Psychotherapy can be really effective at helping people feel better when painful emotions are at the surface. But how can it help when the pain is tightly held somewhere deep inside?
Sometimes we are so expert at coping with the pain of our early years that we block it off almost completely. As a short term coping strategy this can work reasonably well but unresolved it can leave a person feeling numb, detached, but strangely attracted to situations in which there is a risk of that pain being triggered. When external circumstances do topple us into the pain it can be sudden and scary. In desperation it is tempting to scramble for distraction (drink, drugs, TV, games, intellectualisation, relationship drama, etc) in the hope that the pain will go away again. It generally does. But nothing really changes. And the same patterns repeat themselves until the pain comes back again.
We can only resolve those things that we allow ourselves to become aware of. This can sometimes be somewhat intense, a “dark night of the soul”. If, rather than distracting or avoiding these emotions, one expresses them (moves them out) then this can lead to a much deeper sense of relaxation and embodiedness.
I received the following mail from one of my clients (reproduced here with permission). I’m so proud of the way they are courageously accepting and moving though the emotions as they arise.
I had another painful night last night – although I did fall asleep earlier, and slept longer, although I woke early.I’m doing my best to screen out the noisy thoughts – catastrophic and less catastrophic – that crowd in on me. I’m also trying not to pursue thoughts that appear to be life-lines from the pain I am experiencing. Instead, I am attempting to focus on the feelings themselves, in their rawest, most inchoate and uncomfortable form. I’m trying to keep in mind what you said about preparing for the worst – which I understand to mean the worst my emotions can open on to. I also tried last night to release my groans and other expressions of pain in a way that released them up and out, rather than in a foetal position.Today I feel a bit less raw. My body doesn’t feel quite so flooded with adrenaline (fight or flight), so I’m not feeling inner trembling and complete loss of appetite quite so acutely. *** I am trying to connect as much as I can with my feelings as they arise – not ignoring them, but trying to invite them in and sit with them as much as I can. The desire to clutch at anything that might offer relief from the discomfort is still there. I don’t mean alcohol, or anything like that. Rather, I tend to seek out anyone I can talk to and then talk, and talk, and talk. It can help, in the short term. But this time, I am attempting not to do that so much. Preparing for the worst means going towards to pain, not looking for ways to avoid or defer it.For now, I am not talking to *** about practicalities in our relationship. That will come in time, if it needs to. The act of opening the hand to allow the butterfly to take wing doesn’t require words. It’s a simple act, isn’t it? I would like to be that open hand, to know exactly what it feels like to take that step, and not to be afraid of the consequences. I realise that I am effectively ‘talking’ now. Yes, but I am also trying, in some way, to write out my feelings.I have come to *** to try and get some work done. I don’t really care how successful I am, so long as I remain open to the ebb and flow of the emotional tide I am rising on. I hope I can do that, and I hope – at least for now – that it will be enough.