Self

How The Most Deeply Happy People Deal With Emotional Pain (Without Covering It Up)

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Life hacks and shortcuts seem to be everywhere these days. Some are useful while others are simply hilarious — like the one that recommends: “Fill a rubber glove with warm water and place it in your hand when you’re feeling lonely.”

I’m not sure how effective that would be at treating loneliness. But hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, I guess? 

My private therapy clients often come to me talking about their problems; from relationship conflicts to career struggles, they often believe that once they fix this one little thing, their lives will be better.

However, when we take a deeper dive into the issue, it really isn’t the surface problem they describe that bothers them. Many times, the way they feel about the surface problem is the true issue.

That's where my life hack comes in. Though, in truth, it's not really a hack. It's a real solution when dealing with very real pain and discomfort.

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Types of pain — and the narratives we create

I have heard it described that there are two types of pain. Type 1 pain is the initial, often physical pain (though sometimes felt on the emotional level). Type 2 pain is the pain caused by the narrative we create around Type 1 pain.

Type 1 pain is largely unavoidable, but Type 2 pain does fall mostly within our control. Allow me to explain with an example. 

Let’s say I lose my job. Certainly, there is some initial pain of having a temporary loss of income, needing to find a new job, etc. This would be Type 1 pain.

Then there is the narrative I create around this experience. The narrative I choose to adopt is Type 2 pain.

Type 1 pain is very often unavoidable, but fortunately, we all have a choice in Type 2 pain.

I could certainly choose to adopt a narrative that I am unworthy, that I’ll never find another good job, etc. Or I can choose to adopt a narrative that seeks to promote the life outcome I desire

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Do more than 'think positive thoughts'

I want to reiterate that last point because there is an important distinction I want to highlight.

Most self-help advice follows the mantra of “think positive” and everything will be ok. I don’t believe that. I do think generally choosing to look at the positive aspects of life can be beneficial, but what I am speaking about specifically is more nuanced than that.

Merely thinking that everything is positive often causes us to miss some of the very important signs in our life that can be useful guideposts. 

From my prior example, if I only look at the positive side of losing my job I may very well overlook some of the choices I made along the way that got me into that situation in the first place. Then I am likely going to repeat those same patterns again at my next job.

Instead, I would encourage each of us to focus on choosing the narrative that moves us toward the outcomes in life that we seek. And truthfully these may not always be “positive."

Sometimes we all have to take a hard look in the mirror and really be honest with ourselves and the direction our life is headed.

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Learn how to embrace — or at least accept — the uncomfortable 

So here comes the life hack. It is to learn how to tolerate (at worst) and befriend (at best) new sensations.

Most of what bothers us in life is not actually the situation itself, it’s the sensations we feel that arise from that situation — our emotional and physical responses.

The good news is we can practice getting better at tolerating new sensations. Often we may label these as “uncomfortable,” but my encouragement to you is to actually tell yourself out loud and/or in your head when we hear the label “uncomfortable” to instead reframe it into “new."

This helps to drop our initial resistance. We then have the opportunity to invite curiosity in, to get playful with this new sensation, this new way of interacting with the world around us.

So how can we practice? If you already want to shift your relationship with a particular sensation in your life — even better! Because then you have what you need to practice.

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How to shift the sensation 

Allow me to offer a few suggestions. If the sensation you are wanting to work with is more purely physical, you can do things like cold water plunges, saunas, or run a half marathon.

If you desire to shift your relationship with some form of mental or spiritual sensation, then I would recommend considering silent meditation retreats or even more unusual treatments. Some people find great relief from using  psychoactive plant medicines such as psilocybin, approved forms of ketamine, or MDMA (also known as ecstasy or Molly). 

MDMA is on track for potential FDA approval in the coming years, and patients wishing to try MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may request to do so within the context of a clinical trial until the treatment is approved by the FDA, as is the case for any controlled substance.

When we intentionally put ourselves into these initially “uncomfortable/new” situations, it gives us the opportunity to practice welcoming in new sensations. To sit in the discomfort and invite in curiosity and play.

When you become adept at allowing new sensations into your body and life, it is truly amazing what you can accomplish. 

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Troy Madsen is a certified Psychedelic Integration Professional who's passionate about supporting individuals along their personal healing journey. 

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