Facing And Overcoming Emotional Pain
Pain is a dirty word these days and seems to be something to be avoided in this world. At the first sign of sniffle, we head to the pharmacy. We take pills to calm down, stay awake and sleep. We medicate our physical aches and pains.
In the same way, we often try to medicate and stuff down our emotional pain. We use substance addiction, food, sex, workaholic behavior and other destructive methods to deny it is there. But there it is all the same.
In our society, we seem to be determined to avoid pain at all costs. Yet, pain is telling us there is something radically wrong that needs to be addressed. The inability to feel pain is a terrible thing.
For example, people afflicted with leprosy lose the ability to feel when their body is hurt. They can step on something sharp and not feel it, or burn their hand on a hot cooking pot without realizing it.
The wounds damage their bodies and can cause some of the terrible deformities associated with this condition.
Some people turn to substance abuse to escape their pain. The A&E TV show “Intervention” shows graphic depictions of people with various addictions. The addicts think that they are participating in a documentary about their substance abuse, not realizing that their families will be confronting their addiction in an intervention.
One of the common threads in many of the stories on "Intervention" is that the addicts are in a state of mental anguish and use substances and exhibit behavior such as gambling, sex or shopping addiction to cope with life's challenges.
When the addicts enter treatment, they not only get help with the detoxification process. The addicts also learn how to cope with hurtful childhood memories and traumas they suffered. They must also learn to how to face the challenges of day to day to day life instead of running from them.
Pain is a warning sign
Pain is like a flashing siren on an ambulance, warning us that something is wrong that needs to be fixed. Sometimes the causes of pain are easy to detect, but at other times, the reasons for the pain lurk as a vague ache that defies explanation. We sometimes have to dig deep to uncover the causes of our pain.
Sometimes we get stuck of the quagmire of pain because we refuse to admit that it exists. We think that if we go into denial, it will go away. But pain is like a yappy, persistent little dog that just won't shut up. You can shut him in a room and pretend for a while that he isn't there. Just when you hope for a little peace, there he is again, barking and nipping at your heels. There He is, ravenously hungry and next to an appalling stain on your white carpet.
When we stuff and ignore our pain, we block ourselves from receiving God's healing. By bringing it out in the open and facing it, we can begin the process of understanding what is causing it and overcoming it. Scripture tells us not to be surprised when hurtful trials come upon us because they help us grow and mature as people (James 1).
There are many different kinds of emotional pain. Some are completely out of our control, such as a job layoff, marriage breakdown, the illness and death of a loved one, or the onset of mental illness. Others may be due to our poor life choices. Others seem to defy explanation with the cause being a complete mystery, like the onset of cancer in children.
Reasons why we are stuck in emotional pain
Unconfessed Sin: separates us from God and causes the heartache of guilt and shame. Guilt can be a real thorn in the flesh. We might be holding onto guilt to keep punishing ourselves for things we have done wrong. It is an constant ache inside of us. Mothers are especially good at flogging themselves when their children make poor choices, such as turning to drugs and alcohol.
Unforgiveness: When we refuse to forgive others, we are unable to release our hurt and anger to God and receive His restoration. When, our pain is inflicted by others, Jesus told us to forgive the perpetrators and pray for them. It is easier to hold on to a grudge, but the destructive feelings will wreak havoc on our emotional health.
Self-hatred and guilt: When our actions hurt others, our first reaction is shame and guitl. We want to punish ourselves for the things we have done that hurts others - such as driving drunk and killing someone. We can begin the process of releasing this pain if we repent, forgive ourselves, and ask God for healing.
A victim mentality: This way of thinking is a barrier to forgiving others and healing. Sometimes we chose to hold on to our pain because we are stuck in thinking of ourselves as victims. We indulge in self pity and try to get sympathy from others. Our hurts keep us imprisoned in a box, afraid to try anything that could inflict more pain on ourselves. We allow our hurts to define who we are, whether it be as a grieving woman or an abused child. Emotional pain can also be self-inflicted when we are easily offended and oversensitive.
Fear: If we have the opportunity to receive God's healing by allowing ourselves to experience the pain, why don't we do it? Fear. Fear that we will be overwhelmed and lose control of our emotions. Fear of being embarrassed by our outpouring of anguish. Fear of hurting for a while. Fear of dealing with the guilt and shame. Yet, the Bible assures us that we will never know a temptation or hurt that we can't bear. God won't allow it (1 Corinthians 10-13). Our pain is only temporary and emotional healing is around the corner.
God's healing tools
Prayer: Once we face and understand the sources of our emotional pain, what do we do about it? First, we need to take our anguish to God in prayer. God does not want us to stay in a state of pain, He wants us to confess it to Him and to someone we trust (James 5:16) and then leave it at the foot of the cross.
Jesus said that he has rest for everyone who is weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). This is a process and not a one-time fix, especially if we have been stuck in our hurts for a long time.
God also gives us tools to help us as we recover, such the Bible and the direction of His Holy Spirit. Friends, support groups and godly counselors are also major contributors to our restoration to emotional health. Only God can restore our chaos to sanity. When we release the situation into God's hands, He sends us comfort and peace.
Pain was never meant to be a permanent state of being. Instead, it is the beginning of a journey that ends in healing. It may be a long journey that takes months of prayer and bible study. Jesus Himself knew times of sorrow and mental anguish. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized to the point of sweating blood.
God wants us to be in good health and prosper. The only way we can do that is to expose our pain so God can begin the process of removing it. Our time in this life is so short.
We can ask ourselves: Do we really want to spend it in pain and misery? Or do we want to be on the road to recovery and emotional healing?