There is no shame in feeling emotional pain. We all feel unbearable emotional pain in our human life at some point but we usually suffer along at a repressed ebb by avoiding, distracting and suppressing our feelings, instead of turning towards the core emotional pain of being human with strength and presence.
Regardless of whether or not we have had a difficult childhood or challenging life circumstances to heal, there is an emotional pain that we all experience when we come as souls into human bodies.
We arrive as unconditionally loving beings into a conditional world. As children we become conditioned into the emotional patterns within our family of origin. And no matter how emotionally whole our parents were, we all will feel unloved in some aspects of ourselves.
As unbounded babies and open-hearted children we absorb the unspoken emotional energies of those that we live with. We learn quickly, what we are allowed to feel and who we are allowed to be - and not to be.
We conform to our surroundings so we can belong, yet there is an inherent quotient of emotional pain that we all need to bear for being human in a world that cannot unconditionally love us in all the ways we need.
We grow up learning to love ourselves only to the level that our parents were able to see us. We reject everything else inside that could not be seen and loved. We can live our entire lives shutting down important aspects of our being because our parents could not see or accept them. Ignoring our gifts as others have in the past causes great emotional pain.
An Emotional Birth
Giving birth to my daughter 18 years ago was the first time I was willing to face and feel any kind of pain with full attentive awareness. Prior to that I was living my "conditioned life". I was being the person I was raised to be - dependent on the opinions of others, true to my family patterns, and unknown to myself. I did not know that my choice to have a natural birth would begin an emotional transformation that I could not have anticipated.
It is helpful to understand healing emotional pain through the metaphor of childbirth. Most of us would not even consider the truth that feeling our emotional pain could lead to deep joy, passion, and self-compassion. However breathing into, and labouring through our most difficult feelings with the same strength and attention needed to give birth to a human baby, can invite a new emotional and psychological birth. It is possible to breathe through the labour of our emotional pain as it contracts in excruciating pain, intensifies, peaks, and then releases. When we allow ourselves to feel emotional pain that is beyond our existing comfort zone, we expand into a new strength of confidence, and a level of compassion for life.
To deeply feel any emotional pain until the joy of "baby is born" on the other side brings us an "earned joy" rather than a "cultivated joy". Earned joy arrives when we go beyond our conditioned limits and allow ourselves to feel everything deeply with the sustained and determined presence of an open heart. When we love ourselves in this unconditional way, we trust the painful process enough to feel beyond what we have been able to withstand in the past. When we learn to love ourselves more than other people have been able to, either now or in the past, a new empowered world opens up.
Natural joy, self-confidence and personal competence arrives on the other side of feeling a suppressed emotion in the body without trying to control or change it in any way. Feelings unravel when we can sustain enough witnessing presence to be able to attend to them. Most of us try to mentally cultivate joy by pursuing or creating pleasure. But as soon as the surface excitement of the party is over, the old rejected emotions seep back into our awareness. What we are truly seeking with emotional healing is the hard-won embodied joy that comes from being sensitively willing to bear any nuance of pain - grief, anger or fear that comes up in our life, and to love it enough until it dissipates.
The poet Rumi writes:
Every midwife knows
that not until a mother's womb
softens from the pain of labour
will a way unfold
and the infant find that opening to be born.
There is treasure in your heart,
it is heavy with child.
All the awakened ones,
like trusted midwives are saying,
'welcome this pain.'
It opens the dark passage of Grace.
"The art of life is to stay wide open and be vulnerable, yet at the same time to sit with the mystery and the awe and with the unbearable pain — to just be with it all." - Ram Dass
Eighteen years ago, I wanted a conscious, natural birth. I was determined to feel every part of the process. Twelve hours later, my baby girl was born without drugs or medical intervention. Ironically right after her birth, I had to be sedated to have emergency surgery, but when I awoke from surgery, I knew I had gone through an initiation. I felt distinctly stronger and more confident than I ever had in my life.
I stayed up all night in awe of my own power, surging with the uncommon energy that I was stronger than I had previously thought. After twelve hours of sustained presence to intense pain, I knew was a more confident person than I was before my daughter's birth. Through the difficulty of labour, I went beyond myself and my prior limitations. And the more I was determined to feel as my pain intensified, the more I was able to tap into the truth there was a larger benevolent force was supporting me in my pain. And I glimpsed that my strength could be unending, if I could remain in contact with that benevolence.
I look back on the gift of my birthing experience as a turning point in my life. Through labouring through intensely jagged pain for 12 hours to birth my daughter, I crossed the threshold into understanding my own strength for the first time. After birthing my daughter my authentic creativity really began. I began to draw, paint and write honestly and spontaneously. I found my courage and passion for living and I began to stand up and speak out in my unhealthy relationships. I changed my life to better reflect my new found strength. After I tasted my own willingness to feel the hard stuff - I knew I was strong enough to live my life in more alignment with who I really was.
When we are willing to feel what is intensely uncomfortable, we change profoundly. The passion, freedom, and reverence for life on the other side of a difficult feeling quite different from the careful way that we normally live our lives.
We can trust that the Larger Forces of life are collaborating with our emotional healing - even as when feel intense, and at times, unbearable pain. Life is designed to trigger our emotional pain, and when we are strong enough, we will have the opportunity to become more present to our discomfort than we had the courage to the past.
As we labor to birth our authentic emotional truth into each moment, we leave our old limiting conditioning, and the feelings that used to debilitate us behind. Then something stronger and more passionate births forward into our life.
We can focus our energy, attention, prayers and questions on each new layer of arising emotional pain. We can ask the Larger Life to give us clues, guidance and support about how to feel, heal and release our discomfort. Sometimes we may need to walk off our uncomfortable emotions. Sometimes we may need to sit and still and seethe and burn with discomfort for a time. Whatever we feel called to do when we are feeling excruciating emotions, we can also ask for the help to love ourselves enough to move into the authentic life on the other side of our conditioned emotional limits.
When we fear our own feelings, we stay afraid, passive, controlled, and unable to take strong and original action in our lives. We can instead remind ourselves that the strength of our unconditional love is always inherently stronger than our most intense emotional pain. We can choose to breathe deeply into the stuck, contracted, hurting places in our body to see how long we can withstand our discomfort before we need to stop and take a break. It is possible, with daily practice, to stay continually and unconditionally present to whatever feelings we are experiencing, without distracting or sedating away from them. It is possible to remain 100% present with each and every feeling that arises without shutting down.
The Story of Our Emotional Body
Our emotional body is formed from birth to age seven before we have the rationality to explain it. As children we unquestionably soak up the emotional imbalances of the people in our midst, and left unexamined - we take the places where our parents were not emotionally strong - on as our own. When we feel big feelings in our current life, we have the opportunity to clear out energy blockages from the past. As spiritual teacher Michael Brown explains, "All our fear, anger and grief of today are the masked experiences of our own frightened child self calling us for help."
It is natural to let our emotions pass right through us, but whatever was not accepted in the past needs loving attention from our non-judgmental presence to begin to flow spontaneously again. If we do not take the time to clear old emotional energies they accumulate and feel increasingly heavy throughout our life. As we mature, we can forget that we are unconditionally loveable, as life continuously reinforces and reminds us of our original wounds. We can forget that we are bright with potential when we get emotionally triggered in our daily life. We can shut down our light early, and go along with the silent despair of the status quo. Left unattended, our unfelt emotions can become accumulated in our bodies, layer upon layer, causing us to feel exhausted, heavy, and at times thick with depression.
Most of of us are not willing to admit how much we emotionally struggle inside and are afraid to share with others how often we feel emotionally overwhelmed. Most of us tend to react to difficult feelings through the eyes and feelings of a child part of self, and continue to re-bury our emotions in fear of rejection and judgment. Yet, if we do not process and cleanse our challenging emotions when they arise to be cleared, as the years go on, we will feel physically stiff and sore, and well on our way to chronic illness. When we hold everything inside we go through the motions of life, numb, afraid or irritated and emotionally triggered in our daily life.
Facing Pain vs. Avoiding Pain
Many of us choose to avoid our feelings as much as we possibly can. We are entrained in our world to believe that difficult feelings are "wrong" and that we should do everything we can to distract or sedate ourselves away from them. In our emotionally repressed society we habitually stuff down uncomfortable emotions down whenever they rise up to be felt and moved through, and in this way, we stay emotionally young, lacking in self-confidence and unsure if we can meet the challenges of our adult lives. We can force anything that feels unacceptable into deep storage in our heart until life feels flat, predictable and unloving.
When we live in a flat-lined, unloved state, we try to heal our emotionality through thinking and doing rather than feeling. We are not taught that to become more emotionally present means sometimes feeling intense discomfort in our bodies until the energy unblocks and we feel free and spontaneous again. Feeling each layer of stored emotion - burning off what we previously did not have the strength or presence to withstand - is the gradual process of cleansing our heart.
At key points in our life, we will feel called to feel and integrate everything we could not emotionally handle from our past, and the choice is ours. If we refuse to address the non-integrated energies from the past when they arise, we will dissociate from loving ourselves a little bit more each day. Every feeling we deny makes life feel progressively inauthentic and stops up the natural flow of our energy and our forward growth. Life ignites and triggers us to revisit the misunderstood experiences and unprocessed emotional energies that we could not digest from the past, so that we can re-open our heart to our spontaneity and authentic passion and purpose.
"Mastering the ability of lavishing ourselves with unconditional love is one of the greatest accomplishments we can achieve in this life."
At a certain point in our psychological maturity we can become willing to feel our current emotional condition without distracting or sedating away from it. The aim being to become unconditionally present to every moment of our life, from the mundane, to the most intensely difficult, to the exquisitely beautiful, without closing our heart.
To employ such strength is the inner battle of the heroine's/hero's journey. Facing our most discomforting feelings can feel like a battle, or even a full-on war within. The parts of ourselves that wants to sedate away and control our feelings to fit into our comfort zone, wage war with the spontaneous heart that wants to feel, love and integrate everything that we are inside.
We can take responsibility for not loving ourselves unconditionally. Where we once projected the reasons for our emotional pain out onto other people in our past, we can now take full responsibility for feeling scared, hurt, empty, lacking and unfulfilled. At a certain point in our maturity, the story of what has happened in our past can be let go of, and the emotional cleansing work can begin in earnest. The opening of the heart to self-compassion and the re-parenting through compassionate presence can begin.
In the midst of our seemingly endless emotional self-torture the question always arises, "Why would I want to feel all of these terrible feelings?" The answer is: when we allow ourselves to accept and feel what we habitually suppress, something new comes forward into our character. We discover what we are really made of. We discover a strength, a poise, or a gift that was hidden within our fearful conditioning. We can confidently know that we are solidly able to love ourselves and meet our own emotional needs - in ways that others simply do not have the time, emotional energy, or interest to - and then our life starts to move again.
We discover that the strength that we have been hiding from by avoiding our difficult feelings is needed to fulfill our purpose for being here. By feeling our challenging feelings, a change that we need to make comes clear. We see where we have been habitually closing down to love, and we open to admitting to and meeting our denied emotional needs. The joy, peace, love, and inspiration on the other end of our most challenging inner states is where our old conditioning ends and our new authentic and spontaneous life begins. The more challenging and seemingly unbearable the feeling we have, the greater is the freedom and the strength of presence that lies in waiting on the other side.
When we do not make our feelings wrong, or blame the story of our life for triggering our discomfort, we simply allow ourselves to feel and allow the unexplainable aching lonely neediness, the wrenching grief, the annihilating fear, the mortifying shame, and intense anger move through us. We breathe and labour through our most difficult emotions without sedation - bare and vulnerable, wide open, emotionally naked - and as in natural childbirth, we will arrive glowing and triumphant on the other side.
Once each layer of suppressed pain is unraveled, accepted, and integrated, it is gone forever. Psychologist and spiritual teacher Chuck Spezzano writes:
"If we witness our suffering, at some point, it begins to unfold, sensation by sensation, and untangle itself. With emotional pain, if we freely give ourselves to pay attention to it, it begins to show us the issue surrounding and driving it."
"The root of the emotional charge is from the past. When we witness our suffering and don't turn away from it, it eventually takes us back to the roots where it began, and if we choose to watch it closely, even the roots will untangle."
We have everything within to heal our emotional pain and to birth our emotional resilience. There is a poignant responsibility, strength, and elegance to allowing everything we feel to pass through our bodies and have its day in our awareness. For example, crying, trembling or writhing without needing to know the reason helps put us back into the sensuality of our body and in touch with our intuitive and spontaneous nature.
When we tend to our negative feelings and lavish them with love, we can evolve into a vibrancy that feels alive, sensual, and powerfully open at any age. With determined openness to all of our feelings, we will become less afraid of expressing our truth. It no longer matters what people think of us, or how much they love or pay attention to us, because we feel radiant on the inside. When we love ourselves unconditionally, we earn our own joy and spontaneity. We feel radiant self-compassion. We make ourselves whole. This is unconditional love.