Pain is universal, it’s inevitable, it can be all encompassing and nobody is dodging it across the lifespan. As humans ‘being’, we will do our utmost to avoid this pain, whether acute emotional trauma, ongoing and enduring or raw trauma.
Emotional pain as described in this article is just one type of affect, or experience of feeling, other types being mood, temperament and sensation which would include physical pain. However, emotional pain has the capacity to effect the other described affects here, even if we don’t necessarily understand it this way whilst going through it. It can amplify physical pain, cause mood to be unstable or incredibly low and even change a persons temperament.
Positive psychology as a therapeutic model
Now positive psychology when used within a therapeutic model is usually hailed as the modality that offers a positive spin as a pseudo anaesthetic to pain, yet conversely the opposite is true. Pain exists in dark places, and ironically what we need to be doing is sitting with our pain. When we give voice to pain, we are helping to raise it to a level whereby we can deal with it. Positive Psychology 2.0 delves into this, diving deeper than its original form ever did. It’s geared towards exploring the shadows where we find trauma and pain in a way that offers longer term answers.
Rather than pain being something we should shy from, it is something that we should be sitting with. Whether it’s ones own personal pain, or sitting with someone else so that they feel open enough to look at it, exploring it is the way forward.
Bear witness to other’s pain
To bear witness to someone else’s pain is a great gift, and yet we are incredibly poor at doing this. Instead we often offer stock phrases aimed at trying to help the person steer away from the pain and focus the attention somewhere else. “Time will heal this”, “at least you still have… (insert as appropriate), and many other phrases are used to offer at least something.
Bolger who is a theorist on this subject suggests that there is a core category for pain, The Broken Self, this then breaks down to four properties: Woundedness, Disconnection, Loss of Self, and Awareness of Self. It’s not all bad news though here as she explains that as one moves through their pain in stages, there emerges the ‘transformed self’. This she explains as happening after one has moved from ‘the covered self’ which is a protective mechanism used to avoid pain by steering away from it.
A positive attitude to pain
A positive attitude when faced with pain is pretty much the use of the covered self as a means to avoid. So aiming for the transformed self. As a result of processing pain seems a logical cathartic step to healing.
What can be done when faced with pain which seems so hard to bear that avoidance seems the only way of coping? A trusted friend or therapist who is there to bear witness, listen and help you to explore and uncover is essentially the best way to navigate, process and begin to manage emotional pain. Moving through stages, much like some theorists have for many years described with grief seems to be an intuitive solution. Feeling heard, feeling safe to explore and feeling understood is part of the process to move to a place to accept pain.
This is not to say that pain can be removed in this way. But if one has to endure it, then to sit with it as an acknowledged process to move through until it becomes something that you can visit rather than live with seems a productive solution.
The more we explore emotional pain in its raw state, the more we find that we can bear it. Which is essentially what anyone enduring this needs in order to live a meaningful life.
I end this article with a quote from Parker Palmer, ‘The human soul doesn’t want to be advised, or fixed or saved, it simply wants to be witnessed, exactly as it is.’
About the author: To find out more about Caralyn Cox MAPP, please click here.