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Getting Out of the Pain Trap

Pain traps us, whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain—especially when it becomes chronic. At least we tend to feel trapped. Partly this is because both physical pain and emotional pain take up a lot of energy and constantly draw our attention. It’s hard to pay attention to anything else when we’re hurting.

Defining Emotional Pain
Almost everyone is aware when they’re in physical pain—their body hurts. But knowing what emotional pain consists of is more complicated. It can include anxiety, depression, after-effects of trauma (PTSD), constant worrying, the emotional effects of financial stress, relationship problems, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, addictions, and much more.

Physical Pain
Chronic physical pain often creates a feeling of being trapped in one’s body. People in physical pain can feel like they want to “jump out of their skin,” because they have no control over when the pain comes and goes—and when it’s here, they’re trapped inside, seemingly with no way out.

Chronic Pain creates Anxiety
When physical pain or emotional pain become chronic, people often become afraid that they will always be in pain—that it will never go away, that it is forever. This often leads to anxiety, hopelessness and despair about life in general. Emotional pain and physical pain create a cycle where each one escalates the other. Anxiety about bodily pain can increase physical pain and increased physical pain intensifies anxiety, hopelessness and despair. How to break the cycle?

Solutions for Lessening Pain
The first step is to try solutions that might lessen or alleviate the pain, be it emotional pain or physical pain. Unless everyone is sure that there is no solution, it’s often good to keep trying solutions. There are many different therapies to treat pain. The second part to dealing with pain is to create a feeling of peace and space even when one is in pain.

EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)
One possibility for both treating pain and finding peace in the middle of pain is EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), which can be effective for both physical and emotional pain. EFT is what’s called an “energy psychology” that combines tapping on acupressure points and focusing on the core issues underlying whatever kind of pain a person experiences. EFT often quickly alleviates all kinds of emotional pain, such as anxiety, phobias, and PTSD from stressful and traumatic events . For more long-term emotional pain caused by negative childhood family dynamics, EFT takes somewhat longer but often alleviates even these engrained painful patterns relatively quickly. EFT is also often effective with physical pain (see phys pain case study page). This method also can be used to escape the feeling of being trapped when we’re in pain.

There are also various meditations that can help when we’re in pain by helping us relate to it in a way that decreases the escalating effects of anxiety and fear. For example, sitting and noticing thoughts, physical feelings, and emotions without judgment. Just keeping one’s mind focused on each thought, physical feeling and emotion as they arise and then noticing them passing away and noticing the next thought, physical feeling or emotion and noticing as it passes away, and so on.

Taking a Vacation from Pain
Because feeling trapped can be such a big part of creating anxiety and despair and intensifying physical pain, a third way to get away temporarily is to think of something positive—a place you love where you’ve been at peace, a person that always feels good to be around, a song that makes you feel good—or anything that has a purely positive feeling to it. Think about that thing in great detail, focusing on the way it sounds, looks, smells, feels on the skin—bring in as many sensations as you can and really deeply focus on them until you’re in the world of that person or thing. Our nervous system can only be in one state at a time. So while you’re in this positive place or with this positive person or really in this beautiful song, you will be taking a vacation from the pain.

Noticing When Pain Lessens
Finally, an important part both of healing from physical or emotional pain and finding peace within pain is to notice when it abates or is gone for a time. When we’re sad or depressed or in physical pain, it’s hard to conceive of a time when we weren’t in pain. It feels like it’s always been this way and always will be this way. That’s part of the dynamic of pain—it takes away our ability to imagine anything else. That’s why it’s crucial to make a habit of noticing when you’re feeling better—when you’re content or happy or at peace for a little while, when you’re enjoying someone’s company, when your body isn’t hurting or hurting less. Really notice it and appreciate it while things are better. It can be useful to keep a journal or to chart these positive times. This keeps hope alive and can even sometimes be part of the healing process.

Getting Help

For more information on healing pain and getting out of the trapped feeling that emotional and physical pain can create, see

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