When you experience emotional pain, how do you deal with it? Do you sit with your emotions and allow yourself to feel, process, and release the pain— or do you tend to avoid it? If you do invite pain to rise to the surface, what can you do with it once it’s there?
Painful experiences and traumas leave an imprint on the mind and body. While these experiences can make you stronger and teach you valuable life lessons, suppressed or undealt with emotional pain can negatively affect your health, success, and happiness for months, years, or even a lifetime.
For example, the inner peace and joy that’s available for you to experience in the present moment may often be interrupted by unpleasant memories or feelings of sadness, guilt, anger, shame, or resentment.
When We Don’t Deal With Our Pain, We Suffer More
You may not be consciously aware of the past pains you’re carrying.
Since emotional pain is unpleasant, it can be easier to block out the thoughts and feelings you don’t want to feel— such as the heartache of a breakup, the disappointment of being let go from a job, the anger of being betrayed by a friend, or the grief of losing a loved one.
Although suppressing pain is an emotional regulation strategy, the problem with denying and burying your emotions is that you will continue to carry them with you as you move through life.
Suppressed emotional pain becomes stuck energy in the body that can manifest as physical symptoms such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and other addictive behaviours. (1) Research suggests suppressed emotional pain is also linked to digestive issues and cardiovascular problems. (2)(3)
Past pains and traumas also leave behind emotional wounds. While these wounds can be accompanied by valuable life lessons and be your greatest teachers, they can also become emotional triggers that cause you to repeat past experiences— and have your mind and body relive the trauma each time a “trigger” from a similar situation or experience arises.
Emotional wounds and triggers can prevent you from pursuing opportunities, creating fulfilling relationships, feeling connected to yourself and others, and ultimately, keep you from tapping into your true potential.
Is Therapy Really Necessary for Emotional Pain?
We argue that working with a trusted therapist (either in-person or through Skype or phone sessions) is the first and most important step in healing emotional pain. Why?
Emotional pain can sometimes be too intense to work through alone. Working with a therapist can help you better understand your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, recommend appropriate treatment options, and allow you to work through pain and trauma in a safe environment.
Not only is having a trusted therapist as a part of your support system invaluable, but without the correct processing of emotional pain or trauma, the result can be more harm than good.
You see, expressing emotions and reliving a traumatic event (catharsis of abreaction) without understanding (catharsis of integration) can actually strengthen an emotional response without the healing component. This can actually create more pain and hinder the healing process. This is why we recommend therapy first and foremost for getting to the root of trauma, and allowing it to be released in a healthy, effective way.
Here are a few other strategies for inviting emotional pain to the surface to be healed, and responding to it as it arises.
5 Strategies to Release and Overcome Emotional Pain
1. Awareness and Observation
There’s a quote that says “you have to feel it to heal it” and this is the first and most difficult step.
Emotional pain feels different for everyone. You may experience sensations in various parts of your body such as tightness in your stomach, throat or chest. While this can feel uncomfortable at first, it’s essential to take a moment to sit, breathe, bring your awareness to what’s happening in your body, and gently begin to talk yourself through it.
Strong emotions can trigger the fight or flight response, which can make your entire body tense up. You may feel your heart pounding, a shortness of breath, trembling or shaking, and in severe cases, you may experience a panic attack. (4)
Give yourself permission to feel what comes up. Acknowledge that you are safe, these emotions cannot harm you, and begin to slowly take a few deep breaths.
2. Non Judgement and Self-Compassion
As you begin to talk yourself through what you’re feeling and experiencing, it’s essential to do so with compassion and non-judgement. Judging yourself only causes guilt, shame and more pain.
For example, if tears well up in your eyes, allow them to surface rather than telling yourself that it’s not okay to cry or to toughen up. Crying is not a sign of weakness, rather it takes strength to sit with and feel your pain.
Some people also judge themselves for feeling angry because they consider anger a negative emotion. Or, they believe they shouldn’t be angry with someone they love, such as their mother, father, or friend.
The truth is, we’re meant to experience the entire range of emotions. No emotions are “bad” or “wrong”, they are all the same thing. Emotions are there to act as guides. They help us build relationships, connect with others, let us know if something is working, wrong, or if a boundary or value has been crossed. Emotions help us to understand ourselves better.
“You have so much to be grateful for, why are you sad?” “Stop worrying. There’s nothing to worry about.” “Your fears are irrational.” “You should be happy!” How often have you caught yourself (or perhaps another person) speaking like this?
The truth is, emotions are there for a good reason and fighting against them is an exhausting battle. Instead, know that your emotions are always valid, regardless of what the situation is. When you accept your emotions rather than fight them, you can begin to understand why they’re there and move through them.
4. Meditation and Deep Breathing
Meditation is one of the most effective tools for releasing suppressed emotional pain and quieting mental chatter. It also helps bring awareness to the parts of your body where you hold onto and experience emotional pain. Taking deep breaths as you meditate immediately calms the nervous system, helps lower the fight or flight response, and restores inner peace. (5)
Having a regular meditation practice also teaches you to become the observer of your emotions rather than becoming them, which helps you feel less reactive when stressful situations arise.
How to Meditate: You can meditate anytime, anywhere. All you need to do is get into a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and begin to take slow, deep breaths.
Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. With each exhale, release stress and tension. It’s okay if your mind is racing with thoughts. Simply allow them to be there.
If you have trouble sitting still, you can do a walking meditation in nature by walking slowly, paying attention to every step and breath. Guided meditations are also an excellent choice, which are free and plentiful on YouTube.
5. Self Expression
Expressing your emotions in a healthy, constructive way sets you free.
Journaling, turning on a sad song to cry to, painting, drawing (or any form of art therapy), dancing, and yoga can all help you understand, process, and release your pain.
Self expression doesn’t always have to be pretty, either. Some days it may feel best to channel your pain creatively or artistically, but other days a kickboxing class may be the only thing that does the trick.
The important thing is that your emotions are being acknowledged, felt, and expressed in a healthy way, rather than being numbed or denied.
In addition to these five strategies, we believe forgiving others and self-forgiveness are essential components of healing and releasing emotional pain. Grudges are like toxins within our emotions, and “detoxifying” allows your body to truly begin to heal and return to balance. Here’s to deepen your healing through forgiveness.