Life has so much to offer at times – the opportunity to try new things, to connect with friends, to travel, and so on. But it can also be painful, and this pain can feel overwhelming and out of our control. I specifically think there are two things that we can do to let go of this pain. First, we must heal, and second, we must try our best to not pass this pain onto somebody else.
As a clinical psychologist who has worked with thousands of patients, I have learned that people who are in pain are more likely to hurt others. Sometimes we do this intentionally and sometimes we do this unintentionally. As a result, our friends, family, lovers, and even strangers, can get caught in the crossfire. Our job, which I will discuss today, is to focus on healing our wounds so we don’t pass them on to others.
This pain has many root causes. It can stem from a parent not providing us with the love we deserved, a high school bully who constantly teased us, or a partner who abandoned us when we needed them most. The best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to heal, but this is easier said than done. While many of us want to heal these hurts, some of us end up trying to numb the pain or blame others or ourselves for getting hurt in the first place.
When I was in university, I was a counselor at a summer camp. Before the kids arrived we toured the campus, and I noticed a dangerous eye-level branch hanging from a tree. Fast-forward to the last day of camp. I was playing capture the flag and ended up running headfirst into that very branch I noticed two weeks prior.
To make sure my wound healed, I cleaned out my cut, bandaged it up, and gave it time to heal. I didn’t yell at the branch for being there or at myself for running into it. I simply went through the necessary steps to tend to my injury, and over time it healed.
So when someone hurts us, how do we heal? There are a variety of things that we can do.
The first one sounds simple, but I think it’s extremely important to the healing journey. We need to let out our pain, and one of the best ways to do this is by having a really good cry. It’s important to let ourselves feel our emotions without commentary or judgment. Crying allows us to feel these emotions and offers a productive outlet.
When I fell in love for the first time, I thought I would be with this person for the rest of my life. Over time I noticed that she had changed from the woman I knew when we first met. She started to pick fights and wasn’t being as kind anymore. When I asked her if anything had changed recently to affect her behavior, she admitted that she cheated on me. My initial response wasn’t yelling at her, it was crying uncontrollably. And through these tears, I could feel some of the sadness and weight lift off of my chest. Of course, this wasn’t the only thing I did to heal, but those tears were the first step on my journey to healing my heart.
Another thing we can do is allow our anger to heal, but with one big qualifier – we can never take our anger out on other people or ourselves. My first book was all about this – How to express your anger and still be kind. Here’s what I did. When I was in graduate school, they recommended seeing a therapist before entering into that career. When I did this, I discovered that there was still some lingering hurt from my past that needed to be addressed. At the same time, I started taking karate lessons. This activity provided me with the space to release the anger that was leftover from my childhood. I didn’t hurt anyone, and it felt great to work out and release these feelings through movement.
Now there are a lot of ways to express our feelings of anger. We can journal, talk things through with a friend, paint or express ourselves through other forms of art, etc. It’s important to find what works best for us.
The third thing we can do is realize how much our thoughts affect how we see the world. I have learned over the years that our thoughts have the power to create stories, and these stories can affect how we feel. When we tell ourselves the story that this person has hurt us on purpose and doesn’t care about us, we obviously feel more pain. But when we gain control over our thoughts, we gain control over our feelings too. When we shift our focus from blaming ourselves and others to simply living a good life, we’ll find that a lot of the pain and hurt dissipates.
The most loving thing we can do for ourselves when we’re in pain is making the time to heal. This may be through crying, being angry or feeling our feelings, or maybe seeing the situation differently.
When we’re able to let go of our expectations and just flow with life, we’ll stop categorizing things as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ they’re just things that happen to us. Most of the time people hurt others because they are dealing with their own pain. When we realize this, things that used to cause us a lot of pain will no longer bother us as much.
Realizing how our thoughts affect us is no easy task. I bring this up frequently throughout all 330 episodes of the Happiness podcast, and I urge you to listen to past episodes to explore this topic more.
Lastly, I want to address the importance of not passing on our own hurt to others. People hurt other people most likely because they have been hurt themselves. As humans, we learn how to move through the world by observing other people, so if we see that our parents communicated by trying to hurt one another, we might pick up this habit as well. Our job is to make sure we break these cycles by letting go of this pain.
For example, let’s say your dad worked long hours growing up and frequently missed your recitals or games. Now you’re a parent and you find yourself doing the same thing. If you face the pain you were caused as a child you’ll be better equipped to stop the cycle and not pass those habits onto your children. We don’t have to pass that hurt on.
We can change anything. It takes work and courage, but when we address our pain we’ll find that our lives become even more beautiful.