Whether you’re grieving a loss or you’re in some other difficult place in your life, you might find yourself overcome by painful emotions. Emotions like deep sorrow, fear, loneliness, despair, shame, anger. Who wants to feel things like that? Of course, most of us would rather not! Those feelings are uncomfortable, to say the least, and sometimes they’re unbearable. Some people feel as if they will drown in their painful emotions. Some people feel like they’ll be swallowed up in them. And some people just believe that they should just be strong and not wallow in their feelings. Just power through rather than feel bad. Other people distract themselves from painful feelings with substances, spending money, eating, and media. And why shouldn’t they?
Painful feelings are the worst. Why would anyone want to feel them?
Isn’t it better to move on quickly from grief or to overcome your fear fast? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there were some way to not feel bad? I’m with you on that and part of me wishes that were possible. But what I know is that not only is it not possible, it isn’t in our best interest. When painful emotions are suppressed or resisted, they follow us and they even intensify. It works for only so long to dull feelings with substances or to will them away. They will ultimately not be silenced and will find expression in some way, whether it be through depression, panic attacks, illness, or impeding our ability to function. They will catch up to us. Even the pain of past losses reemerges during a current loss when the grieving process has not been completed. It’s just not possible to never feel bad. Life is full of a whole spectrum of feelings and some of those are painful.
What To Do When Painful Feelings Surface
So if you choose not to avoid your painful emotions at all costs, what can you do to help yourself to feel them and stay sane? Good question. First, imagine that emotions are like ocean waves. Some are small and soft while others are huge and come crashing down. But all waves rise and fall, come and go. Emotions are the same. When you allow yourself to experience them without suppression, they come and they go. They don’t have to get stuck and they don’t have to remain forever. When you can accept that you feel very sad rather than resisting it, then sadness can pass through and dissipate. It might feel intense but it will dissipate.
Another important way to help tolerate painful feelings is to allow yourself to be supported by people you trust. Stay involved with someone because connection during pain is part of what helps to rewire the nervous system and reduce the experience of pain itself. Just feeling that someone is there with us is healing, and we can also help regulate one another’s emotions. Just choose people you trust. Maybe there are friends in your life who can support you. A therapy or support group is also a good option.
For some people, writing out their feelings is very helpful to it allows the feelings to pass through. If you choose to do this, remember to write freely whatever comes to your mind without inhibition, and without any judgment of what you write.
People find their own ways to work through painful feelings, and these can be so varied. Find what works best for you but do give yourself space to feel all your emotions. It’s worthwhile.