I love learning! It’s my most comfortable form of play. Having come off of an amazing psychodrama training, I felt inspired by the trainer, Mary Bellofatto’s explanation of the reason we need to feel the pain in order to recover. It also perfectly sheds light the therapeutic work that needs to happen.
Her explanation brilliantly validated and made sense of my passion in getting people to feel it all in order to make it to the other side. She spoke about how so many of us go through life trying diligently to avoid all of the negative feelings. She went on to say that even most therapists avoid the feelings themselves (assuming they can even identify them and have awareness of them at all) and because of this, therapists are not taking their clients where they need to go emotionally to truly heal.
You cannot miss the step of feeling. Feeling the pain. Let me repeat, you cannot skip over the pain and go directly to healing. Recovery is not a board game where we get out of jail free and get to go unscathed. Healing is messy.
As Rumi states, “The cure for the pain is the pain.”
There is no life without pain and there is no healing without stepping into the pain box. So, what is this pain box you’re supposed to step into anyway? The pain box is the storage container for all of our wounds, suffering, pain, vulnerabilities, dark memories, traumas, and scary feelings. The pain box is all that we wish desperately to avoid. It is in the depths of this box that we need to explore and in this box holds the keys to recovery. It isn’t so much the contents that created the box that need deep exploration, but rather the feelings within the box.
Naturally, you cannot explore the pain box without having safety. This is how therapy can be so valuable if you find a therapist that you feel safe with and who is willing to take you to the depths of your pain so that your pain can cure your pain. It takes courage to do this on both part, the clients as well as the clinicians. And this is why most of the time in therapy the pain box is avoided.
We all have some form of original pain. This pain usually stems from shame or abandonment….aka trauma. Think openly when you think abandonment, abandonment is a bigger category of being left by someone. It can take so many more subtle forms such as a present, good parent not giving you love the way you needed. This original pain causes vulnerability and discomfort which ends up acting like a fire that we are afraid to sit in. To dispel this discomfort we then often engage in unhealthy coping strategies.
1. Introjection – the belief that due to our trauma we are not worth more than the pain it has caused so we internalize and turn inward with shame and hatred.
2. Projection – blaming and lashing out at others. This is externalized pain.
3. Co-dependency – unhealthy, relationships without boundaries
4. Addiction – the use of numbing and avoiding through any means, not just alcohol or drugs. It can be TV, eating, work, perfecting, control, exercise, shopping and the list goes on.
Much of the time therapy is spent just exploring the original pain and the events that caused it or the unhealthy things we are doing in our life to cope with it. It rarely spends any time in the pain box. You cannot skip that step. There is a saying in the addiction world, 90 meetings, 90 days. That is awesome, but unless you spent time in the pain box and are comfortable with the unnerving feelings that come up you can do 365 meetings in 365 days and it won’t do a bit of good. Whatever your addiction is you will relapse if you don’t spend time in the pain box and get familiar with it.
Here is a visual breakdown: