancestors. It all comes up, waiting to be expressed and released.”

So, how do we deal with our pain so we don’t run away from it?

In my online program, Afterglow, I provide a clear path for how to process grief and pain. Here I provide three tips that can help. For more details check out my online program.

  1. Notice the pain. Take time to notice the pain in your heart, body, and mind. Allow it to be present for a moment or two. You do not need to allow these feelings to overcome you. The goal is simply to acknowledge its presence.
  2. Ask and give your body/heart what it needs. As you face this pain, ask yourself what you need. Do you need a hug? Do you need to talk to a friend? Do you need to cry? Do you need to be left alone? Asking yourself what you need allows you to take care of your pain rather than push it away.
  3. Remind yourself of other times you have managed pain. It is important to help your mind know that you have managed pain before and moved through it. Write down three times when you thought you would not make it through your distress. Write down the most catastrophic thoughts you have had and what actually happened. Reflecting on how you managed pain before will remind you and your nervous system that you can make it through hard experiences.

Facing your pain is important for healing. In fact, dealing with your pain is essential for your overall health and well-being. As Lissette explains, “if we don't have the resilience or support to go through these intense emotions, we'll run toward something else to avoid the pain (alcohol, work, sleep, food, exercise, smoking, or drugs) instead of having to feel the deep emotions hidden beneath the surface.”

It is a gift to yourself—and to all those you love—to face your pain slowly and carefully so you can be the full of expression of yourself.

More from Elizabeth Cohen Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today