Don’t Ignore Pain and Trauma – Work Through It
The theme of a recent episode of Peloton instructor Tunde Oyeneyin’s “Fitness Flipped” podcast was “building mental strength.” During the episode, Tunde and Paralympian Scout Bassett discussed the evolution of their views of mental strength. Both admitted that, like many people, they once thought that mental strength meant denying difficult feelings. They came to realize, though, that if they wanted to be emotionally healthy, they couldn’t ignore their pain and trauma; they had to work through it.
Scout came to this conclusion when, at age 28, she revisited the Chinese orphanage she had entered at 18 months old, her right leg burned so badly that it needed to be amputated. She was in that orphanage until she was adopted, at almost eight years old, by a Michigan couple. She said that revisiting the orphanage showed her that she had been mentally and emotionally “parked at that place.”
After returning from China, she began therapy. In the podcast she told listeners that “it’s ok not to be ok…there’s no finish line to that healing journey…whatever you have to do, likely, it’s going to be really difficult, it’s going to be uncomfortable, but…do the work, because, if you’re willing to do it, you’re going to experience just this incredible joy and reward…”
Tunde, who often says in her Peloton classes that “the struggle you feel today shows itself as strength tomorrow” thanked Scout for “[giving] license to other people who feel the same way to also be open, to also be vulnerable.”
Emotional vulnerability can be very intimidating. A psychotherapist’s office is a safe space in which clients can feel secure enough to work through emotional pain and trauma. Part of the process of therapy is learning that it’s possible to experience challenging feelings without being overwhelmed by them.
Many clients criticize themselves for not being able to “get over” trauma. That translates to burying it or attempting to skip over the process of healing it. This may appear to work, but emotional pain that has not been worked through will inevitably show up again, although not necessarily in obvious ways. It’s like burying a container of toxic waste. Eventually, the waste will escape its container and poison the surrounding soil.
A favorite psychotherapeutic technique, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), is not an easy or comfortable process, but it is transformative in a way that talk therapy alone is not. To help manage the intensity of the therapy, we take steps before beginning EMDR processing which, among other things, allow time for the client to become comfortable with therapy and with the therapist. One of those steps is what we call “installing resources.” These resources can be used both in and out of therapy to support clients’ coping and healing.
The next time you experience an uncomfortable emotion, remember that effective emotional pain management does not mean burying feelings, but instead allowing yourself to accept them, feel them, and work through them.