Pain can either embitter us or ennoble us. The sole determinant is our perspective. This article is going to encourage you to learn from your pain. It will do this by presenting you with the perspective which will allow you to reframe your pain as a teacher.
It might not seem like it when we’re in the middle of experiencing pain, but pain is information. It informs us about ourselves, our choices and the way the world works. Pain is a fundamental teaching force. Our greatest growth does not come from pleasure, but from pain.
This article focuses on how to learn from emotional pain, which is the type of pain I have the most experience with. You will learn about why learning from our pain is essential to our growth as well as how and what I learned from my own emotional pain.
My intention is for the reader to emerge with a new understanding of the supreme value of learning from our pain.
What Is Pain?
Pain is a notoriously difficult phenomenon to investigate. It’s subjective, which means that everyone experiences pain in their own way. The language available to us to describe pain often leaves us at a loss for how to express it.
The 20th century was filled with scientists attempting to measure and categorize pain. All efforts produced woolly, subjective scales of pain which were inconsistent between people. Only with the advent of advanced imaging techniques (fMRI) have scientists been able to peer into the human brain as it experiences pain. This has enabled a somewhat more objective measurement of pain, but the field of pain studies remains in its teenage years. It has yet to mature fully.
For the purposes of this article, I will not attempt to define pain. You know what your pain is. I know what my pain is. We’ll never know what each other’s pain is. We’ll have to be content with that.
The Qualities Of Pleasure And Pain
Human beings have evolved to exist on a range between pleasure and pain. These two qualities are our masters. Neither is better than the other, they are different polar qualities experienced by all humans. There is no escaping them.
What’s more, the more sensitive a being is, the greater the pleasure and pain it is capable of experiencing. Like Alan Watts says in “The Wisdom Of Insecurity”, there can be no increase in consciousness without a corresponding increase in sensitivity to pain.
A rock is less conscious than a flower, a flower less so than an iguana, an iguana less so than a dog and a dog less so than a human being. Rocks, flowers and iguanas cannot experience the emotional pain a dog and a human can experience. And a dog cannot experience the vast range of exquisitely resolved emotions a human being experiences.
While both dogs and humans can experience a broken heart, a dog cannot experience the sting of discovering that a close friend has been talking about it behind its back. Nor can it experience the joy of solving a challenging math problem.
Our consciousness is sensitive to a greater swath of reality. This swath comprises both pleasure and pain.
Furthermore, a more evolved being than us would be sensitive to a greater slice of reality than we are. We can’t even imagine how such a being would perceive the universe.
How Pain Teaches Us
Roughly, the causes of pain can be categorized into physical, chemical or emotional. Cutting our finger with a kitchen knife while preparing dinner is an example of physical pain. Having indigestion is an example of chemical pain. Getting our heart broken is emotional pain.
It’s useful to be aware of the distinct categories of pain so we can maximize our learning.
Sadly, many people all over the world experience pain they are not responsible for. Children are especially vulnerable to having senseless pain inflicted upon them.
The following discussion pertains to pain which we are responsible for. Meaning that we made the choices which brought the pain upon ourselves.
If the case of the pain is physical, then we made a physical choice which lead us to experience the pain. If we cut our finger with a knife, it’s because we used the knife ignorantly which lead to our injury.
What is the cut finger there to teach us?
If the cause is chemical, then we made a chemical choice which caused us pain. Like when we experience indigestion.
What is the indigestion there to teach us?
If the cause of the pain is emotional, then we need to be aware of the emotional choices we made which lead us to the pain. If we experience heartbreak, what were the choices we made which lead us to it?
What is the heartbreak there to teach us?
From here I will focus on emotional pain. I believe most people can understand the causes of their physical and chemical pain. However, when it comes to emotional pain, it’s my experience that many humans still do not possess the tools to learn from it.
The Teachers Of Emotional Pain
Some of the most common forms of emotional pain are: disappointment, heartbreak, loneliness, frustration, anger, depression and anxiety. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but illustrative. They are the manifestations of pain, the pain which we carry within (also known as trauma). They can be triggered by anything, but some of the most common triggers are:
- Failing to reach a goal
- Financial scarcity
- Betrayal by a person we trust
Everyone has their own emotional triggers. Mastering our triggers is a magnificent way to master our emotions; some might say it’s the only way to do so.
I’ll admit I have not experienced much physical or chemical pain in my life. I was blessed with a healthy body and a mother who taught me to watch what I eat. So I don’t have much experience with either type of pain, thankfully.
But I do have experience with emotional pain. Actually, being human and experiencing emotional pain go hand in hand. More precisely, I have experience with learning from emotional pain.
How I Learned From Emotional Pain
I base my writing on experience. What follows is what I learned from the deep emotional pain I experienced in my mid twenties.
I was heartbroken for a little over a year. I caused the heartbreak. No one made me make the choices which caused my heartbreak. I was responsible for it all. So the emotional pain I experienced was 100% my doing. I acknowledged that, and because I did so I was able to learn from the pain.
The first step in learning from emotional pain (or any other pain) is to acknowledge ourselves as the cause.
This is crucial and empowering. When we accept that we are the ones who cause our pain, we empower ourselves to make different choices.
The same applies to people who have pain inflicted upon them through no fault of their own. If a child is physically abused regularly, then that child will increase it’s chances of surviving by learning what choices he/she makes which cause the abuse. He/she will learn to make other choices which reduce the chances of getting hurt. This causes the child to develop defensive behaviors which will allow it to survive, but which it will carry into its future, unless it heals the underlying trauma.
In an ideal world, children would never be senselessly hurt, but ours is not an ideal world.
Since I acknowledged that I had made the choices which caused my heartbreak, it allowed me to ask the next question: “What choices did I make which lead me here?”
Do you see the power which comes from accepting our pain as though we had caused it? It allows us to learn. It gives us the power to choose a new way for us.
And emotional pain teaches us the deepest lessons we can ever learn
The Power Of Learning From Emotional Pain
Emotions are magical. There is no better way of putting it. Emotions guide all our choices. They take in the whole situation lightning fast, while reason is left in the dust teasing apart causes and consequences. In a split-second, emotions package the whole world for us and give us that information in the form of feelings.
No computer will ever be capable of replicating what our emotions do.
According to Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking Fast And Slow”, emotions are fast and hot as opposed to reason which is slow and cool.
Have you ever met a person and immediately liked them? Everyone has, I believe. Was it your reasoning mind which determined whether you liked that person or not? Did you make a list and go through it, checking off every aspect of that person which you liked? Of course not!
It was your emotions which made you immediately like the person. Your emotions took in the whole person, as well as the context of your meeting, and gave you all of that information in the form of a feeling. You then acted on that feeling.
Our emotions form the bonds we have with the entire universe. The higher the quality of our emotions, the higher the quality of our bonds.
This is why learning from our emotional pain is such a supreme form of improving our lives. When we learn from our emotional pain, we upgrade the quality of our bonds with the entire universe.
What Happened When I Learned From My Emotional Pain
Since I acknowledged I was the cause of my emotional pain I was able to reflect on my choices and determine which of them were guilty of leading me to the pain.
It’s important to note that I could have thrown my arms out and claimed “The world is responsible for my pain, not me!!!”
What would have happened to me then?…
I would not have empowered myself to learn from my pain. So I would have made the same choices which would have led me to experience even deeper pain. I would have repeated this until I learned my lesson. Many people, especially men, don’t give themselves the opportunity to learn from their emotional pain. They’ve been taught that the best answer is to repress it, by distracting themselves with work, entertainment, drugs or meaningless sex.
That’s a tragedy. Most people refuse to experience the full depths of their emotional pain. These people believe toughness and strength is the best solution to everything, so they close themselves off to their pain and suppress it. But it’s only by immersing ourselves entirely in our pain that we absorb the full breadth of information it holds.
By learning from our emotional pain we allow ourselves to upgrade our whole existence. Deep heartbreak, profound failure or financial ruin are intense emotional experiences which, if harnessed intelligently, have the capacity to level us up to a whole new dimension of existence.
I experienced all three at the same time several years ago (read this if you’re interested). But here I’ll focus on what heartbreak taught me.
What I Learned From Heartbreak
The deeper the emotional pain, the more it has to teach you.
The profound emotional pain stemming from my heartbreak reached into the core of my values and shattered the illusions of what I thought made a good life.
Before my heartbreak, I believed a good life was crafted on professional recognition, lots of money, lots of partying and lots of sex with beautiful women.
My heartbreak taught me that was false. It did that in a way logic or reason never could. By plunging me into a pain so deep, so gut-wrenching, and bone-twisting, that I knew, to my core, that I had made some terrible choices.
I learned I had to change my choices.
It was in that full immersion that I learned what really brought joy and fulfillment to my life.
I learned that I had shared the most joyful and memorable moments of my life with other people. I learned that sharing loving relationship with others, relationships which reach down to the roots of our Being, was what humans are here for.
We’re here to connect with each other. To show ourselves to others as we are, with no reservations or judgments, so they can do the same.
We Chase Illusions At Our Own Risk
Money and fame are not what we’re here for. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they are not the source of our deepest happiness and fulfillment, despite all the images in the media which show the contrary.
Those things are misleading. They trap us in a rat race, enclose us in a cage of emotional shallowness.
While the real treasures of life pass us by, day by day.
I learned that heaven is other people. I learned that laughter shared with trusted friends is precious. That a genuine, loving relationship, romantic or otherwise, is worth more than a thousand sacks of gold.
All of that, I learned from my emotional pain. I came to understand that, not logically, but emotionally.
Since them, I have made my most important choices from that frame of heart. I have chosen to be where the people I love are, not where the jobs are found. I have chosen to do what I love, not what is secure. And I have chosen to love myself as I am, rather than force myself to be something I’m not.
I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
Emotional Pain Will Teach You What A Thousand Teachers Never Could, If You Let It
I have written a few articles which detail how I healed my emotional pain. They may or may not help you, but it never hurts to learn about another person’s experience. You can read them here:
- How To Release Negative Emotions
- How To Heal From Emotional Pain
- What Is The Best Way To Journal?
- Harvesting The Fruit Of Fear – How I Started Sowing Love
My intention is to show you the primacy that the quality of our emotions have in our life. There is a universal human law expressed in this article: if we want to change our life we must change our emotions. If we don’t change our emotions, we will fail to change anything.
I invite you to plunge into your emotional pain. I believe most human beings are capable of doing this without professional guidance. The key is to do it gently, in a safe space. However, if you have a history of violent outbursts or self-harming behaviors, then definitely consult with a medical professional before you decide to dive into your pain.
Our task on this Earth is to become fully formed humans. So many of us have degraded into frightened, anxious, angry, weak little things, enslaved to money, security and the opinions of others. That doesn’t need to happen to us! We are in control of our humanity. We can master our emotions, which are the guides of our choices. So we can master our choices.
We are at the helm.
To our wealth and success.