What To Do When Emotional Pain Feels Unbearable

Pain is a nonnegotiable part of life. No matter how blessed or privileged we are, at some point the rollercoaster of life will take a downturn. However, experiencing pain does not mean we need to suffer.

If you are in a low point, where the emotional pain feels unbearable, know that you have options to acknowledge and address pain without undue suffering.


If You Can Identify the Source of Your Pain, Address the Source


If you have a problem that you can solve, then solve it. Look for solutions and take action. But what happens when the source of our pain is something that we have little to no control over?


There are many things we do not have control over in life that cause us emotional pain. The death of a loved one, job loss, a breakup . . . these are things that happen to us randomly and without warning. What's worse, is that we cannot do anything to change what happened after the fact.


What we can do in these situations is identify and focus on what we do have control over. You cannot bring someone you loved back from death, but you can plan a funeral and memorialize their life. You cannot convince a boss not to fire you once it is done, but you can ask for feedback and start applying to new positions.


Recognizing you are in pain and identifying what you can do to channel that pain is one method to stop suffering, which happens when we sit in the pain without taking action to help ourselves.


If You Can't Solve the Problem, Change Your Perspective


You've identified the source of your pain and you've taken what action you can. Maybe that action is so limited the only thing you have control over is how you think and respond to it.



When an activating event causes us emotional pain, we often have an initial set of beliefs and thoughts about that event. Those beliefs then trigger an emotional consequence-sadness, hopelessness, anger. To reduce suffering, go back and evaluate your initial thoughts sparked by the initiating event and challenge them.


For example, let's say you go into work one morning and are fired before 9am. The negative thoughts start pouring into your mind . . . "This is so unfair. I'll never be able to find another job. I'm worthless if I can't provide for my family." These thoughts leave you feeling depressed, afraid, and hopeless.


At that moment, you have a choice.


Continue to sit in these feelings and fret for the rest of the day or week, ie. suffer. Or, you can 1. acknowledge your pain and emotions as valid 2. challenge your initial thoughts and beliefs 3. replace the initial thoughts with more productive ones.


Let's look at the thought "I'll never be able to find another job." What substantial evidence do you have that this is true? Is there any evidence contrary to the thought? After all, you've found another job every time you've been fired or quit a job in the past. Will it be hard and inconvenient to find a new job? Yes. Is it impossible? No.


How about "I'm worthless if I can't provide for my family." Is this thought really true? What else do you provide do your family? Replace the original thought with one that is more factual and less emotionally damaging: "My family relies on my income, but I provide much more than that, like love and emotional support. This is an opportunity for me to model for my kids how to handle a setback."


Repeat this thought challenging work with each unhelpful thought or belief that is coming up in response to the negative event. Need help? Try this thought challenging guide. Or, better yet, talk to a therapist!


If You Cant Solve The Problem or Change Your Perception, Practice Radical Acceptance


If all the advice above fails, you still have one more choice. That is to practice radical acceptance. Now, let me be clear . . . accepting something does not mean that you are ok with it.