In Holistic Approach to Emotional Pain, I explained why pain is not a punishment and we do not need to fight it. I also explained how the use of physical or emotional “substances” only makes us feel the pain longer and disrupts the function of the natural pharmacy we have in our body, which is in charge of flooding our system with “painkillers”. In this post, I will share 3 “emotional painkillers” that will make pain go away faster.
1. The Rating Technique
The first emotional painkiller is used frequently by nurses and doctors. When you are in a hospital, before giving you your painkillers, the nurse will ask you to rate your pain from 1 to 10 and use this as a guide to determine your dosage.
This makes you develop an awareness of your feeling. If you say that the pain is a 9, the nurse will give you more painkillers and you will feel a bigger relief from them. If you say the pain is 3, the nurse may ask if you can wait a little longer and give you nothing for an hour.
After a while, you also develop resilience to the pain. Because you need to rate it consciously, you compare it to other times and often downgrade your initial (“gut”) rating. After enduring level-3 pain for a while, it seems like nothing bad, and your level-9 pain may seem lower, simply because you have experienced it before and survived.
So when you have emotional pain, always ask yourself first, “How much pain am I feeling, on a scale of 1 to 10?” This will send a message to your body’s pharmacy that you need painkillers and the rating will determine what dosage you need.
At first, this might sound strange to you, but if you do it with every feeling of pain, the clutter will ease, because over time, you train the inner pharmacy to work with you and help you in time of need. It will be very tempting to rate everything as a 10, but over time, you will be able to feel the difference between “disappointed 10” and “disappointed 5” and you will stop overusing the pharmacy.
A nice “bonus” of this approach is eliminating the panic of pain. People often think “I should never be in pain”, so when they hurt, they have an additional feeling of “I should not be feeling this way. This is wrong. This is horrible”. By going through the mindful rating of the pain, this panic often goes away, and without it, things seem a lot better and more hopeful.
When we lived in Thailand, I bought Gal a book about meditation. In it was a section on overcoming fear as a way to prepare for meditation. According to the book, all the painful feelings, like anger, guilt, jealousy and sadness, come from fear. It suggested discovering the fear behind the feeling and experiencing it fully.
Gal decided to work on his agitation when he was hungry. Gal used to eat e a lot (lucky him, we could never see it on him). I had known him since we were 16 and he had always eaten double portions and even cleaned all our plates. When he was hungry, he became agitated and snappy, and did not relax until he has had something to eat.
The book said he had to stay in the state of emotional pain until he came out of the other side. This form of therapy is very useful and effective, because for most people, the “fear of the wolf” is greater than the “wolf” itself.
The idea is to let the pain go through your body and embrace it. Examine it from all aspects. How does it feel? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What does it look like? What thoughts does it trigger? What is the worst thing that can happen from it?
So one day, Gal sat in the car (his driver was driving and traffic was as slow as always, so he had plenty of time) and felt his hunger. After 20 minutes, it stopped, and he realized he had never waited that long before.
Since then, Gal changed his eating habits and can wait for the next meal without losing his mind.
But pain’s like water. It finds a way to push through any seal. There’s no way to stop it. Sometimes you have to let yourself sink inside of it before you can learn how to swim to the surface
3. Strengthening Your Belief System
This strategy deals with pain by developing beliefs that increase our pain threshold or reduce the intensity of our response to pain. For example, if I believe that “This too shall pass”, I will be able to manage pain better than by thinking “Why did it happen to me?” or “This is too much and I can’t handle it”.
Things we say to ourselves can increase or decrease our pain. What we need to do is examine our thoughts, feelings and reactions and change them to better ones. When we understand that thoughts, feelings and beliefs have chemical representations, we can regulate the function of our pharmacy.
Here is an example of how the regulation works (or stops working). If we believe that a big pain is “the end of the world”, our inner pharmacist gives us a big dosage of painkillers. If we believe that a small pain is also “the end of the world”, the pharmacist gives us again a big dosage. It works like “crying wolf”. After a while, the pharmacist cannot trust our judgment about the quantity of painkillers, so it stops giving them to us.
Some beliefs, thoughts and feelings can increase pain and others can decrease it. In Buddhism, the definition is simple. If a thought brings you pain, it means you have an attachment to this thought and you have conditioned yourself to depend on it. If you want to stop the pain, you have to get rid of the attachment.
For example, if you are a parent, your child came home from school with a report card containing too many C’s and you are not happy about it, you need to understand that your child’s report card was not the cause of your pain. Your expectations were.
Change the expectations and your pain will go away. This is done by working on your belief system.
Positive self-talk is to emotional pain as pain pill is to physical pain
Here is a short story that describes this:
An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.
“How does it taste?” the master asked.
“Bitter”, said the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”
“Fresh”, remarked the apprentice.
“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.
“No”, said the young man.
The master sat beside this serious young man and explained softly, “The pain of life is pure salt. No more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So, when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things.
Stop being a glass. Become a lake”.
With the three emotional painkillers above, you can become a lake. You can develop yourself to be a “bigger” person with a big heart, forgiving and accepting. And the pain will disappear in the freshness and happiness of life.