See the Pain Heal the Hurt
Much of emotional health and well-being is tied to the willingness to see hurt and pain in ourselves and others. We tend to feel and function best when we are noticing what is going on inside of us and caring about what is going on inside of others. When we turn away from our personal pain, the pain within our relationships, or the pain of an entire group of people there is no healing. As I’ve engaged with people in therapy over the years I’m reminded daily that we will go to great lengths to escape looking at emotional pain. Here are three ways we avoid looking at pain.
1) Deny the Pain
If we deny the existence of the pain there’s nothing to face. We have no responsibility because there’s nothing to take responsibility for. Even when others point out the pain we can pretend (and convince ourselves) there is nothing to see. Refusing to acknowledge that something is wrong is catastrophic to ourselves, those we have relationships with, and to our society as a whole.
Denial bleeds across generations. We see it in the pain of substance abuse and the perpetuation of family secrets. We see it in societal pain like racism. It is truly a curse. Only when we open our eyes and see the pain can we move toward personal freedom, relational reconciliation, and societal healing. Denial can often come with a qualification which may be confusing. It may sound like validation but its nothing of the sort. It is simply a generalization that “things have been tough“ or “my wife is unhappy“ or “there is a lot of unrest in our culture” but there is a strong resistance to looking at the reality and the existence of the pain.
Denial is also exhausting. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to blind ourselves to the pain within ourselves, our communities, and our world. There is a rest that comes from looking at the pain. A place of peace. A place of healing.
Denial: “Your pain is not real and does not exist“
2) Minimize the Pain
Minimizing requires a skilled dance between acknowledgment and invalidation. The pain exists but does not have a right to be heard. The pain is a reality but not credible. Minimizing pain deconstructs it for the purpose of tearing it into little pieces that lack importance. Minimizing creates powerlessness which is a petri dish for anger. When anger is present within an individual, a couple, or a group of people we must look for how pain has been devalued and minimized. So often I ask a client to trust their pain. What is it saying, how loud is it speaking, and what is keeping you from listening?? A wise person once told me that pain is pain. We don’t have to compare it, minimize it, or devalue it. We can just notice it. The cry of the minimizer is that “it’s just not that bad.”
Minimizing “Your pain is not credible, valid, or important”
3) Deflect the Pain
Deflecting is a magic trick which focuses attention in another direction. We can deflect to another person or another issue. Deflecting is used to control the narrative. In an attempt to take the spotlight off of the pain something else is highlighted. It really doesn’t matter what the diversion is because the purpose is to avoid talking about the pain. This can be confusing because instead of focusing on the pain we find ourselves using humor to deflect, talking about another person’s responsibility (blame), or shifting quickly to a more comfortable but “related” issue. All of which are detours from the pain that we must look at if we are going to heal.
“Your pain will never receive attention because other things will be addressed instead”
As a therapist this is the lens I look through. I know there are other lenses and numerous other interpretations. I simply want to point out that we must look at each other’s pain. Simple but not easy. Maybe today in small ways we could work on seeing each other. We could work on noticing our own pain and the pain of others. As people who want to grow and heal we could just try to acknowledge the pain. We could be learners more than evaluators. We could be curious instead of persuasive. We could just spend some time listening, noticing, and truly seeing.
“Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed him.” Matthew 20:34