Martha Beck shares secrets to dealing with emotional pain.
The secrets to dealing with emotional pain, to processing that pain and then moving on come in two varieties and they rhyme.
One is grieving and the other is disbelieving. Now grieving is how you handle what some psychologists call clean pain.
Let me differential clean pain from dirty pain. Clean pain arises from events. So, if I came up and slapped you that would hurt – clean pain.
Dirty pain arises not from events but from our thoughts about events.
So the slap would hurt, and that’s clean pain, but any thoughts you had that caused further suffering like, she slapped me because I am bad. I am going to get slapped again. All women slap people. I didn’t deserve to be slapped, this is horrible.
Those thoughts create a lot of further suffering and that, some psychologists call dirty pain.
Now clean pain must be grieved. If you have lost a loved one you are going to go through the grieving process and that’s going to be tumultuous process of anger, sadness, denial, acceptance.
Supposedly they come in a list but actually it’s just a big cement mix of feeling. And that just, it happens but if you allow it to happen without restraining it, the intense emotions surge in about 90 seconds and then they recede.
It’s interesting to me that that’s about the length of the most intense contraction when you are giving birth as well – 90 seconds.
So if you resist grieving it can last for many, many years as unexpressed or repressed pain. If you allow it to flow it peaks and recedes in about 90 seconds. So that’s grieving.
Now dirty pain – that has to be disbelieved. So for example, I have a son with Down syndrome.
When he was diagnosed I had to grieve the loss of the normal baby I thought I was going to have, but then I had to disbelieve a lot of things that were in my head causing dirty pain.
Thoughts like, his life is going to be unhappy because he has Down syndrome. No woman will ever love him because he has Down syndrome. It’s a terrible thing to be mentally retarded.
These were all things that I had solidly as beliefs that were causing me great suffering and none of them were true and I had to learn to dissolve those beliefs in order to be free from my dirty pain.
Fortunately, I had this incredible, wonderful boy to help me but everything that causes dirty pain is based on thoughts that need to be dissolved. So grieve what you must and disbelieve everything that isn’t necessary.
About Martha Beck:
Martha Beck, Ph.D., is a writer and life coach who specializes in helping people design satisfying and meaningful life experiences. She holds a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, all from Harvard University. She has published academic books and articles on a variety of social science and business topics.
Her non-academic books include the New York Times bestsellers “Expecting Adam” and “Leaving the Saints,” as well as “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” and her newest book, “Steering by Starlight.” Dr. Beck has also been a contributing editor for many popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook, and is currently a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine.