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The Anatomy of Pain

Due in equal parts to our upbringing, our earliest beliefs, the foundational relationships we had early on, or even past lives and karmic ties, we each have a unique conditioning (emotionally, psychologically and physically) that creates our own filter through which we perceive the world, and ourselves. This filter is particularly highlighted when we are in highly emotional states, such as anger, sadness, excitement or love.

The way we view others, ourselves, and how we in turn, believe others view us, is all skewed by how our filter of perception is tinted. Are you an eternally optimistic person who trusts easily? Are you paranoid, always afraid someone is judging you? Do you expect the worst from people? Do you always expect yourself to fail or let others down? Do you have faith in yourself? Our subconscious beliefs, along with our lived experiences, usually set us on a path that we unconsciously walk until we either live out the duration of our lives in an unconscious slumber, or are slapped awake by the sharp sting of life-altering pain.

When pain wakes you up, it can rattle you to your core - if you are open to it, or if it is severe enough. It reshapes the way you think, speak and act, if you let it. But pain can also cause us to clam up, to shrink, to hide away and numb our feelings. Because while the universe might be a closeted conscious masochist in some respects, our innate human instincts also scream RUN whenever there is pain involved. We don’t want to experience pain, we know there should be a better way, but in our inability to find that magical yellow brick road of pain-free living, we generally stumble through three primary options.

Option one, resist the pain. If this is your natural inclination, then when you experience pain, you resist it at all costs. You vow never to go through that experience again. You shut out the world, you take less risks, you play it safe, you play it small. You give up on those crazy adventurous ideas or the dreams locked deep inside, in exchange for less fear of the unknown. This safety can look like a consistent paycheck at a job you’re apathetic towards, or a partner who won’t leave, because you are both secretly (or not so secretly) settling for someone who doesn’t challenge you to grow into the best version of yourself. The key to properly resisting pain, is that you wind up settling for less than your hopes and dreams.

Option two, submit to the pain. When you experience pain, you throw your hands up in defeat saying “Of course this happened! Life is hard. Life is painful. Life sucks.” You already expected the worst, so you aren’t surprised when life hands you a large helping of aching difficulty. You seem to see pain everywhere, it’s all you can focus on, both in your life and in others’ lives. Pain seems inescapable, so why bother fighting it? You love, but know one day loss will come. You work hard and maybe even pursue your dreams, but you quietly expect yourself to fail, because life’s balance of the bad with the good is unavoidable.

Option three, attempt to control the pain. When you experience pain, you attempt to gain a sense of control over the uncontrollable feelings pain can ignite, by causing more pain, to either yourself or others. Through manipulating pain, by wielding it yourself, you feel you can gain some semblance of control in situations where we typically feel so helpless. You take charge of your pain, instead of denying it or submitting to it. You will not be made to feel weak again. This gives you a sense of security, and you may unconsciously reason that at least the pain you or others are experiencing, is in your own hands.

The degrees to which these coping methods play out in our experiences may vary greatly, but the principles remain the same, regardless of the situation’s intensity. When pain arises in our lives, we usually either deny it, accept it, or try to control it. That is unless you have cultivated a supportive, compassionate and courageous attitude towards pain. But unfortunately, most of us aren’t raised with that wisdom or taught those skills in school.

Once we have fostered a loving perspective towards ourselves and the outside world, along with a set of tools to lean on in moments of need, we can move forward unafraid of pain. We do not have to be bound to pain. But shifting our focus away from it can seem nearly impossible for some of us. When we feel that our wounds from the past (or present) haven’t been acknowledged, heard, or healed, we feel defeated and overwhelmed when even more pain comes along. It feels like a continuous miserable cycle of not being able to withstand anymore heartache or hardship.

Some try to rise above it, moving through pain quickly with optimism, but bypassing the dark shadows that demand to be felt. That repressed pain will only come back to haunt them later on. Meanwhile, others do their best to evade it, closing their heart down and building walls brick by brick. Others become swept away by it, often latching onto the victim mentality and embracing the new sob story they can now share with the world.

However we feel towards pain and what our reflexive reactions are towards it, it’s never too early or too late to rebuild our relationship with it. Pain doesn’t have to be something to fear, nor does it have to be a badge of honor we plaster on ourselves in order to prove something to the world or to ourselves. By taking the glamour out of pain that our ego adores, and yet embracing the strength and wisdom pain can and does imbue, we can learn to live life with a greater sense of ease, completeness and lasting pleasure.

*This article is a preview excerpt from Untie Me.