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Friday, July 29, 2016

Compassion & Emotional Pain


A close friend recently shared her profound emotional pain regarding her relationship with her adult child. Suffice it to say that it was not so much a conversation in which she blamed her offspring, but one in which she spoke of the grief she experiences daily by being confronted with the reality of what is.

Another person I know has been estranged from an adult child for years ... grandchildren born in far away places who are barely aware of the blood ties to this grandparent that furthermore, they would scarcely recognize if their paths were to cross.

Deep family grief such as that which I have described here is not uncommon. My files contain dozens of instances. Another couple tells me that while the relationship with their adult child had always been good, once married, it dissipated more and more as that child was assimilated into the family of the spouse in a distant city where the newly-wed couple lived, and that once grandchildren were born, the relationship became even more distant and cool. There had not even been any real kind of disagreement that would at least help this couple 'blame' the cooling process on.

While it may sound as though I'm making a case against adult children, that is not so. I'm attempting to encourage any of those who find themselves in scenarios such as these (and many others that involve multiple variations of family relationships), to try out some of the ideas that follow in order to find a measure of inner calm and peace despite the wrenching pain. And remember, just because the stories I mainly hear come from parents, it does not mean that the adult children in these instances, are not also suffering in their own way. 

You can't wipe the pain away. You can't ignore it. You can't pretend it's not there. You can't repeat endless affirmations and make yourself feel better that way. You can, however, change how you deal with that pain, while still acknowledging that it continues.

This entails - from my point of view, gleaned in great part from much of the mindfulness & Buddhist literature that has filtered over into the west over the past half century - a recognition of the fact that your suffering is greatly increased by the thoughts you have about whatever difficult situation you find yourself in. As long as you don't recognize this, you simply won't begin to take some necessary steps to deal with your thoughts in a more productive and helpful way.

Since your thoughts increase, magnify, and multiply the pain, it stands to reason that those thoughts are not good for you. How can I not think about this, you might ask, look at what is happening! It's true that at the beginning it will be very hard for you not to think about the situation, but imagine just for a moment that you could. Do you see that for much of your waking time you would be in a different space energetically? You might even find some inner peace. Not having thoughts about a difficult situations doesn't imply forgetting it or minimizing its importance. It does imply, however, coming to an inner state of calm. You know the difficult situation is there, in the same way you know how old you are, or that you are left-handed. But you don't need to think about it. Think of the thoughts that you have about the difficult situation as instruments of torture - and YOU are the one applying them to yourself.

Let's call those torture kind of thoughts, "ruminating" thoughts. In other words, you go around and around, just like a hamster on a wheel, and never get anywhere, because all you do is think about how awful it is, or what a terrible thing has been done to you, or perhaps you run through conversations over and over again, wondering what you might have done differently to get a different result. Obviously, none of that is going to improve matters. Ever. It might make them worse, however, simply because as you do this again and again, your own energy deteriorates, because all these negative, helpless, blaming, pain-filled thoughts will have a down-spiraling effect on you.

Another kind of thought altogether, would be a "proactive" thought, which could potentially help you find a solution to the issue. Or perhaps you simply decide to dedicate 15 minutes every day to seeking another way of finding a solution, but once you've done that, you let it go until the next day, because you don't want to fall back into the "ruminating" kind of thoughts.

So here are some ideas about what to do to help yourself in difficult emotional situations:

  • First, start practicing compassion in your thoughts towards the person/people who are involved in this situation with you. You have heard, I imagine, some of the many quotations about feeling compassion for those who hurt you, because they themselves are hurting inside. Here is one from the Dalai Lama: Every single being, even those who are hostile to us, is just as afraid of suffering as we are, and seeks happiness in the same way we do Every person has the same right as we do to be happy and not to suffer. So let's take care of others wholeheartedly, of both our friends and our enemies This is the basis for true compassion. Even if you do this very haltingly, very hesitantly, even not really wanting to do it, it will (I promise you), become part of you, if you practice often enough. Simply send compassion with your thoughts to that other person/s whenever you think about them.
  • Next, start 'catching' yourself as your thoughts go down the road towards the painful issue, or the people that participate in it with you. If you are able to 'catch' yourself, you will be able to stop those thoughts (more about 'how' to stop those thoughts in a moment). To catch yourself, you can practice mindfulness (here's a simple way to do it), or you can put up some post-it's around the house and office that remind you to become aware of what you are thinking and feeling numerous times throughout your day, every day, until being fully conscious of your thoughts and feelings (and your role in creating them) becomes automatic. The moment you see the reminder via the post-it, you will - at least momentarily - come to consciousness about what you are thinking and feeling. This means that you now have a choice.
  • The choice that you now have, of course, is whether you will continue to have those same thoughts, or whether you will choose to go down another road. So you choose whether you stop those thoughts - just for now - or whether you continue having them. You can say to yourself, for example: I don't yet know how this problem will turn out. I don't know if it will ever be resolved. But just for now, I choose to lift my energy by finding something beautiful (it's easiest if you choose something in nature) to look at, listen to, smell, or touch, and by feeling gratitude for its presence in my life just now. As you do this, you may notice a slight shift in your energy. You can then go on to do whatever you need to do in your life at that moment. And if you find that some minutes later you are ruminating again, you can repeat this step again. And again. And again. And I promise you that in a period of a very short time, your thoughts will go to this difficult emotional place less and less. Not because you care less. Not because it's been solved. But because you have learned to be compassionate and take care of your thoughts. Much more about this topic in my book Rewiring the Soul: Finding the Possible Self.


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Also visit my book website: www.gabriellakortsch.com where you may download excerpts or read quotations from any of my books. My latest book Emotional Unavailability & Neediness: Two Sides of the Same Coin is available globally on Amazon in print & Kindle. You can also obtain it (or any of my other books) via Barnes & Noble.

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