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.
Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance technique centered on accepting what is happening in your life, rather than resisting what you cannot or choose not to change.
People often get stuck thinking "this isn't fair" and "it shouldn't be this way." And let me just say, I agree . . . it isn't fair and it shouldn't be this way. But it is. Refusing to accept that you were fired, cheated on, rejected from your dream school, or lost a loved one doesn’t change the situation, it only adds to the pain you experience.
Fighting reality is exhausting and it exacerbates our pain.
When you refuse to accept what has happened, you cannot begin the healing process. Lack of acceptance means you stay ruminating in the negative thoughts and emotions that are sparked by a distressing event. This is when people often start to adopt harmful coping behaviors like drinking, eating too much or two little, overworking, etc.
So how do you practice radical acceptance? It takes practice and centers around validating your own emotions and choosing your self talk moving forward.
Radical acceptance requires changing resistant thoughts into accepting thoughts, such as: “I’m in this situation. I acknowledge I'm feeling hurt/sad/anxious/angry. I don’t approve of this. I don’t think it’s ok, but it is what it is, and I can’t change that it happened. Moving forward, I'm going to focus on ____.”
Here is a step by step guide to practicing radical acceptance:
1. Focus on your breath.
2. Notice thoughts you're having.
3. Let those thoughts pass.Visualize them floating away like clouds in the sky.
4. Give yourself an accepting statement, such as “It is what it is.”
5. Repeat this self talk, paired with deep breathing, until you feel yourself feeling more calm and regulated.
Still Struggling? Reach Out For Help . . .
Life gives us a lot of challenges. Often, it is too difficult to objectively evaluate these situations on our own. It is easy to become too consumed by our thoughts and the pain we are feeling to employ the tips listed above. This is when the help of a professional counselor can be helpful.
Interested in starting therapy or learning more? Contact HerTime Therapy, LLC today!