The messy kind of pain that transforms us is awful to bear. But, it opens passageways and doors (and windows) to other perspectives, which is why it can also be the most beautiful thing we, as living, evolving humans, ever experience.
The wisdom we gain from our pain is worth it.
Pain is our teacher.
Pain isn’t romantic. We do not pine for nor do we become nostalgic about our past pain.
No sir, we don’t want it back.
They try to make pain rather beautiful in movies, no? Close-ups of faces, human emotions, tears. We think it’s beautiful because it’s relatable, but it’s not that. It’s not fleeting. Real pain does not move from scene to scene. The time in between feeling pain and achieving acceptance (or coming out clean on the other side) can take seasons and lessons, not minutes or seconds.
Healing can take years of tears and switching gears.
If our pain is our teacher, it’s about learning. But, mostly? Mostly, pain is about unlearning. Dismantling old habits, doing things differently, and creating new opportunities for growth. Growth is extraordinary because it makes our painful challenges worth it.
Emotional pain is a process. It’s a heavy, moving thing. It’s like towing a whole house behind a car, balanced on two little wheels. It’s slow. It weighs us down until we finally release it (or deal with it). And when we do, it can be the most beautiful feeling in the world.
Our pain comes from six places:
1. Loneliness. Social awkwardness, mental illness, and disconnection.
2. Rejection. Not belonging, internal struggle, and what lingers from childhood wounds or trauma. Our inability to sustain relationships or the lopsided feelings we may feel for others in our circle.
3. Failure. Lost love, lack of performance, motivation, success, or creativity.
4. Giving up. Releasing what we can not change or letting go of fantasy.
5. Endings. Sorrow that comes with the loss of someone dear and fully understanding the fragility of life and how much we take for granted. The regrets that come along for the ride.
6. Empathy. Watching others suffer and feeling powerless to help them.
When faced with pain from these six places, how do we process and sort it all out before it overwhelms us?
1. When it comes to loneliness, we can incorporate tools. We can find smaller ways to connect with others to feel less lonely. Socializing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. If we are introverts, we can still gravitate toward our tribe in ways that feel less awkward. Finding others who enjoy the same passions (cycling, bird watching, hiking) often leads to human connection and quality relationships without force.
2. When we feel rejected, we must remember to allow time to work its magic. Healing this type of wound takes a while. Seeing a therapist for unresolved issues is a process, but doing a “sure thing” like being with the people who love us, accomplishing one small task well, self-care (not sabotage—no pints of ice cream here) will build our confidence again. Understanding why we rejected others (or are rejected by others) and making changes to rectify our issues releases this source of pain.
3. Some of us avoid pain by avoiding failure at all costs. We don’t want to fail, ever, so we hang on to what’s unattainable and simply make things worse. Determination is a great thing. “Never give up” is a wonderful rule to live by. But, if we are exhausted or depleted from spinning our wheels on long bridges to nowhere, we may need recognize when it’s time to say when. We must allow ourselves time to “feel it” and work through it. Failure is part of life, but it can be placed squarely in the past if we keep moving forward or vow to try a new approach.
4. Finding new ways to fill our buckets. When we finally realize we can’t change that thing we keep trying to change, it’s time to explore what we can control—what we do with our time, who we hang out with, what makes us truly happy, and how to keep “getting more” of exactly that. When we let go of the fantasy, a new reality will thrive.
5. Memories. Our memories and the smiles they bring help us navigate our grief. Really remembering the stories of those who helped to shape us as people, and their essence, is what keeps them alive in our hearts. Life is just a series of memories anyway and the ones we choose to keep in our mental files are the ones that always come back to heal our spirit. Resilience comes from processing good stuff from good people, even when they are no longer with us.
6. There is no remedy for this. We have our shoulders and our backs. Sometimes we have our bank accounts too. We must do what we can to help others, but their journey is theirs alone. We can’t climb another person’s hill. Offering emotional support lessens the pain of others, and it’s truly why we are here. It’s indeed what the human experience is all about. Our ability to feel empathy is us at our best.
In the moment, emotional pain and how we endure (or process) it, creates something beautiful. Our scars add up to produce our story. Healing hurts, there’s no denying it, but growth and change from enduring it, processing it, and learning from it is what makes us wise old owls.
Wisdom comes when we see and do things differently.