Softening to Emotional Pain
“If you can sit with your pain, listen to your pain and respect your pain—in time you will move through your pain.”
~ Bryant McGill
It is so challenging to "sit with" emotional pain until it reveals its story. Yet, to feel peace within, you must find ways to respect and listen to the painful parts of yourself.
To feel complete peace with yourself, all emotions must be accepted so that your limiting "pain stories" can be recognized. When you find the story that creates the pain, it can be "re-storied" towards health and happiness.
Respecting Emotional Pain
I have a dedicated sketchbook where I delve into my emotional discomfort through intuitive drawing. When needed, I create an intuitive "pain drawing" and spend a month (or more) "respecting" my drawing until it reveals its full story to me. This way of processing emotional pain is patient, reverent and it always brings about deep change.
Below, I share a way to "soften" your emotional pain so it will reveal its limiting story to you. This process involves creating an "intuitive pain drawing" and offering regular acceptance to the visual representation of your emotional pain.
Once the resistance to my emotional pain releases, I gain insights into what is causing my discomfort, and then I know exactly how to make a shift for the better.
Moving Toward Emotional Discomfort
This exercise is for those of us who repress emotional pain and need to learn how to listen to its messages. Instead of recoiling from your pain, set the courageous intention to get to know this part of yourself. Your negative emotions are always trying to tell you something important about how you are seeing your life in a limiting way.
Use this art process when you are judging an emotion as negative or unpleasant. This process also works for physical pain because unexpressed emotional pain somatizes as discomfort in the body.
Relax as you begin this art process. Take several slow deep breaths. Allow yourself to feel all of your emotions. Look for areas of contraction, dislike or aversion to discomfort in your body.
Creating an Intuitive Pain Drawing
(*This art process was inspired and informed by psychotherapist Karči Cole Kňazovický)
Step 1. Talk to your emotional pain. (Welcome your pain to be here. Notice any discomfort or easing that comes with your attention.)
Invite an emotion that you find unacceptable to come forward into your awareness. Say “hello” to your sadness, your anger, your fear, your shame, your loneliness. If you are unaware of your emotion, focus on a tight, numb or painful part of your body.
Once you have identified a feeling of emotional pain (or a sore/tight area in your body) imagine you are meeting a stranger, determined to get to know this part of yourself that you usually try to push out of your awareness.
Sometimes this greeting can be startling to aspects of self that have long been denied. Difficult emotions that have never received acknowledgement or acceptance can be surprised by your sudden friendliness.
Art Process: As you say hello to your pain, begin to draw intuitively with a black pen. Invite your emotional pain to form a visual shape or structure.
Step 2. Work up to accepting your emotional pain.
Ask yourself: Can I accept this painful emotion? Let the answer spontaneously come. Be honest. Saying "no" is often more honest than saying "yes.”
If the answer is "no," ask yourself again, “Is it okay that it is no?” Again wait for the reply. Allow your answer to emerge from your heart. Do not seek the answer from your mind.
If the reply is "no" again, continue asking: “Is "no" an okay answer?” Continue asking until you get a "yes". “Yes” is a form of acceptance. Patiently wait for your mind and heart to open. Acceptance is what your pain needs.
Art Process: In the spirit of self-acceptance, allow discomforting imagery, symbols or colours into your drawing - if they want to be there. You might have parts that are "ugly" or distorted that want to be included in your drawing.
Step 3. Explain to your pain why you had to deny it.
Take time and ask yourself for reasons why you had to deny this emotion. When the answers come, speak directly to the emotion as if you were talking to a friend whom you could not talk to for a long time.
Simple, honest answers soothe the rejected parts of self.
Art Process: Be aware of the reasons for your denial as you draw. Speak to your drawing about your denial.
Step 4. Apologize to your emotional pain
This step requires courage. Notice your resistance to speaking kindly to your pain. Notice the urge to want to get rid of your pain.
The mind likes to "parcel" pain away as a self-protection mechanism. Sense into your mind's desire to stay separate from your pain. Joining your mind and heart together, say, "I am so sorry I have ignored you."
Art Process: Write out or speak your apology out loud as you draw.
Step 5. Ask forgiveness from your emotional pain.
Ask the pained part of yourself to forgive you for denying it and excluding it from inclusive participation in your life. Your pain will forgive you for ignoring it - if you ask deeply and sincerely.
You might say the ho'oponopono prayer: "I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank-you. I love you."
Art Process: On the opposite page of your drawing, write out your forgiveness prayer or say it out loud as you draw.
Step 6. Forgive yourself for denying your emotional pain.
Accept yourself and forgive yourself for ignoring your pain for so long. “I forgive myself for denying my _________” can be repeated several times until you feel a sense of relief. Let your heart guide you.
If forgiveness feels impossible, try: “I accept myself for feeling _____ and I forgive myself for not accepting myself earlier.” Repeat this several times, slowly, until you feel a release.
Art Process: Intend self-forgiveness as you draw.
Step 7. Release judgments.
As you hold loving space for your feelings they change and become new. A painful emotion feels difficult to tolerate before it develops an unhindered flowing quality.
Say “I release the judgment that this emotion is wrong, bad or something to avoid.” Then allow your painful emotion (and intuitive drawing) to become a part of your daily life.
Art Process: Place your drawing in a place where you can look at it. Gaze upon your "emotional pain drawing" until you feel a complete acceptance of it.
Step 8. Negotiate a new relationship with this painful part.
If your emotional pain is not fully transformed through this expressive arts process, "sit with" your drawing for a month or more. Put your drawing in a place where you can meditate upon it daily.
I stayed with my drawing for about a month, saying, "I love you/I accept you" when it felt difficult. Gradually my resistance to my "pain drawing" dissipated, and a touching, yet limiting story from my younger years emerged.
You might feel aversion to your "pain drawing." When you feel aversion, you can say, "I love you" to your pain.
By staying with a pain that you have visually expressed, you are training yourself to accept what is really happening inside of you without judgment or resistance.
If you really delve into the exercise, you will recognize your denial and soften your blocks to love’s presence. With ongoing acceptance, you will free the energy flow in your body and in your life.
This process can be applied to physical aches, illnesses, emotional hurts, depressions or any place that you find in yourself that is not completely happy.
Sitting With an Emotional Pain Drawing
Intuitive drawing comes from the subconscious edge of what you do not yet know about yourself. For this reason, it is fruitful to intuitively draw your pain and trust that the meaning will be revealed later.
I meditatively "sit with" a pervasive pain in my heart during and after creating an intuitive drawing. I sometimes companion an intuitive drawing for over a month before I understand what it means to me.
Some days it felt challenging to stay with my drawing. However, by releasing judgments and repeatedly forgiving the pain for "plaguing me" with discomfort, my drawing gradually revealed its heroic but limited childhood narrative.
Emotional pain is created from limiting decisions that were made from a less mature state of consciousness. Staying with an intuitive drawing with loving patience will reveal its messages. Once the (younger) limiting story is made conscious, you can make new choices for well-being.