How Talking About Your Feelings Can Keep You In Pain
I had a conversation with a man I loved deeply that resulted in a lot of unexpressed truth emerging (from him) and our relationship ending. The conversation itself was loving, but the withholding of significant feelings and his abrupt departure left me feeling betrayed.
I got to know that betrayal well, learned how it made me feel worthless, and the ways it’s showed up in my life on repeat—same story, different characters. The experience turned out to be a gateway into the greatest transformation of my life.
But that came later. Let me rewind.
When the initial shock that the relationship was over began to wear off, pain cascaded through some unknown portal where it had been stored away. I would come to realize that this was lifetime(s) of pain, but I originally believed it all was linked to this person leaving me.
What does one do with an avalanche of unprocessed emotional pain?
Well, my initial reaction was to run. I booked a flight leaving for New York City the next morning. Being with my brother—someone who knows me, loves me, and wasn’t going anywhere—for the first night gave me a sense of comfort. But, in moments of stillness, the pain came surging in again. Mourning is not a thing to do in a couple’s living room in Brooklyn.
Once I got back to Los Angeles, I was alone in my apartment, preparing myself to face this insurmountable pain. I did my best. I cried all the time but felt little relief. The ambush of pain taxed my nervous system so I spent a lot of time laying in bed, inching my body toward the spots where the sun shone through the curtains.
Then came the phone calls.
I am incredibly grateful to have a wide net of wonderful people who love and support me. During this time I relied on two people who I trusted wouldn’t judge or leave me.
I spent most nights checking my phone to see when the torture of insomnia would be over. At around 4 AM I would call my Mom who was three hours ahead in New Jersey. When I’d get off the phone with her, I forced myself out of bed and then would call my friend, Liz.
Sometimes when I called my Mom she wouldn’t hear anything because I was crying and couldn’t get a word out. Sometimes she was exasperated by my neediness, but mostly she just listened to me and reassured me that I am loved and that it would all be OK.
One morning I went for a walk with my dog, and I called Liz. “I won’t do anything about it, but I want to die,” I told her.
She was un-phased and began to ask questions to gain a better understanding of how I felt. We talked for a few minutes, and I was grateful to have someone hold my emotions for me because I was not ready.
I really needed this kind of unwavering love and support during this time. I needed people in my life who didn’t think I was crazy, who weren’t going to tell me to get busy, who understood—to some degree—the depth of sorrow I was experiencing.
But at some point, I began to use their support as a crutch. Instead of feeling my pain, I would pick up the phone when a wave came rushing in. Often, I would push my feelings down and use my analytical mind to process with them everything that had happened and had gone wrong. These phone calls became my mechanism for avoiding pain.
As long as I was talking about feeling I didn’t have to feel the depth of my pain.
If we can’t turn to ourselves when the worthiness wound opens, we will always be looking outside ourselves to feel better. We will continue to think that someone else has the answers and something else will take the pain away.
When that man left me, the pain from all of the moments in my life when I had betrayed myself flooded in. Every cell in my body was screaming out for me to just love myself, to just hold my own body, and look into my own eyes and love me. Instead, I turned from myself and called people I loved and respected, practically begging them to show me my worth.
It took a lot of suffering for me to recognize that there is no human on earth who can make me believe I am worthy of love. That job is all mine.
I was putting the real work on hold by picking up the phone and talking about my pain instead of feeling it, asking myself what I needed, and giving it to myself. When I finally surrendered to healing, I learned to mother myself. I cradled myself in my own arms. I looked in the mirror into my eyes and said, “I love you.” I really did these things because my soul needed them.
Becoming an emotionally mature adult means that we take full responsibility for our own pain. No one is making us feel a certain way. Often, we feel hurt about something someone else has said or done because of something that has happened in early life that needs to be healed. Each time that wound is pricked, we have an opportunity to love ourselves through it.
You could call everyone in your life who loves you completely, and they could tell you a million times that you are lovable, beautiful, and amazing, and you still won’t believe it if you don't love yourself. That is because this is your work.
Some people are not going to see you, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t there. Some people are not going to be capable of honoring your pain, and it doesn’t mean you’re not lovable. Sometimes life is not going to go your way, and it doesn’t mean there’s a damn thing wrong with you.
No one can connect you to that truth but you.