I have been thinking a lot lately about dealing with pain and grief. I have struggled with this for a lot of my life because I have definitely been one of those people who believe that pain is something to be pushed away and replaced with positive thoughts. However, recently, I been trying hard to be present with my pain or unhappiness and work through it rather than push it away.
This all sounds so obvious to me as I write it because, of course, we should try to work through our difficult moments rather than squash them and let them fester underground. But, that is a much easier concept to talk about than actually act on. We become so mired in our feelings and many of us (read: me) have so much swirling around in our brains at any moment in time that it is difficult to isolate our painful feelings and just focus on them and get comfortable with them.
I recently attended a workshop where a facilitator friend of mine spent a chunk of time during a workshop talking to the women in the room about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. We know that in business or in politics, leaders need to get comfortable with being in situations that make them uncomfortable and, on top of that, they need to be able to make rational decisions while they are in this state of discomfort. It really is a gift to be able to master the art of being comfortably uncomfortable. In our lives, this translates into being able to accept those uncomfortable feelings that we want to immediately push away and make go away. It is not surprising that most of us feel this way because we are taught from a very young age to not feel bad. Our parents (well, not mine, but that is for another day…) would soothe us and try to comfort us when we were sad or in pain. They would ply us with food, toys, distractions from what was making us feel bad. As young adults when our friends were going through difficult periods with relationships or work, we would bring over a bottle of liquor, a quart of ice cream, or something else that would soothe their pain. And, today, we continue to do this as grown adults with each other and our own children. It is a natural instinct. It is NOT natural to say “let’s sit with that pain you are feeling and go deeper into it to find the root of it” because that is relegated to the therapist’s couch. And, our loved ones would look at us like we were nuts thinking “Is this person trying to make me feel worse???”. In fact, the unpleasant and uncomfortable work of tapping into those difficult feelings are actually going to get you a lot further than pushing them away with a bottle of wine or a good movie.
I was talking with a friend today who is going through some hard times and she had all kinds of emotions scrambled up in her head that were preventing her from feeling confident about moving forward with anything in her life. My advice to her was to separate out all of the feelings she was feeling and take them on one at a time. It is important for us to be in the moment with those feelings, sort them through, get to the root of them and then set them free. Rather than force them out without doing the work that needs to be done to release them, we need to be in control and get comfortable (or at least less uncomfortable) with these feelings.
When I am struggling with painful moments in my life (and lord knows they come along far more often than I would like), I close my eyes and try to literally visualize all the components of what I am feeling. I try to distinguish each of them and familiarize myself with them separately so I can begin to tackle them each separately. This allows me to get comfortable with each component rather than trying to tackle a huge, all-encompassing monster.
I have learned, through my journey, that the uncomfortable moments are the ones that feel worst when they are happening but are, invariably the moments that initiate the most significant growth in my life. I don’t usually want to relive those moments but I can reflect and acknowledge all that they offered me. So, while I am not sure if I am truly comfortable with being uncomfortable, I am definitely comfortable with what discomfort can bring to my life.