Emotional Pain: From the Prisoner to the Powerful

Susan is a three-year-old who feels no pain. Stubbed toes bring no tears, and hot stoves bring no fear. Because of a condition called congenital insensitivity to pain,[1] Susan is completely incapable of feeling any physical pain and seems almost unstoppable.

Except, Susan is not likely to live to see her 5th birthday.

Because she can’t feel pain, she also can’t feel when something is causing damage to her body. Pain, as it turns out, isn’t just a part of life but is also helpful and necessary to keep us safe from things that might cause harm.

Yet, how many of us have wished at one point or another to be like Susan—to escape from the bodies we live in, or even better, to escape from our emotional pain? As one person posted online, “I wish I could turn my brain off and not have to think or feel any pain.”[2]

Just as physical pain is a signal from your body that something needs your attention, I’ve learned that emotional pain tells us, “Hey, pay attention, something important is happening here.” When you look to see what is causing your emotional pain, you may often find your mind sees potential danger to one of your values.[3,4]

For example, Ashley recently experienced betrayal in a relationship. Her initial reaction to her pain might be to avoid all relationships and trust no one. However, Ashley feels pain because she values loving, trusting relationships. If she were to avoid relationships altogether, she would ultimately miss out on what matters most to her.

The key, then, is not to try and care less about what causes you pain but to use your pain to discover what you value most. And when you have, your pain becomes your power: your values can be your anchors for important decisions that lead to the life you truly desire.

a strong woman
may have suffered,
but heals herself in time,
and her smile reflects
the depth of her experiences,
and is the true source
of her beauty.
a strong woman learns
from her pain,
and knows that feeling
is what makes us
uniquely human.
a strong woman learns
to trust the universe
and follow her heart
wherever it may take her,
because she knows her strength
will carry her,
and that everything will be okay
in the end.Mark Anthony

What message might the universe be trying to send you about what you value? Take a look at these common values and pick out the ones that matter most to you (feel free to add your own). Is there one that your mind is trying to protect by signaling pain?

Achievement
Adventurousness
Authenticity
Belonging
Calmness
Community
Control
Fairness
Family
Freedom
Fun
Health
Honesty
Humor
Independence
Justice
Kindness
Knowledge
Love
Peace
Power
Practicality
Recognition
Reliability
Safety
Spirituality
Spontaneity
Stability
Success
Trust
Uniqueness
Wealth

As you grow and have experiences you may find yourself adding new values or shifting to values you didn’t originally have. This is a natural part of the journey and can be used to discover more about your authentic self.

Whatever pain you might be experiencing (now or in the future), know it’s okay to feel, and it’s okay to hurt. Use your pain to make life what you wish it to be by aligning your decisions with your values. As a survivor, you are strong, you are capable, and you can find power despite your pain.

  1. Daneshjou, K., Jafarieh, H., & Raaeskarami, S. R. (2012). Congenital insensitivity to pain and anhydrosis (CIPA) syndrome; a report of 4 cases. Iranian journal of pediatrics, 22, 412.
  2. Holyoke. (n.d.). I wish I could turn my brain off and not have to think or feel any pain. Retrieved May 7, 2018, from http://whisper.sh/whisper/051a1eb8e3a3eb8207151fd57f00027bde9573/I-wish-I-could-turn-my-brain-off-and-not-have-to-think-or-feel-any-pain
  3. (2012, April 23). Retrieved May 07, 2018, from https://youtu.be/O-Ith3X1x9k?t=6m42s
  4. Hayes, S. C., Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Katie Steck

Guest blog written by Katie Steck

Katie Steck’s passion is applying psychophysiological science to improve everyday life. With a master’s degree in clinical psychology, Katie has experience working with trauma survivors and individuals with severe mental health issues. Currently at The Younique Foundation, she empowers parents and caregivers to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse. To challenge the myth that art and science cannot coexist, Katie also works as a professional face painter at carnivals, corporate events, and birthday parties.