Processing Your Pain for Better Emotional Health

Chris Cook

Chris Cook

Director of Care Initiatives
Life has its way of injecting a venom inside of us that the human body and soul was just not built to carry – especially if it is left unspoken, unprocessed and without perspective.

Processing Your Pain for Better Emotional Health

In the last eight months with the onset of the COVID crisis, I have been powerfully reminded that everyone is carrying the weight of heartache and disappointment – from the lost job to the sabotaged graduation ceremony, to the ache of missed friendships – not to mention those who have lost a loved one and can’t have a memorial with more than a few people.
 
Life has its way of injecting a venom inside of us that the human body and soul was just not built to carry – especially if it is left unspoken, unprocessed and without perspective. Our emotional and physical health hinges on our ability to give ourselves permission to feel something.
 
There is good news, though. The Bible gives us clues on how we can address the pain and disappointment life gives us by entering into rhythms of healthy lament
 
Lament is an old word ­– but a powerful concept. You need only look at the Psalms to see the waves of emotion that are expressed, and not all of it are the cries of triumph. Almost a third of the 150 Psalms are classified as expressions of grief and sadness; and honest anguish is seen all over the Old and New Testaments.
 
What do the healthy laments from the writers of Scripture teach us? An awful lot of the time, we can release much of the pain that we’re carrying by just honestly expressing it out loud or on paper. 
 
“Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 4:1
 
And often all we need is a safe person and a safe space to process our pain for better emotional health. Save this infographic to your phone, share it with a friend, and refer back often.

We can help each other.

We can partner with a trusted friend or someone in our small group. We can set a time and turn off our phones. But where do we start?
 
Kensington has tapped the expertise of our Counselor Referral Network and other experts and developed a tool to help. It’s a starting place with ground rules and best practices for both the speaker and the listener so that a conversation can begin and some of the emotional pain and grief can be released.
 
Let me give you a little advice on how to get the most out of it:
 
If you are the one Sharing – it can be tricky to get started because it can all feel overwhelming. Be kind to yourself and start with something small and specific. Leave the long-term family dysfunction for another day and pick something you noticed in the last 24 hours. Even if you don’t have the perfect words right away, there are great resources to help you identify the feeling – and naming it is where processing can begin.
 
Listener – in many ways, you are the keeper of the other person’s soul in that moment – there’s a real vulnerability that opens up. Part of your role is to honor and protect it. 
 
They have to do their own work. You can’t fix what they are feeling, but you can encourage and empower them to process it. You can offer them words like “tell me more about that” or gently remind them of their “share well” pointers.
 
But mostly, you are there to maintain the safety of the space. Let me quickly drill down a bit on a few things that can get you off track:
 
Broken Confidentiality — that should be self-explanatory. What is shared must stay there (unless, of course they’re talking about hurting themselves – get professional help if that happens).  When a person is processing disappointment, it can come out in ways that they wouldn’t share on social media. Don’t even share what you hear with your spouse or partner.
 
Judgment – Remember you are dealing primarily with emotions, which are neither good nor bad. Even when the person sharing says something uncomfortable, remember that they are trying to put words to their feelings – don’t stop them in the middle of the process.
 
Fixing – Even if you can see it, don’t give them the solution. They will own it if they discover it themselves – even if that takes more time.
 
Toxic Positivity – There’s an old adage in recovery circles that says we are only as sick as the stuff we don’t talk about. Like it or not, unpleasant emotions are real and denying them only makes them grow. There is space later on for choosing gratitude, but we need to embrace the reality of all of our emotions.
 
Comparative Grief – I’m guilty of this one all the time. I say, “I have a home, a family and we are all safe. Considering the suffering I see every day, I have nothing to complain about.” That is patently untrue. Comparing our pain is fruitless; but if I can be honest about my own, I can be more present for others. And even if the pain I’m processing is relatively mild at the moment, I’m building important skills for when things get harder.
 
By the way, if you feel energized and strong as you listen to and encourage someone who needs a safe person, you may want to consider joining Kensington’s Pastoral Care Team as a Stephen Minister.  If you’d like to find out more, please email us.
 
For Both of You – I’ll say it again: turn off your phones. Also, remember to switch roles when the time is right.

Prayer & Gratitude

Through it all, it’s important to end the processing time in prayer and gratitude. Without dipping into the toxic positivity (see above), decide to focus for a moment on two or three tangible things that you are genuinely grateful for. That simple exercise brings perspective and energy to keep going and move with the pain that remains.
 
Finally, celebrate! You have both taken a really important step! Pray and thank God for the time of healing and trust Him with the pain and unanswered questions that remain. And remember to set another time to do it again. Lament happens best if it’s done in regular rhythms, so the times of overwhelming grief are less frequent.
One last thing: If you are finding it hard to carry the pain you are feeling – if it is affecting your relationships and persistently sapping your energy – you might benefit from more focused and professional help. Check out the Safe Sources We Trust section on the handout above for resources that can continue the journey.
 
You are stronger than you feel – you are more loved than you can imagine.

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