Deep Dive: Emotional Pain and How To Use It to Your Advantage

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Deep Dive: Emotional Pain and How to Use It to Your Advantage

Being alive and being human involves emotional pain because that is simply a part of life. There are so many reasons and causes for emotional pain. What seems clear to me is that we are just not that good at dealing with emotional pain. Emotional pain has skyrocketed with the pandemic as it often does when there is a natural disaster or some other catastrophic event. What is powerful for us as people is to be able to identify when we are feeling emotional pain and then developing the skills, habits and practices that allow us to successfully get through the emotional pain in a healthy way. By far the best thing to do with emotional pain is to use it to your advantage to grow, develop and become a better person because of it. In the meantime, while you are gaining skills in how to do that it is really important that you bump up your self-care. Learning how to deal with emotional pain is a skill you can learn that is a priceless gift you give not only yourself but also to those who are in your life. Emotional pain can be intertwined with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, overwhelm and many other states or conditions. When you are in emotional pain it can be exceptionally difficult to get motivated, which is why I recommend a personal reward system and working on self-mastery. Speaking of reward, I am giving away FREE stuff for the next 11 months in my Year of Freedom Giveaway so please be sure to enter to win a prize! I promise that I won’t be bombarding you with emails because I don’t have time for that.
Photo of prizes to be given away
Prizes you can win in my Year of Freedom Giveaway
While we are talking about emotional pain it is worth mentioning that being angry, resentful, hating someone or something takes a lot more energy than love, forgiveness and compassion, which underscores the significance and importance of doing the emotional work – processing your feelings – so you can be freed up and live life with your whole heart. What is immensely helpful during periods of emotional pain is if you have a belief in God. When times are hard it is not unusual for people to turn to God. Faith in God can be very comforting for people when times are tough even non-believers have found comfort in prayer and having faith.

Possible Causes or Sources of Emotional Pain:

  1. Death of a loved one
  2. Loss of a job, relationship, house, money, etc.
  3. Watching someone endure a difficult situation
  4. Pandemics
  5. Catastrophes of any kind (weather, accidents, etc.)
  6. Loss of purpose
  7. Divorce or relationship break-ups
  8. Health problems
  9. Friendships that end
  10. Being betrayed, lied to or cheated on
  11. High stress situations
  12. Thinking you have inadequacies
  13. Failing at something important
  14. Loss of a pet
  15. Feeling powerless
  16. Not having friends or enough friends (or good friends)
  17. Knowing you hurt someone or caused another pain
  18. Feeling guilty for your actions
  19. Feeling rejected
  20. Feeling like you don’t have control over your life
  21. Not feeling connected to people or life
  22. Loss of hope
  23. Feeling wounded by someone or some event
  24. Having a high amount of negative thoughts
  25. Certain depressive conditions or anxiety disorders
  26. Unfulfilled expectations
  27. The death of a dream
  28. Not allowing yourself to experience the good things life has to offer you

Special Kinds of Emotional Pain:

It is worth pointing out or distinguishing that there are a few situations that are life changing and typically cause a special kind of emotional pain that can be different from the normal emotional pain. These situations will most often require extra effort to process the pain and move through the emotions.
  1. Death of a child
  2. Suicide of a family member, friend or someone significant
  3. Death of a sibling
  4. Death of a parent

Feelings Associated with Emotional Pain:

I am providing this list because some people have not gotten cued into when they are in emotional pain. This list gives you some indicators that you are likely dealing with some level of emotional pain.
  1. Loss
  2. Sadness
  3. Isolation
  4. Rejection
  5. Failure
  6. Anger
  7. Betrayal
  8. Grief
  9. Feeling wounded
  10. Despair
  11. Loneliness
  12. Depressed
  13. Hopelessness
  14. Helplessness
  15. Despondent
  16. Worried
  17. Terrified
  18. Bitter/Resentful
  19. Abandoned
  20. Left out
  21. Destroyed
  22. Crushed
  23. Humiliated
  24. Confused
  25. Nervous
  26. Exposed
  27. Shamed
  28. Neglected
  29. Abused
  30. Anguished
  31. Horrified
  32. Paralyzed
  33. Wrecked
  34. Reeling
  35. Shocked
  36. Tortured
  37. Crippled
  38. Inferior
  39. Washed up
  40. Desperate
  41. Disgraced
  42. Judged
  43. Seething
  44. Devalued
  45. Crestfallen
  46. Downhearted
  47. Miserable
  48. Tearful
  49. Upset
  50. Anxiety

Some of the Ways People Often Cope with Emotional Pain:

  1. Substance abuse (alcohol or drugs)
  2. Self-harm
  3. Denial
  4. Shopping (retail therapy)
  5. Overeating
  6. Not taking care of themselves
  7. Crying
  8. Complaining
  9. Blaming
  10. Justifying
  11. Abuse others: bullying, shaming, emotional, psychological or physical abuse
  12. Hoarding
  13. Self-medicating
  14. Anger/Rage and however that manifests
  15. Being mean or rude to other people
  16. Addictions of any kind, which covers a lot of territory

Physical Manifestations that COULD mean Emotional Pain:

These things do not automatically mean that someone is in emotional pain by any means. That being said, it is not entirely unusual for a person to do these things when they are in emotional pain.
  1. Cutting your hair or growing your hair
  2. Growing a beard or facial hair
  3. Getting a tattoo or piercing
  4. Gaining or losing weight
  5. Coloring your hair
  6. Not taking care of yourself
  7. Making sudden or drastic changes, which can include a lot of things

The Relationship Between Emotional Pain and Physical Pain

According to Susanne Babbel, MFT, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in trauma induced depression, studies have shown that chronic pain might not only be caused by physical injury but also by stress and emotions, which was first published April 8, 2010 on Case Western Reserve University has research demonstrating that heartbreak can take a toll on your IQ with a drop by 30% in reasoning and a 25% decrease in IQ after exposure to rejection. And there is more evidence that your emotional pain be causing physical pain in your body. Dr. John Sarno, Jr. was a Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center, who wrote and spoke about pain being in your head. Dr. Sarno developed methods for treating patients with pain to alleviate their pain without surgery or other interventions, which you can read a good summary about here. Dr. Sarno also wrote several books before he passed away one day shy of his 94th birthday. There is even a film documentary about Dr. Sarno titled “All the Rage: Saved by Sarno”, which will give you insights about how and why his patients felt like they were saved by Dr. Sarno. It is quite fascinating to see the growing body of research and evidence that physical pain in the body can be caused by emotions and trauma. The mind-body connection is not just a theory anymore as you can read about in this research piece. If you simply do an internet search on “books on the mind body connection” you will find a rich plethora of books on the subject available. I personally am a firm believer that pain will show up in the body due to emotional pain, unresolved feelings or trauma. It’s my personal experience and one of the reasons that I don’t have any pain in my body, usually, because I do the emotional work necessary to make sure that I am pain free. In my humble opinion, if you have chronic or intermittent pain in your physical body, it would be worth exploring the relationship between emotional pain and pain in the body or the mind body connection. Or you don’t have to. No one is going to make you. It’s your choice.

Suicide Warning/Mental Health Waiver

If you have any thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911 immediately. Please call someone, tell someone or post it on social media and ask for help right now! We have more people suffering from depression, anxiety, and negative emotions than ever before, which means that you are in good company. I am asking that you take a specific action if you are feeling suicidal or that harming yourself because your life matters more than you realize and because there is help available to you. I am not a licensed mental health professional or in the field of medicine. You should get your medical advice from a licensed medical professional. Although my posts are research and experience based, they do not constitute medical advice since I am not a medical professional in any capacity.

How You Can Use Your Emotional Pain to Your Advantage

I am an absolute believer and fan of using emotional pain to learn, to grow and to become a better person otherwise known as using emotional pain to your advantage. Pain can leave you bitter, angry, resentful, sorrowful and so much more on the negative side, which really adds nothing to your quality of life. Pain can be a great teacher. The question is what is the lesson to be learned. Some people focus on the question why did this happen to me. From my vantage point the better question is how can I grow from this? What can I learn from this? How can I use this to become a better person? And the lessons might not always be what you think they should be. Let me give a few examples of painful events and the growth and development that happened as a result.

Example 1: Deep Betrayal & Exploitation

Without giving specifics (Haha, although I would love to) I experienced a situation that involved deep betrayal and exploitation over a long period of time. Of course, it was very painful. Because of this experience:
  • My virtues were polished.
  • My understanding of narcissism grew from nothing to a good understanding.
  • I learned a lot about psychopaths and the Psychopath Check List (PCL-R & SV).
  • I learned more about myself and the ways that I could be exploited, used or betrayed
  • I became more educated about mental health issues that some people have.
  • My prayer life expanded.
  • I came to see who I really am and who I have been for my entire life.
  • It increased my resilience, fortitude, and Grace.
  • I chose to love, trust, be vulnerable and not let that experience taint me or change the person I was and have always been.

Example 2: Death of My Firstborn Child

My first daughter passed in utero when I was six months pregnant. I was stunned to hear that I would have to deliver her and then later either bury her or have her cremated. That was the law at the time. I have her ashes that will be buried with me when I pass because I refused to bury her in a cemetery that I would not be able to visit since I was likely to be moving. Her DNA, chromosomes and placenta were are free of any abnormalities – just as normal and perfect as could be so they could not provide me with a reason for her death. Yes, that was so very painful. Having pictures of your baby that you can’t show people because she is discolored not to mention deceased. Here is how I grew from this:
  • My appreciation for life increased (in part because they said I would not make it through the delivery and to call my parents to come to the town I lived in to say goodbye in case I didn’t make it).
  • My understanding of the grief process grew.
  • My ability to function in the midst of great sadness and still be happy and find some joy in life grew a lot.
  • My compassion for people turning away from me because I was experiencing a painful event grew. Some people just can’t deal with other peoples’ pain.
  • My research in to health and wellness grew.
  • My coping mechanisms and resilience grew a great deal.

Example 3: Workplace Bullying of My Boss

Very early in my professional career in sales working for a fortune 500 company, my immediate boss came under political attack for no good reason as happens in all kinds of organizations from time to time. I stood up for him not just because he was a good man, but also because he was an extraordinary leader, consummate professional and amazing sales manager. I knew that there would be consequences for openly standing up for my boss at work. I knew that. And I did it anyway. He ended up getting a two-level promotion over the individual who was doing the political bashing at the end of the debacle. My boss offered to create a job for me so I would not have to endure the backlash that we both knew was coming however I chose to stay and learn what there was to learn. Here’s how I used that to my advantage:
  • Grew in my abilities to recognize workplace bullying and political games, which would be extremely valuable later on in my career.
  • Grew in my abilities to be resilient and resourceful.
  • Learned a lot about how some people will sit by and allow terrible, awful things – unjust things- happen and do nothing about that. That was a shock to my young self.
  • I learned that even if you are right and completely justified sometimes you just have to walk away from bad people doing bad things.
  • My coping mechanisms grew and developed.

Example 4: Workplace Sexual Harassment

Later in my sales career I was sexually harassed and physically threatened by my immediate supervisor while on the job. After I filed a complaint with the company, also a fortune 500 company, I was given the choice to get back in a car with the man who had been sexually harassing me and had physically threatened me or resign. Humm. What do you think I did? I resigned. Of note, after I filed an EEOC complaint I learned through the process that the company had received the exact same complaint about my supervisor from another female sales representative SIX months before I had filed my complaint. Here’s how I used this to my advantage:
  • I took a further deep dive into the nasty world of corporate politics, which was educational and a bit shocking.
  • I further grew my coping mechanisms and ability to function during difficult times.
  • I saw again the number of people who would cower and shake and lie rather than do the right thing and tell the truth because they were afraid of losing their jobs. It was very sad to see people who didn’t have the backbone to do the right thing.
  • I grew in my self-awareness and emotional skills.
If you are willing to use your emotional pain to your advantage then you are entering into the world of growth and development, which has significant benefits outlined here. It’s all too common that people don’t deal with their emotional pain or they are left disempowered, damaged, or somehow wounded by their pain. Don’t get me wrong here, emotional pain is hard. Emotional pain is painful. Yet it doesn’t have to ruin or wreck your life if you are willing to do the work and learn from your experiences. It’s my personal belief system that every difficult or painful event can teach us, help us grow, help us become better versions of ourselves if we are willing. It’s a choice. What can you learn from your emotional pain that furthers your life instead of setting you back, closing you down, or leaving you otherwise disempowered? I don’t know what that is for you. I assert that if you started talking to people you could discover what life is trying to teach you.

How to Process Emotional Pain:

  1. Identify – Identify that you are in emotional pain.
  2. Pinpoint the causes or sources of your emotional pain because there can be multiple sources or causes at any given point in time.
  3. Feel the feelings – in your body and heart. Allow yourself to feel instead of covering it up, denying it, self-medicating or any other strategy that numbs the pain.
  4. Give words or language to how you are feeling – the feeling words in this post should help you pinpoint how you might be feeling.
  5. Don’t make yourself feel bad or guilty for having the feelings that you are having.
  6. Assess: Is your reaction reasonable? Would most people feel the way that you do? Look for reactions that are more significant or magnified that might point to some underlying feelings or causes missed in the previous step. Sometimes the cause of emotional pain is hidden or masked by something. If the magnitude of your feelings is out of range of what most people would likely feel then stop and examine the situation looking for other reasons why your feelings might be exacerbated.
  7. Bump up your self-care immediately the moment that you recognize that you are feeling emotional pain.
  8. Take the actions dictated or necessary based on whatever is happening.
  9. Recognize that this is a process and it takes time.
  10. Ask for help.
  11. Seek counseling if needed.
  12. Do things that bring happiness and joy to your life while you are moving through the emotional pain.
  13. Socialize, which can be done with the current constraints, because it is good for your heart and dealing with emotional pain.
  14. Hobby up.
  15. Volunteer if you have time on your hands.
  16. Get a life plan or vision for your life and start taking actions to have the life that you love.

Actions You Can Take While You Are Processing Your Emotions:

  1. Journal – write down your feelings and thoughts.
  2. Listen to music appropriate to your mood.
  3. Call a friend and tell them you need a pick me up call.
  4. Clean out your sock drawer, closet, cabinets – clean out anything.
  5. Do something nice for someone you know.
  6. Go for a walk.
  7. Take a nap.
  8. Start planning something that you can look forward to.
  9. Set some attainable goals and start taking the actions to meet those goals.
  10. Reward yourself for every good thing you do to help yourself get through it.
  11. Create a vision for your life (this may be counter-intuitive, but it works).
  12. Make a list of things that make you happy and start doing them.
  13. Make self-care part of your daily routine.
  14. Practice Gratitude.
  15. Live in the present – in the now!
  16. Don’t take it personally.
  17. Have compassion for yourself – after all, you are dealing with emotional pain.
  18. Pray or meditate.

Call to Action:

We live in a world where emotional pain is inescapable unless you wall yourself off and become void of emotions. What is valuable, powerful and healthy is to acknowledge when you are feeling emotional pain and learn to process, deal with and manage your emotional pain in a healthy and productive way. Yes, emotional pain is terrible. There’s no disputing that. No one likes emotional pain. Yet, there is it. What can you do today to begin dealing with any emotional pain you have? Are you using your emotional pain to your advantage? Do you need help in figuring out how to use your pain to your advantage or what the lesson is? Who do you know who is dealing with emotional pain? Would this post be helpful to them? If so, would you share it with them? How can I help you deal with your emotional pain? Please let me know in the comment section because I care deeply about you having a happy and healthy life!
Picture of Lisa Lundy, B.S., DTM

Lisa Lundy, B.S., DTM

Author of The Love.Life Book (Due out November 2020)
Author of the Super Allergy Cookbook - Allergy & Celiac Cookbook (September 2007)

Allergy & Gluten Free website:

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