It’s about midnight, and I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about pain. Today a person I know poured out her pain to me, and it was raw and real and I could feel it, see it. In that moment I felt like she invited me into it, and I accepted, and it hurt.
I feel the pain of my clients often. I don’t say that as a type of martyr – I knew full well what I was getting myself into by becoming a therapist. In some ways, I welcome it – it’s an intense form of intimacy, a sober invitation to truly see the other person. Clients share things with me that they don’t share with their friends or family; chief among what they share is their pain. Sometimes they don’t even know the depths of it until they begin to let it out. Then they and I stand firm while the flood pours out, then together sift through what it has brought forth to find what among the wreckage is valuable and worth saving. It is a draining and sometimes grueling process, and I treasure it, even as I share in the hurt.
But one thing is common for us all – we seek to stop pain. Really, who wants to feel it? We are inventive, creative people, and as I see it, we come up with more and more inventive and creative ways to stop, block, bury, stifle, deny, or just plain ignore our pain. I’ve done it too. We see pain as a something that is wrong, and righting it must mean stopping it. Right?
Maybe not. Think about it – pain is what is given to us to show us that something else is wrong; pain itself is just the messenger. However, we can become so focused on the pain itself that we forget or miss the message it brings. Sometimes we even wallow in the pain just so we don’t have to face what it’s trying to tell us, and deal with the consequences. Often, pain seeks to break us so we can grow in a new, better direction; think of a doctor re-breaking a bone that has healed improperly. It hurts in the now, but it would actually hurt more in the long run if the re-breaking was not done.
I’ve seen documentaries on people who have rare conditions in which they don’t feel physical pain. At first glance, these people seem lucky! But a closer look reveals that theirs is a horror-filled existence. You see, when you can’t feel pain, you actually are in danger of being hurt all the time. Since your pain messenger is silenced, there is no one to warn you when you are in grave danger, and you walk right off the proverbial cliff. The people on these programs were scarred and even maimed as a result of not being able to feel the pain the rest of us seek so urgently to silence. Ironically, they would welcome pain so they could avoid hurt.
Maybe if we regarded pain more as an arrow, blinking and pointing in the direction we need to go, we wouldn’t fear it or try to avoid it as much. From what I’ve seen, pain tells us things we would otherwise have no way of knowing – or believing. If my feelings are hurt by something my loved one says or does and I feel pain, that’s my heart’s way of telling me something is wrong and needs to be addressed. If I try to shut out my pain, it will eventually silence itself (sort of). What I see is that it actually goes dormant, waiting until a time when it can be too loud to be ignored. That’s real pain, and I for one don’t want to go there. Sometimes it’s inevitable, but I think other times we can prevent this “big” pain by paying closer attention – and taking more seriously – our lesser pains along the way.
So what is your pain trying to tell you? Have you been listening, or trying to shut it out – or up? Are you more afraid of feeling the pain, or dealing with the message your pain is trying to share?