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When I was going through major depression in 2014 and 2015, I thought I would never make it through.
The painful emotions swallowed me whole.
I endured wave after wave of painful emotions. Shame and self-hatred crashed down on me on a regular basis.
For what reason? Why is this happening? Why me?
At the time, it felt like there was no purpose to what I was dealing with.
But now, after many years and various experiences of emotional pain, I know there is a purpose.
I've learned that there are right and wrong ways to think about emotional pain, and I'm sharing them with you so that you can reframe your own emotional pain and live the good life you deserve.
Identifying Your Emotional Pain
Think about the most horrific emotional pain of your life.
Maybe it was the death of a family member. Or a sudden breakup of a relationship. Or maybe it was losing your job--or being told you're not good enough.
Whatever it is, I want you to search the banks of your memory and retrieve that emotional pain now.
Here's something I know.
That pain that you just unearthed is not who you are. Far from it.
It's just one part of you.
How do I know this?
Because I used to be immersed in emotional pain on a regular basis.
When something bad happened to me, I thought it defined me as a person. I thought that I deserved that pain because of the wrong turns I had taken in my life. When I looked at other people, and their smiling faces and success, I compared myself to them, and I knew that I didn't measure up.
But it was all a lie. Because I couldn't see my emotional pain for what it truly was--just one piece of the puzzle, one thread in the tapestry that was my entire life.
When I was depressed, I felt like a burden. I felt like no one had a right to love me. I felt like a fraud and a coward.
And you know what?
I felt this way about something over which I had no control.
I didn't ask to get depression. I didn't ask to have the congenital heart condition that led to the open-heart surgery that likely triggered the onset of several depressive episodes.
This is one type of emotional pain. The type that is general and inexplicable.
There was no one true cause of it, even if my brain was trying to find one.
Another type is event-specific emotional pain.
It can happen after a breakup of your relationship, or losing your job, or failing to successfully complete a project.
For some people, this kind of emotional pain hurts even more than the pain that seems to come from nowhere or has no clear cause.
Because when we think we are to blame for something, our mind searches for all the reasons we have failed. Our brains are expert pattern-matching devices, and it will stop at nothing to find the reasons for our shortcomings.
Fortunately, this is not the truth.
The truth comes from reframing how you think about your pain.
Reframing Your Emotional Pain
Remember that painful event you conjured up earlier?
We're going to use it now.
What made that time in your life so painful?
Why that event and not another?
What are the primary painful emotions you're feeling?
The first step in addressing pain is seeing it for what it is--mere facts you tell yourself.
Now, I don't mean to make light of a serious event in your life.
What I'm trying to point out is that each of us is responsible for making meaning in what has happened to us.
If we can interpret events in one way, we can certainly interpret them in a totally different way.
Now consider this: Is it possible, just possible, that you could be wrong about an aspect of your emotional pain?
For me, when I started to deal with and confront my feelings of intense shame, of feeling that I was broken and not good enough, I started to see the truth.
But it took me facing the pain.
I couldn't run from it.
It is only when you name and claim your pain that you can begin to own the story and reframe the narrative.
It took some time, but the more I was able to talk about my shame with others, the more I took control of the storyline.
The more I wrote about my shame, the more I saw it as one thread in the tapestry.
One, lonely thread laid out in front of me.
I even began to feel sort of bad for the story I had been telling myself.
Because no person is ever just one thing, and I started to pull in other threads the more I faced up to my emotional pain.
I found threads that were vibrant and caring. I pulled in threads that were shiny and resilient. I started to think about the vast amount of good things that I had in my life in comparison to the bad things my brain was falsely trying to shove in front of me.
And I did this by agreeing to meet the pain head-on.
I'm not saying to blindly accept the bad things that have happened to you.
What I'm saying is that you get to choose how you look at your pain.
You do not need to believe what your brain first tells you.
Emotional pain can be devastating because of how it tries to trick you that it is you.
But it's not.
It's just a shield, a layer, a piece of fabric draped over your eyes.
As long as you remember that there is a human being behind that blinding layer, you will be just fine.
Your pain happens to you--it's not who you are.
If you agree to meet it, you're halfway there.
Because once you engage with it from the vast and resounding depths of who you are, emotional pain doesn't stand a chance.