Irvin Yalom, the world renowned psychiatrist and pioneer in existential psychology, once said, "The pain is there; when you close one door on it, it knocks to come in somewhere else." In life, pain is an inevitable companion. It manifests in various forms, whether it's a heartbreak, loss, disappointment, or failure. We often try to avoid or close the door on pain, hoping it will vanish. However, pain is persistent and resilient. It refuses to be ignored, constantly seeking new avenues to enter our lives. When we try to avoid or control our experience of pain, it seems to find its way back into our experiences. Instead of trying to close the door to our pain, perhaps compelling that pain to seek other avenues of entry into our awareness, let's explore ways we can engage with and navigate our pain to maximize our ability to be psychologically flexible in response to it.
Acknowledging the Pain
The first step towards promoting a psychologically flexible response to pain is acknowledging its presence. This acknowledgement is a key step to the acceptance, or willingness, to allow for our pain to be there. It's important to recognize and accept that pain is a natural part of the human experience. Instead of shutting it out or denying its existence, we should allow ourselves to feel it fully. By acknowledging and accepting our experiences of pain, particularly things that we do not have the ability to control, we can step out of the unworkable struggle against it. This act of "stepping out of the struggle" affords us to find new workable ways to flexibly navigate these experiences.
Understanding the Pain
When pain knocks on the door, it presents us with the opportunity to understand the message it it carrying. Pain, in all its forms, is trying to tell us something. Pain can stem from past traumas, unresolved emotions, or unmet needs. By taking the time to understand where the pain originates, we gain valuable insights into ourselves and our experiences. This self-reflection allows us to address the underlying issues, providing an opportunity for healing and growth.
Embracing the Vulnerability
Closing the door on pain often involves shutting down our emotions and putting up walls of self-protection. However, true healing requires vulnerability. It is in embracing our vulnerability that we open ourselves to continue "stepping out of the struggle" against pain and creates opportunities for a flexible response. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we create authentic connections with ourselves and others, enabling us to find support, understanding, and empathy.
Being in pain can be a lonely or isolating experience. Even in cases of shared pain, such as the loss of a loved one or a community trauma, we are still the only people who feel our pain. We don't have to face pain alone. Seeking support from trusted friends, family, or professionals can provide invaluable assistance on our healing journey. Sharing our pain with others helps to alleviate its weight and offers fresh perspectives and guidance. Opening up to those who care about us can help us find solace and strength as we navigate through difficult times.
Finding the Purpose in Pain
If we think about pain being a signal, what does the signal suggest? In most, if not all cases, pain is linked to something that's important. Something that relates to one's values or goals. If someone were to lose a loved one and feel a sense of loss, it means the relationship mattered to them. If someone were to feel anxious going into an interview for a new job, this anxiety is an indication that this individual cares about, and is invested in, this new opportunity. Through the openness to pain, and even the embrace of this pain, we can lean into what our values are and increase our awareness of the things that matter most. This is not the "silver lining" approach to pain were we try to reduce the distress of a painful experience by finding the good in the situation. Rather, it is through the pain that become aware of, and make intentional efforts to engage our choice point towards our values.
While pain may be persistent, it is not an enemy to be feared or avoided. The quote, "The pain is there; when you close one door on it, it knocks to come in somewhere else," reminds us of the importance of embracing our pain and allowing it to guide us towards healing and growth. By acknowledging its presence, exploring its origin, embracing vulnerability, seeking support, and transforming pain into wisdom, we can open new doors in our lives. These doors lead us to a place of resilience, self-awareness, and ultimately, a more fulfilling and authentic existence. By compassionately welcoming our pain, as undesirable as it may be, we can embark on a journey of healing and transformation to move towards our values and goals.