What is Emotional Pain?

Emotional pain hurts; it saps energy; it does not go away just because we want it to; and it cleverly fools us into calling it something else, like exhaustion or boredom. Emotional pain can cause all sorts of trouble. It can get in the way of having healthy relationships. It can get in the way of keeping a job. And, it can cause a person to feel physically awful.

Coping with emotional pain is a highly personal undertaking. No two people deal with pain in exactly the same manner. And furthermore, no two people have the same pain. As complex and varied as pain is, and as equally complex as individual coping mechanisms are, a few general observations can be made.

Emotional pain is viewed differently than physical pain. Even though we are all tragically familiar with instances of suicide by individuals who were unable to bear their emotional pain, the general consensus remains to the contrary: that emotional pain is sissy’s work, and we all should be able to deal with it!

Emotional pain is seen as so unique and elusive that it is often believed to be useless to try to explain it to someone else. Even though we have all at one time found ourselves urging a friend or loved one to “tell me what’s wrong,” we, ourselves hesitate to do so. We have minimal language to describe emotional pain, and even less confidence that our descriptions will be understood.

Emotional pain is linked to shame. It feels shameful to admit to having longings, wishes, or unmet desires and needs. This is a big reason why seeking treatment to help cope with, or even to help overcome emotional pain is both difficult and courageous. In some way, it seems to conflict with our basic instinct to keep ourselves away from shame.

Emotional pain, ironically, requires another person in order for healing to take place. Relief from suffering lies within the purview of human relationship, not outside of it.