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Feel Your Pain, Don’t Push It Away

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Feel Your Pain, Don’t Push It Away

Let’s face it…nobody likes to feel pain. By definition, pain is extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable to suffer through. It is also a normal and natural part of life. Teenagers are experiencing a lot of different types of pain at this stage in their lives, sometimes for the very first time. Whether it’s a first heartbreak or a rejection letter from your dream college, there are likely to be a lot of disappointments. Every single person will experience pain in their life, both physical and emotional, at some point. Fortunately, humans have the ability to feel a wide range of emotions, and we are designed to seek pleasure. The hope is, of course, to feel much more pleasure in one’s life than pain.

In our efforts to seek pleasure, we often push away pain, trying to ignore that which we must feel in order to work through and resolve. We push pain away in order to protect ourselves. Sometimes, it is shame that makes us avoid our own pain. Other times, it is just fear. We might have fear that we won’t be able to handle our own emotions, fear of getting stuck in our pain and not being able to move past it, and even fear of needing to change.

People go to great efforts the push the pain away. Sometimes, we simply deny and ignore the pain altogether. For example, if you’re in pain because your boyfriend hooked up with someone at a party, rather than acknowledging and feeling the pain, you just pretend the problem doesn’t exist at all. You might even tell yourself that, since you weren’t there to see if it really happened, maybe it didn’t. At least this way, you don’t have to feel the pain or decide whether to end the relationship or not. You know how messed up and hurtful the situation really is, but you just pretend that it isn’t. You put on a happy face and a strong facade, and eventually forget about it.

The problem is that the pain still exists, even if you try to ignore it and push it away. But rather than allowing yourself to feel and express the pain, it gets stuffed down and tucked away. Think of it like a storage drawer or file cabinet. If you just shove this pain into that file cabinet and lock it away in there, it is out of sight and out of mind. Eventually, though, the cabinet gets too full, and stuff starts popping out when you try to shut it. This is when people have blow-ups or major fits of rage, sometimes even violence. Other problems that come from stuffing your pain away can include substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, lack of trust and difficulty in friendships and relationships.

It is important to remember that your feelings encompass a wide range, and sometimes they feel really good and sometimes they feel really bad. But just because something feels bad doesn’t mean that allowing yourself to feel it is actually bad. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is good to allow yourself to feel your feelings. All feelings should be treated equally, and avoiding negative feelings is never healthy. Experiencing your feelings and working through them is really the only path to healing. Any other choice will simply cause you more pain in the long run.

Regardless of your hesitance or fear of your own feelings, you can learn to handle difficult feelings and still be okay. With some knowledge, skills and support, anyone can learn to identify, feel, express, and work through difficult feelings in a safe and appropriate way. Sometimes, people need help from a counselor or therapist to work through difficult feelings. But there are some things you can try on your own:

  1. Pay attention to your body and what you feel physically at any given moment. Sometimes, feelings manifest themselves physically, and you can learn to identify your feelings by listening to your body.
  2. Allow yourself to laugh and to cry, depending on how you’re feeling. It’s okay.
  3. Use “I” statements to express your feelings to others. “I am feeling very sad right now” or “I am getting very angry” are perfectly acceptable things to say.
  4. Rather than yelling, raging or isolating, replace those faulty coping skills with some new ones. You can listen to music, get physical activity, take a bath, watch something funny, call a friend or family member, or talk to a therapist. Feelings are not bad. Behaviors can be.
  5. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes it takes a while to work through difficult feelings. That is ok.

The only path to resolution and healthy living is through experiencing your feelings. The alternative is a life full of lies and pain. If you always push your feelings away, you will likely be a person who is always seeking something outside of yourself to try to make you feel happy. You will never succeed in finding that, because the answer truly lies within yourself. It might not always be easy, but you can do this!

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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