The Highly Sensitive Person is no stranger to pain. Thanks to a super sensitive nervous system, we are hyper-attuned to changes in our physical body, our emotional state, and our spiritual well being. If you are a Highly Sensitive Person you have a lower physical pain threshold, you are highly affected by a rotten night of sleep, and your digestive tract is probably as sensitive as a Thoroughbred on race day, 24/7. It’s not uncommon for you to experience an unusually high amount of food intolerances, inflammatory conditions, and chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, IBS, and migraines.
Finding purpose in pain is one of the most powerful perspective-shifting spiritual practices a Highly Sensitive Person can adopt. For the purposes of this article, I’m only focusing on emotional/psychological pain.
I’ve been finding purpose in pain for so long now that it has become my nervous system’s default. Our minds are so powerful that when we dwell on our pain, ruminate on it, it creates further assault. For example, it’s well documented that a rumination-style of journaling actually harms us. If we’re doing nothing but immersing ourselves in our traumas, while additionally feeling victimized by every little challenge life lobs at us, the research shows that we are not likely to heal or progress.
The Purpose of psychological pain is to alert you that something is wrong.
It’s a signal to get your attention.
Maybe you’re not moving your body enough. Or it’s possible that you’re moving too much. Have you become disconnected from your spirit? Are you not focusing on yourself enough–or possibly too much? Have you lost sight of your life’s big picture? Whatever it might be, emotional pain isn’t supposed to be the main event.
Psychological pain is not meant to be the object of focus.
My method for finding purpose in pain is to shift my perspective. Years back I started to think of it as a verb rather than a noun. As in, “I’m paining right now.” To say “I’m in pain” felt too stuck to me, like being caught in quicksand.
Giving it the freedom of a verb moves it from the primary focus of our consciousness. It allows us to ask new questions. It converts the psyche’s order from “How long will I be in pain?” to “Where is this pain taking me? Where am I paining to? What is it asking of me?” Pain is only a request, after all. It’s a plea from the body, mind, or spirit–“Please listen to me”.
Focusing only on the pain, without listening to the pain’s message, means we run the risk of it becoming an attachment, a not-so-benign condition of the spirit that we end up seeing every time we look in the mirror. The pain becomes entangled with our identity.
Learn to see the pain with new eyes.
Finding purpose in pain requires speaking to it from the somatic language of the body. Ask questions like:
“How would this pain like me to move today?”
“What sounds would this pain emit upon release from my body?”
“How is the pain asking me to pray? To meditate? To feel?”
“What is the mindset that will allow me to process this pain more completely, more deeply? What is the story it needs to tell?”
“How can my words validate it? What words, if any, would it take to release it?”
Where my emotional pain has led me.
I have found in my own life that without this alchemy formula–the practice of bringing emotional suffering to an alternative level of consciousness–pain runs the risk of calcifying in my body. It becomes the carbon that gets stuck in my system, blocking the channels that feed my psychic circuits.
When the Cosmos sends me on a journey of finding purpose in my pain, I remember how it’s been a catalyst throughout my life. It stood by my side when, as a teenager, my mother died and my father disappeared into severe alcoholism–guiding me to independence while practically still a child. Pain helped me see the madness I was embroiled in through two destructive partners, and it pushed me to leave those dangerous situations so I could find the love of my life. Suffering forced me to jump away from a career that was slowly killing me. Anguish guided me through a terrifying initiatory experience (the subject of Stark Raving Zen) leading me through to the other side, to joy beyond my wildest dreams. And recently through a severe case of Bell’s palsy, it taught me how to better take care of myself to a new level of thriving.
I would never want to whitewash emotional pain, spiritually bypassing its potent presence. I don’t want to imply that it’s easy, or that it’s always possible to release it. That’s not the purpose. In fact, I want the opposite of the bypass. I wish to dialogue with it in new ways, while teaching others to do the same. I am committed to honoring pain as an animistic intelligence that we’ve been societally taught to ignore as a mindless, careless inconvenience, to the detriment of our heart and soul. (“Don’t change your life, just take an Advil.”)
Pain is always a difficult conversation with Highly Sensitive People. It can sometimes trigger wounds of identity–and that is not my intent. But I’m here to tell you that you are not your pain.
I would love to hear from you in the comments about anything from this article that resonates with you, or even triggers you. I believe the conversation is worth any price.
I wonder from reading the article if there are different types of pain to be considered. Some types of pain could be given more or less of a voice. I worry that we spend too much time in life trying to avoid the pain instead of listening to it, embracing it, welcoming it. Thanks for the thoughtful topic!