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Surrender to Emotional Pain

Photo by Sara Lando of Silvia. See more of her work on flickr.

We’ve all heard the popular eastern mantra: we create our own pain, in our minds. Yet, when it comes down to daily living, we still do that which contradicts what we say we want – we continue to willingly inflict pain upon ourselves.

Despite being an advocate and devoted “preacher” of this message, I too subject myself to this self-inflicted pain, and suffer from its fallout.

For the past few months, I have been drifting in-and-out of an unconscious and anxious state of mind over the anticipated conclusion of an unresolved situation. My mind dwelled on the uncertain nature of the situation, and would not let go of the self-depleting thoughts that were creating a lot of pain and negativity within my inner space – uneasiness, resentment, anger and hatred. Suffice it to say that my inner peace had been stirred up into an unpredictable storm.

I am happy to report that the event did finally come to a conclusion, and it ended in my favor. Now I’m struggling a little with the conflicting feelings of shame, for having been angry and spiteful, and feelings of gratitude for having experienced these emotions and learning from them.

While analyzing and extracting the lessons learned, I saw that pain and our reactions to it come to us in a familiar pattern. Unless we take some proactive measures to interrupt this pattern, we will forever be enslaved to the whim of some external circumstance that is beyond our control.

When faced with tough life situations, what can we do to handle them while minimizing any disturbances to our emotional wellbeing? This is the focus of discussion in this article.

What Causes Emotional Pain?

Anxiety, worry and stress have similar triggers, in that there is an event happening in the future with an unknown result, and we are scared of what that result will be. We start to imagine the worst case scenario and then fear sets in and instills in us a state of anxiety that keeps us fixated on that scenario.

Thoughts and imagery of future pain begin to overflow our mental space. As a result, we experience the pain now, simply from the idea of potential pain in the future.

Recall the last time you experienced worry and anxiety. Perhaps it was this morning, or yesterday. What were you thinking about? Was it over some possible, future, or unresolved event? Were you imagining a scenario of things going badly? I’m going to guess that you were likely pondering the uncertainties surrounding some future event, and vivid images of worst case scenarios were tormenting your mental space.

Maybe you were nervous about the future status of a relationship, and thoughts of being alone scared you and triggered a series of emotions. Maybe you were stressed out about the completion of a work project, and thoughts of losing your job disturbed you. Maybe you were anxious over an investment decision, and thoughts of losing money caused you distress. Maybe you were bothered to find out that someone didn’t like you, and thoughts of abandonment and friendship lost agitated you.

Dramatic life challenges aside, what’s interesting to observe is that our mind goes out of its way to create problems, even when everything else is peachy. Even when nothing is wrong, we start to create problems in our head, and through thought repetition, become convinced that the problems exist.


My Story of Pain

In light of protecting the identities of the parties involved, I will keep the details of the situation private. I will share with you what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned. I will refer to it as the situation from this point forward.

Photo by Sara Lando of Silvia. See more of her work on flickr.

It’s actually killing me a little not to share the details with you, but it is necessary in order to respect the privacies of others. All I can say is that the situation involved the law, money and personal feelings.

Anyway, the situation lasted for 5 months, most of which was a waiting game, during which I was regularly lost in a confusing train of thought accompanied by blame, resentment, and pain. I’ve visited more dark places within myself during these months than I ever knew existed.

The feeling of hatred I was experiencing both surprised me and ashamed me. I felt lost, I felt disconnected, and I was constantly bothered by the flow of negative energy. I hated feeling this way, yet I continued to allow myself to experience the pain with passionate intensity.

I had conjured up, in my mind, a story of unfairness. With this, I was able to justify my feelings of blame and hate. The story ran through my mind often, and the more I thought of it, the more passionate I became on the topic, and the more intensely I experienced the emotions. In short, in an unconscious state, I had managed to absolutely convince myself of the inevitability of something that didn’t actually exist.

There are always at least two sides to every story, but in an unconscious state, we passionately choose one side and attach ourselves to it. Of course, if I were to ask the other people involved, they too would give you a side of the story that demonstrated unfairness towards them and their interests. After all, when feelings are hurt and pride is on the line, the easiest thing to do is to find a villain to absorb the blame. Where the ego’s concerned, it’s always a losing battle.

I was deeply distracted, had a hard time focusing on the good, and had trouble sleeping. Part of me knew that everything was going to be fine, but part of me wouldn’t let go of the attachment to pain. That part of me couldn’t stand that I couldn’t do anything but wait, and so in a desperate state, grasping for control of something… anything to hold onto…., it created problems to keep itself alive. I became deeply addicted to problems and pain.

What’s worse, during this self-inflicted and nonproductive time of stress, I had forgotten to focus on, appreciate, and celebrate the miracles that had appeared during this time: I had found love and he proposed marriage.

The Realizations

Looking back on the experience and its conclusion, everything now appears to be so clear and simple. Some good did come out of the experience, however, I feel frustrated with myself for having wasted so much time and energy in dwelling on conjured up negativity.

It’s true, hindsight really is 20-20. We can’t change the past, but we can choose to extract the lessons learned and move on with dignity and hope for the future.

Here are some things I’ve realized and learned:

  • All challenges are there to teach us a lesson. But we are conditioned to treat challenge as a bad thing. Challenge is our friend, embrace it!
  • We experience what we put out. When we experience and express a feeling towards someone, we ultimately are the receiver of that feeling. When we express anger towards someone else, we feel the pain. When we hold a grudge against someone, our own inner space suffers. Next time you express an emotion, take notice in how it makes you feel on the inside.
  • Every day, there are miracles happening all around us, yet, in a state of deep unawareness, we fail to see them. Even the happiest of events, can be diluted when we’re consumed with problems.
  • Our minds are naturally and automatically attracted to problems. Even when everything else is going well, our mind looks for conflicts, issues, differences and problems. We can’t handle how happy we actually are, and how there’s really nothing to be worried about. Without problems, our ego has nothing to cling to.
  • All problems are rooted in our interpretation of an external circumstance. Thus, all problems are really created in our heads. They don’t actually exist, except in our own projection of a tale we have convinced ourselves of and believe to be true.
  • We suffer, unnecessarily, in advance of an anticipated outcome or event. Nothing has happened yet, but because we have imagined the worst case scenario in our mind, we become afraid of what might happen. As a result, we suffer in advance of a possible scenario that may or may not take place in the future.
  • There is nothing we can’t handle, even death. It doesn’t matter how much suffering we endure ahead of time, when the anticipated event happens, it happens, and we move on. The actual event is rarely as bad as we had anticipated. We are stronger than we think.

In the end, I realized that the magnitude of the emotional ride I had experienced was necessary for me to recognize that this happens every day, only on a much smaller scale.

Every single day, there are opportunities to create new problems or intensify existing problems, and we often choose to do this despite our deep knowingness that we are really happy, and can be really happy with what we already have.

Every single day, we are faced with opportunities to choose pain over joy, but we become flustered with the many mental distractions, become unaware, and fall prey to the impulsive pulls of our ego.

Every single day, we have the choice to choose between problems and no problems. It’s the meaning we give to something that defines how we feel about that thing.

Every moment of every day, we have choices. We always have choices.

We can choose to see the good in people and circumstances.
We can choose to give love and compassion.
We can choose to smile.
We can choose to take responsibility.
We can choose to surrender to the moment.
We can choose to change ourselves.
We can choose to focus on things we enjoy.
We can choose to take action.
We can choose happiness.


Parting Thoughts

After our salsa class on Sunday, Jeremy and I went into a little French bakery that we frequent for our weekly dose of a fresh croissant and an organic latte. We couldn’t help but to notice a sweet older women sitting alone one table down, with her back to us.

She must have been at least ninety years old. She was impeccably dressed in a freshly-pressed navy suit-dress, stockings and a black & white checkered scarf. She wore lipstick, eye-liner and had a grey purse to match her grey tweed coat.

I sat there in admiration of her for carrying herself with so much class. While so many others her age are waiting for their death, she got dressed up on a Sunday afternoon, put on lipstick, and continued to enjoy the wonders of what life can offer – in the form of a sinfully delicious French bakery.

While sitting there elegantly enjoying her lentil soup, she had accidentally spilled some water on the table and onto her beautifully pressed clothing. It took her a few seconds to realize, before she looked around the tiny café in embarrassment.

For a fraction of a second, I felt her embarrassment and loneliness, and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I looked over at Jeremy, and tears had already welled up in his eyes too.

In that moment, I felt like I was her and I had lived a life filled with varying experiences and moments of deep joy and love. And in that moment, seeing all my current problems from that perspective, I realized that they are pretty insignificant compared to what really matters most – love, and the need to celebrate the miracles of life.

Life is precious. Choose how you want to experience it, intentionally and consciously.

When in doubt, take a few minutes, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Imagine yourself at 98 years old sitting in a rocking chair in a beautiful and peaceful setting. You have lived a full and long life. Imagine all the significant moments of joy you’ve experienced, and all your proud accomplishments during your long life. See them vividly. Now, think of the problems you are currently troubled by in your life as a young lad or lass, do they still bear the same weight?


** What are some things in your life that’s bothering you? How can viewing it from a different angle affect how you feel about it? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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69 thoughts on Surrender to Emotional Pain

  1. Interesting blog post. What would you say was the most important factor in using NLP?

  2. You mention facing death as something that we can endure. What if it’s your OWN death? Ever been in that spot? I’d be curious to see what you have to say about that.

    I don’t know why the charming vision of that old woman spilling her soup bugged me so much. Maybe because it was projection on your part. You have no idea what was going through her mind. You imagined someone who proudly got dressed and primped to face the world…despite her age. Maybe she isn’t accepting of it. Maybe she was out trying to find someone to fall in love with. Maybe the other older people who are “waiting for death” are accepting of it…and don’t need to be at THE restaurant…pretending to enjoy the latest “must eat”. Maybe they are OK and content…and happy because they’ve jumped off the treadmill and understand that it’s OK to quit the game.

    This may come off as angry…and I guess I am. I feel this way because I hear and read these things and so much of it is opinion. “This is what you should do. Don’t be down. Grab as much life as you can!” When really…many of those people have missed the point of living in the first place.

    Sorry for the jerky tone. I really am. I am totally going to follow this site. But I also like to push back with my own opinions. This would be one of them.

    Thanks for listening.

  3. Alright, I understand that I’m late. However, Tina your posts make me feel so at peace. I enjoy coming each and everyday catching up on your old posts.


  4. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make is trying to resist the pain. This is why I love this article so much, sometimes you have to surrender to pain because pain is just a natural part of life. Like you mention life challenges are here to teach us lessons and sometimes those lessons “feel” painful. I think by changing our perspective about emotional pain we can come to accept when life throws us challenges.

    For me I all about using painful experiences for my advantages. Surrendering to the moment letting it out not holding it in and then switch perspective…see the bigger picture and look into what life is trying to teach you. As you mention a lot of painful experiences can be avoided it really is all about your mindset.

  5. Great, great stuff, thanks! You made the front page at delicious — well deserved. I’m saving this piece to reread down the road. Keep up the wonderful work!

  6. Magena

    Very beautiful. Brought a tear to my eyes.

  7. rakhesh

    god bless you tina for writng this beautiful journal,

    keep up the good work,

  8. rakhesh

    This website is great to all, getting answers for theirs problem and learning,
    you are an angel,showing and guiding people,
    making an impact to the lives of people,
    god bless for your wonderful work,keep the good work

  9. Frank

    You commit a grave error. You ignore that much pain in life comes not from ourselves, but from reality, necessity, and if you believe, from God.

    It is vital to understand the kinds of misery that can be addressed, salved, healed, and the kind that must simply be borne as the price of life.

    There is a submissiveness, an obedience, that must be learned to make this possible. It is not kind to our immediate wellbeing – it does not care about who we are now, only about who we may become. So, tragically, most people never seek it.

  10. Jennny

    I have been described as emotionally demanding in the past by a close friend who has seen my struggle to feel heard and loved when suffering – I was adopted and am healing that primal wound patiently as I grow. Sometimes, as now, I feel insecure with my partner who doesnot like to talk intimately, is quick to anger to mask his own insecurites and prefers to dismiss my ‘growing pains’. As a result I do the resolving and we supposedly move on. I am currently immersed in emotional pain as again I feel unheard and unsupported. Last night I had a break through – I said to myself I am not alone, my mother is the earth and I feel her support (I’m into nature!), this morning I took Rose herb tincture drops and this little action of positivity helped me to my next self-supportive, pattern breaking thought – I am not emotionally demanding I am soul-expressive and soul-truthful. I recognise others suffering – right and wrong – and give non-judgemental, patient, attentive, non-fixing love to them. This is the way and the truth…

  11. What a great, positive post. This is full of many of the truths I’ve grappled with myself, and I found your story of the 90-year-old woman at the end very touching.

  12. Kanu Ir

    Nice article and many good tips on how to cope with tough experiences!

    I have a slightly differing opinion on the statement “All problems are rooted in our interpretation of an external circumstance”.

    I think that people are partially responsible for how others may feel during a conflict. I personally feel that each and every person (related to or involved) shares partial responsibility for how they feel and how others feel. I don’t think that problems “don’t actually exist.” I believe they are real, however I do agree that it isn’t healthy to ruminate.

    When an atrocity is committed, I really do feel that the problem truly exists. Feelings develop due to something happening or changing. I don’t think there is anything wrong for feeling a certain way about that problem, however I think we should try to control our actions in response to the problem.

    How we act could potentially make the problem worse if we don’t think and behave wisely.

  13. I don’t even know where to start. I’m going through a lot of challenges lately regarding finances, family matters, health and also at work. In the past few hours I was riding some rough emotional roller coaster. Then I just decide to Google “how to handle negative thoughts” and it lead me to your column. Thank you. Everything you’ve written here ‘hit’ things right on the spot. Very insightful, revealing and truthful. I cried. I think I’m overwhelmed with my thoughts and emotions. Nothing is fixed nor do I have any answers to my problems but I am hopeful that this too shall pass. Whether it be in my favor or not. I won’t let things eat at my thoughts tonight. Thank you. A must read not just once but maybe a couple of times especially when you feel really down and lost…

  14. David

    I love this. It is so spot on in so many ways. especially the last sentence.

  15. After reading your article I can identify with all of your experiences as I have gone thru and still going thru those emotions and thought processes that you went thru. I thought I was the only one in this world who has been thru these experiences in life. These lines surely hit home for me “unconscious state, I had managed to absolutely convince myself of the inevitability of something that didn’t actually exist. Also I can identify so much with these lines “All problems are rooted in our interpretation of an external circumstance. Thus, all problems are really created in our heads. They don’t actually exist, except in our own projection of a tale we have convinced ourselves of and believe to be true.
    We suffer, unnecessarily, in advance of an anticipated outcome or event. Thank you so much for shedding some light on these issues. It was a great help for me understanding my personal problems as well.

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