“It must be hard for you, hearing and dealing with all this pain and sadness every day.”
I get this question, and many like it, on a weekly basis from my patients. They courageously dig in to the work of therapy, allowing me to join with them on their journey through their pain and suffering. I gather that they feel like therapy is a sort of dumping, that I’m a trash bin to gather and contain their “junk”.
The reality is, your pain is so much more valuable.
No, I am no sadist. I do not enjoy the pain that my patients walk through. However, as they do, I witness them discovering deeply important truths: that they are worth loving, that they are valuable human beings, that they can do difficult things. Their pain points them to these realities.
When we take a look at our emotional pain, instead of trying to numb it, ignore it, or distract from it, we are wise to take a close look and see why we are in pain. In examining our pain, we find that something is wrong. There is hope here, because if something is wrong, then something is right.
That sounds philosophical and confusing. So here’s an example. Say you feel pain after injuring your foot. Instead of cramming pain pills, you are wise to follow the pain and figure out the problem. The foot hurts to get your attention. When you find something wrong, say your ankle is broken, you set about fixing it. You fix it because a broken ankle isn’t right. A set ankle that allows you to walk, that is right.
Here’s another example. Say you feel worthless because of the constant criticism you got from your mother or father. As a result, your mind can create a million ways that other people dislike you, crushing you under the weight of shame, humiliation, and doubt based on little more than glances, unspoken words, or Facebook posts. You are constantly on the lookout to avoid this pain. But this pain can also point your attention. It is trying to tell you something. The feeling of worthlessness can guide you to discover something about you – that there is little to no truth in that ringing critical voice. What is true is something else, something you are wise to seek to discover.
So, when my patients ask me the “how do you do this” question, I usually respond by sharing with them that I find it a privilege to do this work. They shrug and sometimes roll their eyes, believing me to be lying to them. The truth is, I find it an honor to walk with my patients through their pain - what they discover moves my soul.
Every day I get to witness patients discovering the truth about themselves. In their discoveries I am deeply impacted. Witnessing their acts of courage not only inspires me, but reminds me of the truths they discover.
Next time you are in pain, instead of pounding your fists at the universe, or hating the pain, ask yourself this question: “why am I in pain?” Take some time to care for it, to understand it. Go on your own journey of discovering what might be true about you.
The journal entries that follow represent my attempts to share with you some of the “nuggets of gold” that I have witnessed my patients discovering. I invite you to benefit from the work of others; I hope you’ll be inspired to get about doing your own work.
I am a licensed psychologist practicing in Denver, CO.