Feel To Heal The Pain
“Don’t hold to anger, hurt or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love.” — Leo Buscaglia
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced hurt and anger at some point. Whether it involved another person or a situation, we can become embroiled in negativity that may last moments or our entire life. There are many perspectives on how to heal and transform hurt and anger, particularly from a psychotherapy model. But I’d like to explore how to transform these two emotions using a combination of approaches.
Hurt and anger are powerful emotions that can feed off one another if we are unaware. For example, the hurt experienced from a negative event may lead to anger and, conversely, anger usually carries an underlying hurt. We may find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle of feeding the hurt, which provides fuel for the anger. Therefore, we must become mindful of how anger manifests in our life. For instance, do we act out our anger by expressing it through physical harm to ourselves or others? Do we experience anger within our body via tightness or muscle constriction? This may include a rapid heartbeat, tension headaches or muscle tightness. Namely, anger can manifest in other physiological ways and get stored in our muscles and bodily organs.
The mind-body connection is powerful. So, if an emotion is not dealt with properly, it will find a body system to express itself because the role of an emotion is to move through us. The neuroanatomist, Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, believes it takes 2 ½ minutes for an emotion to move through our nervous system. To express it differently, if we suppress our anger, it may become stored in an area of the body and manifest into something sinister. Having worked in this area for several years, particularly coaching clients, I have only met a handful of people who are attuned to noticing negative emotions in their body. How about you? How do you recognise hurt and anger in your body? Where do you feel it? What practices do you undertake to process the emotional pain?
Therefore, to transform hurt and anger requires practising mindfulness and self-compassion. I’m focusing on these two qualities, but there are many others, such as forgiveness and psychotherapy-based approaches, which are all very helpful. Through the gift of mindfulness, we become attuned to where hurt and anger are stored in our body. What is more, we learn to identify when we are triggered and notice the hurt and anger present within our body. So, it becomes an embodied experience, meaning we somatically perceive the emotions through our nervous system without deferring them. Through the power of mindfulness, we move our attention to the area of the body where the emotion is active and create a container to observe the emotion. In other words, we feel the hurt and anger as they arise and allow them to pass through our nervous system, without passing judgement or criticism.
Be Compassionate With Yourself
“When you forgive, you heal your own anger and hurt and are able to let love lead again. It’s like spring cleaning for your heart.” — Marci Shimoff
The second part to heal hurt and anger involves becoming intimate with what we are experiencing. Through self-directed compassion, we nurture ourselves and attend to our wounded parts that need attention. What does this look like you ask? It is the process of emotional regulation, where we become comfortable with the discomfort of feeling hurt and anger instead of running away from them. Activities that defer dealing with our wounds and are the opposite of self-directed compassion. For instance, the Buddhist psychotherapist Tara Brach who wrote the book Radical Acceptance coined an acronym she calls R.A.I.N. Using this method, we become intimate with our negative emotions and process them in a healthy way instead of ignoring them.
- Recognise what is happening;
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
- Investigate with interest and care;
- Nurture with self-compassion.
Is this something you’re willing to give your attention to? Could you stop running from your negative emotions and sit with them, even the difficult ones like hurt and anger? I realise this is a big ask and you may not know the answer, which is okay. The only way to discover is by trying Tara Brach’s method. So, when hurt or anger arises, instead of blaming the situation or the person for your emotional pain, use the R.A.I.N. method to process your emotions. Through the gift of mindfulness and compassion, we can investigate our painful emotions by visualising a white room with an open doorway. We are standing inside the room and welcoming the emotions passing through. We become curious and open to the messages the emotions convey. For instance, in IFS (Internal Family System), it is called being Self-led and inhabiting our core identity, which is undamaged and whole. The Self (purposely capitalised), represents what is called the 8C’s: compassion, curiosity, clarity, creativity, calm, confidence, courage, and connectedness.
The aim in IFS is to perceive our hurt and anger through the lens of the 8C’s. So if we feel hesitation towards our hurt and anger, it is a queue to create space between ourselves and the emotions. Then we can investigate them with openness, so we can inhabit the 8C’s more often. This can take some practice, and hence why it’s important we become mindful of our reaction to negative emotions. More importantly, we become compassionate with ourselves as we process the wounds of the past, particularly our hurt and anger. We are rewiring our nervous system and dampening our response to being triggered. We are grooving new neural pathways to facilitate the gift of self-directed compassion and kindness.
This can be a beautiful journey because hurt and anger needn’t dominate our mind-body permanently. We can choose to respond differently when these emotions surface. Considering this, I invite you to read the article outlining the R.A.I.N. method in the paragraph above. If you keep a diary or journal, take notes on your progress. Don’t give up because it seems difficult or you’re not experiencing immediate results. To draw an analogy, if you’re injured or have undergone surgery, you know it can take weeks and months to fully heal. Emotional healing is similar and we ought to be patient with the process and ourselves. After all, if we wish to transform the hurt and anger we’ve been carrying, it lies in our ability to be mindful and compassionate with ourselves.