Susan Dean Landry, MCP, NCC, LPC
There is a rare but real disease in which the afflicted person lacks the capacity to feel physical pain. Initially, that almost sounds like a blessing; however, imagine not knowing that your hand is on a hot stove, only to learn later that you have third-degree burns. Pain is a signal that something is wrong. It is necessary for our protection in this world.
Similarly, emotional pain is an essential indicator that something is amiss and needs to be addressed. The thought of being immune to emotional suffering is understandably attractive; in fact, many of the solutions to which we turn in the midst of troublesome circumstances are an attempt to remain “comfortably numb.” These might include substance abuse, eating disorders, workaholism, etc. Even self-injury is a way to give emotions an outlet, or to mediate inner turmoil. People find ways to avoid feeling negative emotions, but in doing so, they fail to move through the healing process. They also make it impossible to feel joy.
Fear, anger, sadness, loneliness…these emotions hurt! We want to ignore them and suppress them. Yet these are signals that something is wrong in our environment, and they motivate us to choose appropriate behavior. A healthy fear of a would-be attacker prompts one to fight or flee. Righteous anger towards a child abuser urges one to seek justice. Mourning a loss allows one to be comforted. Experiencing loneliness moves one to seek companionship rather than keep people at a distance out of a fear of rejection.
Experiencing physical pain may lead one to seek necessary medical care. It would be foolish to ignore the clear warning signs of a heart attack. In the same way, a person experiencing emotional suffering is wise to ask for help. It has been said that we become “strong at the broken places.” We cannot merely “get over” painful circumstances; instead, we must go through them in order to heal. Allow a counselor to help you sort through your feelings, identify them, determine if they are rooted in false beliefs, and learn to express and respond to them in a healthy way.