When a person undergoes a life disruption, it may not advisable to take medication that will alleviate the pain immediately. When pain is alleviated with medication, the person’s motivation to make changes is reduced. And there is a great deal to learn from the process of managing emotional pain. (Of course, there are times when medication becomes necessary, especially with the suicidal thinking that may accompany a major depression. Many other life crises can be endured better with the use of medication. This is a medical decision.) When you undergo a major life crisis, you need time to gain insight into what has gone wrong and achieve integration again. Emotional pain, while unpleasant, serves its purpose, just as physical pain does in alerting us to something that is going wrong in our bodies. It prompts us to take action. Similarly, drugs and alcohol may help to alleviate emotional pain – but then the opportunity to learn our life lessons vanishes. Reinforcing pain chemically may allow old patterns of behavior to continue – in which case, paradoxically, the pain you are trying to escape will persist into the future. Pain spurs us to learn new ways of coping.
There are tactics that people in crisis can use to get through the crushing periods of pain that accompany a life disruption. These methods do not end the pain, which has value, but they allow us some relief for a time.
First, is diversion. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves physically or mentally from our emotional pain for a while. We can take a weekend trip, read a book, watch an engrossing movie, talk to a friend, take a walk or get some other physical exercise. Diversion allows us time to heal and it may give us sufficient distance from a problem that we can come back to it again and perhaps see it in a new light.
The second tactic for dealing with emotional pain is to stay in control over those aspects of your life that you still have some ability to control. A major life disruption can leave you with the feeling that you have no control over events. However, you can use self-discipline to clean your residence, bathe, feed the dog, water your plants, and pay your bills. Stay in control of those things that you can control, and let those things which are uncontrollable run their course.
Finally, find someone who can show you empathy. There is no better way to relieve emotional pain than to talk to a trusted friend or therapist who can say with conviction, “Yes, I understand – and I care.”
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.