It is common for people who have been hurt to build walls between themselves and others. These walls are designed to keep pain out, but the downside is that they also keep love and happiness out. Numerous experts talk about this kind of wall. But there is another kind of wall that is built by those who have been hurt even more. This kind of wall is designed to keep good feeling things like love and happiness out, but to keep pain in.
There are two kinds of people who erect walls to keep love out, the first have been hurt by their connection to other people. For this kind of person, things like enmeshment and unhealthy co-dependency and guilt traps made incoming love painful. They don’t want to let love in because letting people too close means getting used or hurt by them. They have suffered from incoming boundary violations. The second kind of person, who erects walls to keep love out, has been hurt by the withdrawal of love by other people and the loss of happiness. Their lives have been tormented by loss. They experienced the loss of love and support and happiness. They see happiness and love and support as transient and unpredictable, it taken away just as easily as it is given. And the trauma of losing it, makes it smart to not become attached to it at all. People, who are in this category, cannot receive love and cannot trust happiness. What I want to focus on for this episode is the other feature of this wall. The feature that lets and keeps pain in. Unlike traditional walls that are impenetrable to insults and injury and people who hurt you, this wall welcomes in insults and injury and people who hurt you. I know what you’re thinking, who on earth would build a wall to keep pain in? The answer is a great many people for a great many reasons. Multiple studies, including a very famous study from the University of Oslo in Norway, proved that pain is experienced as pleasant if something that is expected to feel worse (or more painful) has been avoided. The subjects in the pain studies that were prepared for the worst, felt relieved when they realized the pain was not going to be as bad as they had feared, In other words, a sense of relief can be powerful enough to turn an obviously negative experience as pain into a sensation that is comforting or even enjoyable. You can apply this idea to each of the following reasons why we would hold onto pain.
I’m going to list some of these examples for you now.
The most common reason why we would let and keep pain in is a dynamic that begins in childhood. When we are young, we are rewarded for being good and punished for being bad. We learn very quickly that the only way to be loved is to be good. Since we need food more than we need food or water, our very survival depends on us being good; but that there is the problem. What if we come down into a family with parents who show a great deal of love and support and even reward us when we are hurt emotionally or physically? We learn that pain is good. We learn that since love and support and reward goes to the person who is hurting, there must be goodness or virtue in pain. It is good to show support for children who are in pain, but this support goes sour when we are only shown support when we are in pain.
Some of us came into families where our parent’s statement “I want my kids to be happy” was just lip service. If we had parents that were hands off and ignored us when we were happy, if we had parents who were threatened by us feeling good, parents who would become irritated with our energy level when we were happy, or who would stop our play to make us do chores or who seemed perturbed by the fun that we got to have, or even worse who actively punished us when we felt good, we got the message that feeling good means being bad. We begin to feel shame and fear in association with happiness. Being bad means being unloved and thus ultimately dying and so we begin to see feeling bad as good and feeling good as bad. We think that without pain, we will be forsaken completely.
Now before you pin this entirely on faulty parenting, lets look at the real culprit for this damaging and faulty belief… Religion. Think about it for a minute, how many religions around the world propagate the idea that you have to suffer to be good or that there is virtue in suffering?
I want to give you an example of this pattern in real life. I had a client some years ago with this exact pattern. Her mother, who was a devout catholic, saw some degree of virtue in suffering, just like Jesus Christ had. When she would play and laugh, her mother would be consumed by the fury of not being considered. She would become aggravated and send her to her room or remind her of something that she had to do. However, when she skinned her knee or got sick or was bullied, her mother would hold her on her lap and give her a treat. Remember that our brains link being loved to survival. Needless to say, the only way for this child to remain loved and therefore alive was to be unhappy and hurt. She began to gravitate towards situations that made her unhappy and towards people who hurt her and even began injuring herself in the subconscious attempt to be good and therefore loved. All the way into adulthood, she believed that only hurt people deserve to be happy and be loved and supported. Her “good is bad and bad is good” wires were so crossed that she came to me, fresh from seven years spent in institution for self harm and multiple suicide attempts.
This pattern is especially common if we grew up in homes with a narcissistic parent. Remember of course that a narcissistic parent will never recognize him or herself as such and will almost always identify with the exact opposite, being a completely selfless giver and making you feel guilty for it.
Another reason why we might build a wall that lets pain in or keeps pain in, is that we feel like we need it to remember the part of ourselves that we lost. When someone dies, moving on and being happy makes us feel like we are betraying them. When we feel like a part of us died or was lost, especially in childhood, subconsciously we feel like we are betraying ourselves by moving on.
Another reason is that pain may feel like the only thing that you can count on. We all want stability and a sense of certainty in our lives. This is why as people, we are so habitual and like familiarity so much. We like it because it is predictable. The basic human need of certainty simply put is the certainty that we can gain pleasure and avoid pain. But if we get hurt so often and disappointed so often, we feel as if it is impossible to be certain that we can gain pleasure. So we turn the tables. We hold on to the only certainty that we have in our lives which is pain. In our lives pain is certain, so it feels more real than happiness or love. The very knowledge that we can count on it or predict it or even choose to consciously perpetuate it makes us feel a sense of relief. In other words it feels good to be able to predict and be able to count on the permanence of pain. How sad is that? The only certainty we have of feeling good is the feeling of the predictable certainty of pain. We see this pattern of pain retention so often in people who suffered from chronic disappointment. If we get disappointed enough in our lives, we avoid the shock and let down of disappointment by expecting pain. We keep ourselves low to avoid the climb and the inevitable fall. Pain is safe because you may be hurting, but you aren’t losing anything precious. You aren’t crushed by the loss of happiness or love. In this way, pain becomes a buffer or padding from further pain.
Another reason we might build a wall to keep pain in is that we do not trust good feeling things, because they were used against us. And so, conversely we learn to trust bad feeling things. In our world, people have been trained to sugar coat pain. For example we may say, “I love my husband but…” Or “I think you’re a really great person, it’s just that…” Compliments are often used as primers for insults. This is sheer cruelty. The compliment opens a person up so that the insult gets in deeper. If we had people in our lives that maintained this habit, good was used against us. We started to distrust good. We learned that the good is not really genuine. I spoke about this pattern of good being used against us in my YouTube Video titled “How to Receive”. If the people in our lives used love as leverage, love and happiness comes with a side dish of guilt, duty or debt. For this reason, we feel the only thing we can trust is pain. Pain is our stable, reliable, true companion.
I touched on this earlier, but I want to take it further. Often for those of us who suffer chronically, pain is our buffer. We are using it to keep ourselves safe. Not only does it prevent us from feeling loss and prevent us from feeling shock, it also acts like a cushion. Some time ago, I was trying to find out why I kept pain close to me and I realized that I was trying to use pain to keep me safe from further pain. Happiness and love made me feel exposed and open to more hurt. Many of the decisions we make on an emotional level, make no sense to us logically. But I emotionally decided that if I could only get myself to hurt bad enough, nothing else in the future would hurt. This is sort of like the idea that having a broken bone, makes a tummy ache seem less bad. The image that came to my mind relative to other people hurting me, was that if I caught all the pain sent my way and started to collect it, and pad myself with it, every new arrow sent in my direction would dissolve into the vast ocean of pain that was already there and wouldn’t penetrate as deep or hopefully wouldn’t be felt by me at all. Look again at the society we live in, we love the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Let’s just say that some of us really take this to heart. We get hurt so bad that we try to accumulate pain to become stronger so we can try to prevent ourselves from being hurt in the future. We use pain to build up immunity to pain. Pain can also increase our self worth. Heroes have to endure extreme pain. So, we can keep pain in and propagate it so that others see us as a hero.
Another reason we may keep pain in is because we are trying to get mercy from a world that hurt us again and again. If the universe at large feels like a perpetrator to us, we can use pain like a white flag. Here’ the logic, if I’m already hurt, you will be less tempted to hurt me. It’s like a yield card. Sometimes this technique worked with the people who were authority figures in our lives, and so now that our authority is the universe at large, we use the same strategy. If we hurt, it is like a “mercy” call to the world. We think if we cry mercy, it just might stop hurting us; in fact it might just show us a little love.
Another reason we might let pain in or keep pain is if we want to avoid feeling the pain of blame or negative responsibility. If you are exhausted or alone and don’t want to take responsibility for yourself because of what taking responsibility for yourself might mean to you, pain can be used as a scapegoat for responsibilities. We might think we have to be in pain for others to help us or be kind to us or give us things or let us off the hook or take responsibility for us. Pain can be a powerful excuse. We feel terrible about ourselves when things are our fault, especially if we were punished for things that were our fault when we were young. When we don’t take responsibility for things that caused us or other people pain, we get to feel good about ourselves still. We can use pain as a good way to maintain our self-esteem by excusing ourselves from the responsibility of things we did to ourselves or others in our past.
Another reason we might build walls that let in pain is that we find our good feelings through the removal of pain. Both general negative emotion and pain-induced negative emotion are processed in the same areas of the brain. This means that pain relief and emotional relief is essentially the same thing. The relief that occurs when something that causes acute, intense pain is removed is enough for those of us who are struggling with extreme levels of emotional or physical pain to deliberately let pain into their lives, or cause ourselves pain so that we can feel the relief of that very same pain. Self-injurers are particularly at risk for this attachment to pain. I’ll give you an example; pretend that someone called you to say that your house was being repossessed. And then fifteen minutes later, called you back to say it was a paper work mix-up. You would feel the relief not because you got good news, but because the painful stimulus was removed. Sometimes if we experience pain in our lives or let it in, the rest of our life seems to feel good by comparison. We actually feel the relief of experiencing what was previously experienced as painful because now it feels good by comparison. 9. Another reason we would let and keep pain in is if we were the Identified Patient in our family. The Identified Patient or “IP” is a person within a family group, usually a child, who is unconsciously selected by the other family members to play out the family’s inner conflicts as a diversion from their own pain. The IP is the split off carrier for the family’s disturbances. Simply put, the Identified Patient is the scapegoat of the family. They are the “family problem”. The IP is seen as the cause of the painful feelings of the other family members.
The IP child is usually the one whose personality is the least validating to the parents personality structure. In the face of the invalidating child, they either have to face the negative within themselves or turn against the child and make the child the problem. By making the child the problem, they get to see themselves as the victims and as the philanthropic helpers and thus avoid facing and dealing with their own problems. If you suspect that you may have been the IP in your family, I suggest doing some research about the Identified Patient dynamic.
If we were the Identified Patient, our earliest identity is that something is wrong with us. Our earliest identity is pain. Our family depends on us staying in the role of the Identified Patient because the family structure will unravel if we don’t. If they have to face their own shadows and pain and stop projecting it onto us, they will be miserable and in pain. We are the ultimate scapegoats. And our family wants to keep us that way. They quite literally will do anything including hurt you and abandon you to keep you in this role so they can avoid their own pain. So isn’t that funny? To keep their love and support, and keep the family together, you have to keep hurting and keep having problems. You’re hurting so you can be loved. You’re convinced that getting happy, means loosing them all, because often that is exactly what it does mean. If you are the IP in your family, you subconsciously feel like you need to let pain in and keep pain. You need to stay unhappy and hurting because you not only lose your own identity if you get happy, you also lose your family.
If you suspect that you might have a wall that is impermeable to love and happiness and support, but that is allowing and even retaining of pain, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I need to be in pain?
- What would be so bad about being loved?
- What would be so bad about being happy or feeling good?
If we have the kind of wall between ourselves and the world which lets and keeps pain in, the first thing we have to do is to recognize that we developed this way of being as a strategy to help us cope with pain. All pain strategies are created to keep us alive and functional. It actually suggests a high level of emotional intelligence to develop a way of coping with pain in the way that you did. Develop empathy and understanding for yourself and know that you do not deserve to berate yourself for building a wall like this wall. It was the most intelligent way to survive the trauma of your particular life. Just the awareness alone that we have built a wall that lets pain in and keeps pain in as well as the awareness of why we might have built this kind of wall, puts cracks inside this wall. Awareness, like a sledgehammer, destroys the strength and longevity of this wall. Part of the reason it was there for so long is because it was invisible. Now that you have seen it again clearly, it cannot function in your subconscious anymore.
The second thing we need to do is to begin to let love and positive feeling things in. I’ve mentioned it before, but my YouTube video titled “How to Receive” is a really good one if you’re learning how to let good feeling things in. Another good one to watch is my YouTube video titled “How to Raise Your Frequency and Increase Your Vibration”. If you begin to let in positive feeling things little by little, the positive emotion will begin to dilute the negative emotion within you so it doesn’t hurt so bad anymore.
The third thing we need to do is to make a choice. The choice is dependent upon whether we are ready to sink into our pain in order to find the origin of the trauma so that we can integrate it, or whether we are not ready and instead wish to dis-identify with the painful feelings. If you choose to integrate your painful feelings, I explain exactly how to do that in my YouTube video titled “Healing the Emotional Body.” If you choose to dis-identify with the painful feelings, you must become acquainted with the concept of the pain body.
In certain spiritual traditions, the pain body is essentially the collective manifestation of all of the emotional, physical and mental pain that a person has gone through over the course of their lifetime. It’s as if you could take all of your pain and put it together to create a separate person out of it. To see the pain as a different person (like a separate personality) you can separate yourself from your own pain and dis identify with it. Then, when painful feelings arise, you can become aware of it and dis identify with it by saying “That’s the pain body, not me”.
The fourth thing we need to do is to fall out of love with pain (by seeing what it is doing to us) and then to re-sensitize ourselves to our positive emotions and practice deliberately going in the direction of what causes us to feel positive emotion. Simply put, follow your joy. Develop strategies to help yourself feel safe. The pain has now become safety to you. To let go of it, you need to find other methods for making yourself feel safe. Make a list of things that help you to feel safe and pin it up in your house. When you feel unsafe, go to the list and pick something off of it to do.
Another thing we can do is to take advantage of somatic psychotherapy. If we let and keep pain in, we are desensitized to pain and we are disconnected from our bodies. In order to access our personal truth and become fully embodied and heal, we need to re-sensitize ourselves and reconnect with our bodies. Find someone you resonate with who offers somatic therapy.
The fifth thing we need to do is to dedicate our life to the practice of softness, softness with ourselves and with others. We need to do this with our thoughts, words and actions. Always choose what feels softer. For example the thought “I know I should do that” is hard. The words “I’m ridiculous” are hard. The act of doing something you really don’t want to do is hard. We have a choice relative to all things, softer or harder. Every decision we have to make can be made according to this question, “Is it softer or harder?” The immediate answer is the correct one. We need to recognize how we are keeping pain close to us by maintaining hardness towards ourselves and towards the world. And we need to make different choices, so that we can become softer instead.
The sixth thing we need to do is to look over this list of reasons that we built a wall that lets pain in and keeps pain in and try to discern what need is unmet in each scenario. If we can find different ways to meet those needs, we can let go of the pain strategy we are currently using.
Take your answers to the three questions asked previously in this episode and apply this same process as well. Look at those reasons and figure out what need is not being met and look for alternative ways to meet those needs so you can let go of the habit of letting pain in and holding onto pain.
If you are a person who can’t seem to stop suffering you probably feel like something is wrong with you. You have also probably heard people say that you must like being depressed or that you’re mentally ill or that you have bad karma. I promise you that none of this is the case. All that has happened is that your life experience has caused you to hold onto pain in order to prevent even worse pain. In your life you are driving forwards. You cannot help but do so, but if you are using pain to prevent future pain, you are driving with the parking brake on. It is cruelty to expect yourself to simply let go of the parking brake. After all, it is what has been keeping you safe for so long. But the energy it takes to keep the parking brake on is holding you back from a new life. If you can just gradually begin to release the hurt more and more, you will soon be living the life that you came here to live, which I promise you feels so much better than this.