The Problem with Pain

by Elizabeth Shannon Strull, MFT

I began 2004 like many of us. With good intentions, I had made a resolution to take better care of myself.  In the first week of the New Year I joined Weight Watchers and enrolled in an exercise class that met three times a week.  All was well and good until Valentine's Day when halfway through my exercise class I turned to do a movement and felt an electric shock run through my right hip, a pain so severe I could not breathe and could not move.  A short time later I found myself surrounded by paramedics who were strapping me onto a vertical board so that I could be moved by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

I spent the next six weeks away from work and going to the doctor and to physical therapy.  During those six weeks I had a lot of time to read and to think.  One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis, so I re-read his book,
" The Problem of Pain" since it seemed to be calling out to me.  C.S. Lewis writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.  .  ." 

In his book, C.S. Lewis was referring to emotional pain rather than physical pain.  The book started me thinking about how we respond to physical pain as opposed to emotional pain.  When I injured myself the first thing I thought of was, "I need help, somebody needs to stop this pain!"  I felt completely helpless and knew I would never be able to deal with this injury alone.  I had to rely on paramedics, doctors, nurses, and a physical therapist to help me recover.  Being a single parent, (my adult son, now age 20, is about to be launched) I had to rely on my friends, since my son was away for the weekend and my family lives on the East coast. 

My dear friend Mary, whom I have known since high school, arrived at my side as the paramedics were loading me into the ambulance. She waited at the hospital with me for eight hours until I was discharged.  My good friend Magda arrived when I came home from the hospital and immediately went out to get my prescriptions filled.  My exceptional friend Karen came to my home bringing food for everyone and spoon-fed me some wonderful soup before she fed herself.  Karen spent the night on my living room floor while I slept on the sofa, just in case I might need help in the night.  I felt so cared for and so very fortunate to have such good friends.  They were like a family.  Families and friends, where would we be without them?

Unfortunately, not everyone is as fortunate to have good friends and family to count on.  Some of us have a hard time relating to people and are afraid to reach out and ask for help.  I found myself wondering why is it so easy for us to seek help when we hurt ourselves physically, but why some of us are terrified of seeking help when we hurt emotionally.  Why do we sometimes deny we have emotional pain or try to deal with it ourselves by using excessive shopping, working, drinking, gambling and other self-destructive behaviors?  These self-prescribed coping mechanisms only mask the pain, creating more problems that bring even more pain and eventually, can end up alienating us from those we need most, our families and friends.  Why is there a sense of shame for some of us in admitting when we suffer emotional pain and need help?  Some of us believe we should be able to solve our problems ourselves and not burden others with our troubles.  Sometimes our emotional injuries and troubles require the help of a professional. 

Just as I was helped by my doctor and physical therapist to heal by doing exercises and learning new ways to move to prevent future injuries, a competent licensed Marriage Family Therapist can help you with your emotional pain as it impacts your relations with others.  Your therapist can help you learn new skills such as how to change some of your self-defeating, automatic thinking of which you may be completely unaware.  The first step is to admit that you are in pain.  Maybe your relationships are causing you pain, or perhaps you find yourself isolating instead of seeking out friends.

There are many ways we humans can convince ourselves that we can take care of this on our own.  To borrow a quote from the book I just finished reading,
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, I too believe "We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God's purposes by ourselves."  WE NEED EACH OTHER!  When emotional pain is causing you to withdraw from people, or you find it affecting your relationships, it's time to ask yourself, "If I was in physical pain, wouldn't I pick up the phone and ask for help?"  Help is available.  All you have to do is ask. 

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