There are not many constants in life, but one is that we will experience pain. We may not like it, but it’s part of our reality as human beings. We experience physical pain and sickness. Relationships get strained and break down. Divorces happen. The cancer test comes back positive. None of us are immune from this experience of pain.
Even though none of us can escape the experience of pain, we do have some control over how we cope with pain. Each of us probably has our go-to strategies for how we deal with the pain in our lives. Some of these strategies are more effective, and other strategies are less helpful.
I think there are 4 common ways that we cope with the pain in our lives:
- We shut down. Sometimes when we are in pain, we shut down. We isolate, and want to be by ourselves. We don’t let others in. We might try to hide the fact that we are struggling. When we use this strategy, we are alone in our pain.
- We lash out. Other times, we lash out. We attack others. We take the pain we are experiencing and funnel it into anger toward others. We might yell at our spouse or kick the dog. When we use this strategy, we push others away.
- We go to our addictions. Still other times, we avoid our pain by going to our addictions. An addiction is any sort of repetitive activity that we use to numb or distract ourselves from our pain. Often addictions have a pleasurable quality, so they do work to distract us from our pain, at least temporarily. We might turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or even things like work or exercise.
- We work through our pain in relationship. In this last strategy, we process and work through our pain in relationship with a safe person. Maybe it’s a trusted friend or family member. Or perhaps we have a therapist or a support group. When we use this strategy, we talk about our pain in the context of a trusted relationship.
In my own life, I have used all 4 strategies to cope with my pain. Sometimes I shut down, isolate, and just want to be alone. Other times I lash out in anger toward the people in my life, or even toward God. Still other times I go to my addictions and use things like exercise or work to numb my pain. And, there are times when I process my pain in the context of relationship.
I think the final strategy is most healthy. When I am able to bring my pain and talk about it in the context of a grace-filled, supportive relationship, I give myself the best opportunity to cope with my pain in a way that moves me forward toward healing and growth. But it’s difficult to do. It requires vulnerability. It forces me to take off my mask and admit that I don’t have my life together and that I’m struggling. It also requires that I find a safe person to share my pain with. Not all people are safe. But the times in my life when I have been able to truly share my pain vulnerably with a safe person have been some of the most healing moments of my life.
Action Step: If you are struggling and in pain, take some time and think about how you usually respond. Do you shut down? Do you lash out? Do you go to your addictions? If so, think about whether there might be a way to find a safe relationship in which you could talk about your pain. Try it out and see what happens.