Sometimes it’s easier to hurt physically than to hurt emotionally. Sometimes the low back pain, twisted knee or achy shoulder is less distressing than the emotions “behind” those symptoms.
Pain and Emotions
Here’s an example. I recently had a very intense therapy session in which I felt feelings from my childhood that I’d rather not feel. I hesitate to even write about them. Not long after this session, I developed a strange pain in my right low back. I imagined a tumor, a pulled muscle, I googled the Quadratus Lumborum muscle, conferred with my chiropractor brother, asked a colleague for a trade, thought about dying from cancer. Then I noticed that I felt emotionally numb. I wondered… when did I start feeling this back pain… and what was I feeling emotionally?.... As soon as I realized that I was avoiding my feelings, that the REAL issue was emotional pain, the physical pain started to subside. The less need I have to distract myself from the emotional pain, the less physical pain I manifest.
What did I really feel? (And this is a great question to ask yourself at any moment during the day.) I feel shame. Shame for not overcoming childhood pain. Shame for not loving all parts of myself, after all these years, shame for not standing up for myself with the therapist, and shame for feeling anger towards the therapist. In the past few days it became easier to feel the back pain than to feel the shame.
How can I heal that shame? Feel it. Share it. Know that I am not unique. Have compassion for myself. Don’t expect the shame to disappear; what we judge won’t budge. Maybe spend some time just acknowledging and feeling the shame. Comfort the part of me that feels ashamed.
Feel the Feelings
Our feelings can guide us. If we don’t feel them they may transform into depression, muscular tension, eating disorders, etc. Let’s listen, feel, and let go. Let’s prevent the headaches or heart palpitations or back pain; feel the feeling. Try this: notice an uncomfortable or tense area of your body. See if it’s associated with a thought or a feeling. Feel the feeling. Then, instead of jumping to a more “positive” thought or feeling, breath in that discomfort, that pain, that anxiety into your whole body! Breathe it in. Feel it. Then exhale it and let it go. Do that a few times and see what happens. Let it flow.