Healing the Pain Within
Relate differently to your past and transform your life.
Posted Apr 09, 2018
If you carry pain from difficult and even traumatic experiences, there are many ways in which it can affect you. You might have a terrible sense something is wrong inside; fight to suppress or forget the memories; act in self-destructive ways, such as drinking, overeating, or isolating yourself; or feel hopeless or angry with yourself and the world. And the list goes on. While healing is not easy, it can happen.
Observe Your Experience
Start by facing what cannot be denied. Allow yourself to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and inner experiences. There’s no need to dig into what is going on… just let yourself be open to what comes to you.
Choose one aspect of your experience and “watch” it as though you were an outside observer. Maintain your focus on it, redirecting yourself back to it when you are distracted. You might notice the sensations in your body, a particular emotion that you feel intensely, or a thought that seems particularly important. As you pay attention to it, you might notice that it changes, getting more or less intense or morphing into something else. For instance, anger might change from annoyance to rage or the other way; or it may give way to hurt or sadness.
If you would like to learn more about how to increase your self-awareness through observation, read: Want to Better Yourself? Start Here. You might also find it helpful to watch the video, How to Weather Life’s Emotional Times.
View Your Experience with Acceptance and Compassion
While watching your experience from the outside, try to relate to it so that you can have empathy for what you are going through. This will likely elicit self-compassion, a wish for your emotional difficulties to be eased. It’s a perspective that often brings with it a sense of understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness. (To learn more about compassion, watch this video.)
In addressing specific painful memories from the past, it can often help to imagine comforting that younger self. For example, when Sandy thought back on how her mother was so often rageful toward her when she was a child, she could see that her younger self-tried to prevent that from happening by being “extra good.” Now, from a caring adult perspective, she can see that her younger self did not deserve her mother’s harsh treatment and that she really needed love and compassion. While she could not really go back in time and change anything, she could comfort that younger self.
The Importance of Taking a Break
While it takes courage to forge ahead in facing your pains and fears, you want to do so wisely. Rather than pushing through with no regard for those experiences, pay attention to them. When you feel like it’s not just difficult, but too much, then it’s time to pause. Some signs that you would benefit from pausing are feeling overwhelmed by emotions and have difficulty thinking. As you challenge yourself to address your inner pain, it is better to err on the side of pausing too soon (when you could possibly take on more) than on the side of waiting too long — risking overwhelming yourself. The important thing is to make efforts at increasing self-awareness at a tolerable pace, not push yourself as far as you can go at any one time.
How to calm yourself
There are many ways to soothe yourself. You can learn mindful breathing, such as simply focusing on your inhale and exhale. You can distract yourself with positive activity or seek the support or company of others. Also, you can exercise to relieve stress and allow your body to then relax.
Bringing it All Together
Simply put, to heal pain from the past, you must first acknowledge it. Get to know it. Then hold it with acceptance and compassion. As you develop this compassionate self-awareness, you will also increase your tolerance for it. Along the way, you must learn to recognize when you are approaching your threshold for what you can tolerate and learn to calm yourself at those times. But by continuing to return to your struggles from the perspective of compassionate self-awareness, you will gain greater insights. Your way of relating to yourself and your pain won’t change the past, but it will transform your experience, releasing you to move forward more positively in your life.
If you would like to learn more about this topic, check out this brief video:
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships Message Board.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation, and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Making change through compassionate awareness