Pain or emotional distress is a normal experience of being human in an imperfect world. It is not pleasant and can feel impossible to bear at times but if we do not accept our distress as part of our lives, we will suffer. Mindfulness helps us to learn ways to be with our emotions to face what is difficult instead of fighting with it and ourselves.
In this blog we will explore:
- What does it means to fight our distress and pain?
- The importance of distress and pain in our lives
- Why we fight our pain?
- Accepting pain alleviates suffering
- Mindfulness to accept pain and distress
What does it meant to fight our distress?
Suffering is the fight and non-acceptance of pain and distress. When we try to ignore our pain or push it away or shut it off or try to give to someone else, we are increasing our suffering.
It may feel more manageable at the time to fight our distress, to ignore our pain but if we do not accept and process our pain, it will go deep inside and fester. This fight, this non-acceptance of distress will not go un-noticed. Our bodies will keep trying to tell us, there is something wrong. Listen to me. By ignoring or shutting off the communication between our emotional experience and our bodies, we can have dissociated pain, in the form of physical pain, panic attacks, low mood, anxiety, health problems, sleep problems. When we choose to fight the reality, we suffer.
The Importance of Distress and Pain in our Lives
Pain is important. It’s vital to our survival and ability to thrive in this world. Pain, emotional distress lets us know something is wrong. When we put our hands under boiling water, we feel pain to let us know something is wrong, move your hands away. This is to protect us from getting burnt. The pain of loss lets us know that something important has been taken from us. It signals that we need time and the comfort of others around us to heal. Pain of fear helps us avoid dangerous situations that could cause us harm. Pain of anger lets us know we have been wronged or there is injustice.
Pain is important and is part of a normal experience of being human.
Why we fight our pain?
It is so common for us to fight our distress. Why? There are many reasons why we as individuals might fight our distress. In the short term, it can be a coping strategy. We may not have been allowed to process or show emotions as children. When we felt distressed we may have been told to “stop crying”, “stop worrying” “relax” “get over it” “shut up”. We may not have been taught how to feel and process our pain and distress. Maybe we believe that as adults we are not to express our pain, or due to our gender we are not to feel certain ways. There are many reasons why we might fight our pain and it is not through lack of trying that we end up suffering. Many of us spend huge energy on keeping our pain and distress at bay. It can be exhausting.
Accepting our pain alleviates suffering
We can alleviate our suffering by accepting our pain and distress as normal, inevitable, important human experiences. By accepting our pain we can then process it, understand our experience, what it means, what we need. It won’t be pleasant, it won’t be easy but it will be better than suffering.
Mindfulness to accept our pain and distress
If you can read the above and understand the importance of feeling your pain, then you are on the road to acceptance. Mindfulness practice can help us to stay in the moment, with whatever it brings. Mindfulness can help us to stick with our distress and pain, to accept, to become the observer in our distress, to help us to process what we are experiencing and how to move on past our distress.
These are tips from Mindfulness Scotland’s 8 week Mindfulness Approaches Programme:
- Acknowledge the difficulty is there
- Ask yourself how you feel about what you are experiencing
- Notice how the difficulty is being experienced in your body and if there is any tension, bracing or resisting
- Can you recognise any aspect of non acceptance in your experience?
- Can you recognise that this type of suffering is part of the human condition and part of life?
- Can you accept that it is there – even just in this moment?
- Bring a sense of open and warm curiosity to the current experience of of the problem and come in close to it with your awareness, if it feels possible ask:
- what is my experience right now?
- what is it like?
- let’s see what is here.
- Breathe with it and bring with this a sense of softening, opening and allowing.
- If possible breathe into it exploring it’s textures, patterns and edges.
- Allow yourself to feel it, just as it is. Allow it to express itself. Remember you are not trying to make it go away (even if you recognise that a part of you wants it to).
- Stay with it for as long as seems possible
- Gradually broaden your awareness around the difficulty. Recognise that there is more to your current experience in this moment than this.
- Use your breath, other body sensations or sound to anchor you to the present moment or shift your attention to another aspect of your experience.
I would encourage you to explore mindfulness if you are suffering. If you relate to any of the above, you do not need to suffer alone. There are many coaches, therapists and organisations who are there to help you, including Be Brilliant Life Coaching. You can check out my audio blog here for a mindful exercise on accepting our distress.
I hope this is helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Photo by Lucas Clarysse