Tolerating and Managing Emotional Pain
Build Resilience Through Pain Tolerance
David A. Morris, LCSW
Most self help articles start with an explanation of how to get rid of unwanted feelings such as anger, anxiety or depression. In my experience, people who have a high quality of life make attempts to manage their emotional pain as opposed to avoiding it. They can tolerate their discomfort and accept their situation.
Our culture does not encourage people to tolerate, manage or accept. In fact, listen to these slogans from well known advertisers: “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One!”, “The Quicker Picker Upper”, “Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands”. The message misleads you to fix it, find comfort, find indulgence, and create urgency.
The intensity of our emotions can’t be solved with the alleviation of discomfort. It cannot be soothed with convenience. ‘Just doing it’, could put us in a position of more pain. When we attempt the culture of consumption, often our discomfort increases. It is our resistance to its severity, judgment of our situation, and demand for complete recovery that causes our pain to remain.
I once had a client whom would experience intense anger and then often act out in public. His anger response appeared to devastate him. He would tell himself “I shouldn’t be this way” and “This will never stop”. These labels coupled with negative self talk often triggered more shame and guilt. In turn, the next time he was in a frustrating situation his anger would increase due to his negative thoughts about himself.
I shared with the client that his anger has a place and a purpose. I suggested seeing his anger as a part of him and not an enemy. I challenged him to act out one less time next week. The freedom of acceptance and tolerance alone helped him reduce his outbursts. “I always saw my anger as the ‘bad part of me’, and so when it happened I would tell myself ‘what a jerk!’”, he remarked.
Think of these three concepts when the intensity of your emotions seems to be too much:
Distress Tolerance > Bear your pain in a skillful way. The ability to tolerate pain and distress can be essential to the change you want to make. Pain is a part of life and cannot be avoided. By making attempts to tolerate, you reduce your impulsive actions while simultaneously increase your attempts to make a change.
Acceptance > “Pain turns into suffering when you refuse to accept” – unknown. Pain can often be a short term experience but an over focus on it can turn into a long term situation. Prioritize in your life what is acceptable and what isn’t to determine how much you need to fight against and how much you need to allow.
Managing Pain > If you spend time observing your pain, you’ll notice it ebbs and flows. Take small steps towards its reduction without the over step of demanding its completion eradication. Finding a way to manage it in the short term could lessen its duration.
Intense emotional pain can be a terrible experience. Consider trusting a therapist at New Directions Counseling to walk along side of you as you seek relief. Give us a call today.