Everybody Hurts: Finding Comfort for Our Pain
Updated: May 17, 2020
We all struggle with experiences and thoughts that cause pain.
We might feel we haven’t measured up.
We might feel unimportant to people we’ve cared about deeply.
We might long for a love that passed away.
We might know we have only one more day.
We might wonder if we can truly belong.
We might believe we look all wrong.
We might feel lost, adrift without meaning.
We might feel broken, tired of leaning.
We might fear trust will never work.
We might feel darkness will constantly lurk.
We might worry about food for tomorrow.
We might see a loved one consumed by deep sorrow.
Whatever the source, most of us struggle at times to know how to respond to our experience of pain, or the pain of others in ways that are meaningful and help us through to the other side.
Pain is a strange thing.
There seems to be a natural inclination to avoid pain vs. lean into it.
This, of course, is helpful when we think of the classic example of touching a hot stove. We lift our hand from the source of the pain, and with that intervention alone, or the application of cold water, voila! We’re on the other side.
But what do we do when the source of pain is more complex- when it is not a clear-cut experience of knowing where the pain is coming from or how to remove it? Understanding and moving through experiences that challenge our emotional well-being often requires a different kind of response.
Avoiding or Spinning Out vs. Leaning Into, Listening and Responding to Pain
What are we ‘supposed to do’ when we experience emotional pain?
Do we reach out to others? They say talking helps, but is that always true?
Should we sleep on it and assume it will be better in the morning?
Perhaps we just need a healthy distraction?
Maybe it’s not as painful as we think, and we’ll be fine if we just have a drink?
We've all had times of confusion about our emotional pain, and responses to it that prove to be less than helpful, or even harmful.
As a general rule, I believe we all respond to pain out of a positive intention of trying to help ourselves or others feel better (even if our methods don’t quite work). We do what we have been taught through instruction or example, or what we randomly discovered relieves the pain (even if temporarily). If our methods are not working, we often naturally begin trying to seek alternative ways of helping ourselves feel better.
A Couple of Common Responses to Pain
Patterns of either avoiding our pain, or getting stuck spinning in it are quite common. Although these patterns may reflect unique aspects of our own stories and experiences, a core and common belief that often underlies these responses is the idea that the primary goal is to get rid of the pain.
So, how is that a problem? Why would we want to do anything other than get rid of the pain?
In a short bit, we will talk through the difference between trying to ‘get rid of’ vs. understand and bring comfort to our experience of pain. Let’s start with looking at ‘getting rid of the pain.’
Getting Rid of Pain
The goal of ‘getting rid of pain’ is often surrounded by some sense that it should not be there in the first place. This idea, of course, does not make room for our many complex human experiences. In the context of the belief that pain should not be there in the first place, we can begin feeling like we are doing something wrong if we are experiencing pain. Given that most of us want to do well, we then try to re-position ourselves to pain- to get rid of it, to blame someone else for it, or to quickly find a way to fix it.
Let’s consider common methods we use to distract, avoid, or numb ourselves from the pain.
*Getting lost in a hobby
*Spiritual or personal growth pursuits
*These activities (along with a host of others) often fit into a picture of our ‘Personal Balance Map’ when used as a part of a whole self-care program. They become problematic, however, when we hyper-focus on one or two to escape or avoid pain in our lives, and confuse this method as a solution.
What is spinning out?
I use the term ‘spinning out,’ because many who get lost in this pattern experience it as consuming, confusing and somewhat dizzying.
What I mean by the term ‘spinning out’ is that we become hyper-focused on the pain. We may have thought loops about who did what to cause us the pain, theorizing about a host of potential factors that contribute to the pain, wondering what is wrong with us for feeling the pain, considering a variety of possible solutions for fixing ourselves or the situation that caused the pain. We might playfully refer to any one of these patterns as ‘analysis paralysis.’ Our analysis is often attempting to determine how we could have or should have or still can escape the pain, rather than considering what the part of us that is in pain might need.
Regardless of which strategy we try to use to ‘get rid of the pain,’ we are bound to reach a dead end.
We cannot move beyond pain without first accepting it.
The Answers are in the Pain-
It is counter-intuitive to many of us, but it is often helpful to begin with noting and accepting the pain that we experience, rather than trying to change it.
When we understand our pain as a natural part of the human condition believing it will show up in certain forms as a part of daily life, and in other forms as more pronounced challenges specific to a given season in our human journey, it makes it easier for us sit with the pain long enough to listen and respond vs. react to it.
In the context of this understanding, we might be more apt to ‘hold space’ for our self or others, by just listening, or extending some comfort and care. It’s not uncommon to find that we do not need the pain to go away in order to feel better. Sometimes, as in the case of grieving, we might find that we can live better with the pain through accepting its presence vs. trying to push it away or expect ourselves to ‘get over it.’
Don’t believe me?
Consider how upset we get when we share about a source of pain with a trusted person, and they respond by telling us that we shouldn’t feel the way we do, that it is not logical, or begin offering a host of ways that we could fix the problem from which the pain stems.
They might even go beyond this point, suggesting that our experiencing pain at all is a reflection of a character flaw. They may pile on by telling us we are ‘too sensitive,’ ‘dramatic,’ ‘irrational,’ or ‘we take things the wrong way.’
All of these responses, whether they come from inside our own mind, or between us and another person, tend to compound the original pain.
Often, what we really want is someone to listen, to understand, and to help us know that we are not alone with our pain. According to Brene Brown, “the two most powerful words when we’re in struggle are ‘Me Too.’” When we know that we are not uniquely odd or abnormal in our experience of pain, we tend to get some relief into our mind-body experience.
*For those of you who have been reading the articles on the nervous system, these ‘Me too’ experiences can be one source of ventral vagal energy that can cue our mind-body system that we are safe and connected.
Once we feel safe and connected (again this can happen in relationship with ourselves or with a trusted other), we often have more room to explore other layers of what might help the part of us that is in pain.
*Next time, we'll talk a bit more about listening and responding to our pain.
I hope listening to ‘Everybody Hurts’ might allow you to feel a little less alone with whatever struggles you might be facing at this place in time, and that you might ‘hold on’ to the care in this message.
Everybody Hurts R.E.M. When your day is long And the night, the night is yours alone When you're sure you've had enough Of this life, well hang on Don't let yourself go 'Cause everybody cries And everybody hurts sometimes Sometimes everything is wrong Now it's time to sing along When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on) If you feel like letting go (Hold on) If you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on Everybody hurts Take comfort in your friends Everybody hurts Don't throw your hand, oh no Don't throw your hand If you feel like you're alone No, no, no, you are not alone If you're on your own in this life The days and nights are long When you think you've had too much of this life to hang on Well, everybody hurts sometimes Everybody cries Everybody hurts sometimes And everybody hurts sometimes So hold on, hold onHold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on Everybody hurts Source: Musixmatch Songwriters: Buck Peter Lawrence / Berry William Thomas / Berry William Thomas / Buck Peter Lawrence Everybody Hurts lyrics © Night Garden Music, Unichappell Music, Inc.