Pain is never the problem; it’s only a symptom, your body’s indication that something is “wrong over here.” In this way, your body tells you, almost instantly, that your finger hurts and you are able to deduce that it is because you are touching something that is at such a high temperature as to present a danger to the skin and muscle cells in your finger. You feel the pain, but the pain isn’t the problem. It’s just a signal.
This is just as true for emotional pain as physical pain, but it’s harder to address because the body’s natural mechanisms for expressing emotional pain communicate much less clearly than their physical counterparts. When something bad happens, it just sort of hurts “inside”. Sometimes, as a result of lives spent following the source of pain straight to the hurt that caused it, that leads us to believe that the “problem” is also inside us.
But it might not be. More often than not, emotional pain is the result of a disembodied hurt that exists in the space between two people, or between a person and an idea, out in the semiosphere where the person extends themselves outward, looking for a connection. Humans are built around the need for connection. When we fail to connect, whether because of misunderstanding, miscommunication, or even just unfortunate timing, it hurts and we feel it “inside”. It can feel like getting slapped back, put in your place. And because there is no anthropomorphised administrator of this wrist-slap, there is no one to give you clarification or context for the rebuff, and you are left to try and decipher what happened and why and whether or not it was your fault.
The other problem with physical pain, even when you can find the right source, is that it is often the result of a hurt for which the balm is completely counter-intuitive. Afraid of spiders? Spend time with spiders. Anxiety speaking in public? Try speaking in public. Devastated by the rape you just can’t bear to think about? You should find someone to help you think – and talk – about it. Obviously this strategy doesn’t apply to all – or probably even most – hurts causing emotional pain, but I think it is often a part of the solution.
To be clear, my advice is NOT “walk it off”.
My advice is this: If you hurt on the inside, don’t forget to look outside yourself for the source of that hurt. When you find the source, don’t let yourself have any blindspots about what will make the hurt lessen.
If you find out that you hurt because of a failed connection, don’t give up on connection. Try to reconnect. If you know your hurt comes from multiple failed connections, change how you try to connect. If you can’t understand why the connection failed, talk to someone on the other side of that connection to understand, even if it’s painful to do so.
BDSM is a great way to practice emotional healing. For people who like to be humiliated and degraded sexually, that kind of play, when healthy, should start and end with communication about the players’ value as people, even if that’s not the surface-level matter of conversation. When two people talk about what is and is not a limit, the conversation is inherently based on mutual and co-extensive human validation. When the scene progresses through and someone is shouted at/pissed on/kicked into the mud/locked in the dark/made to feel alone, it is still based on this same validation. Aftercare, when done right, is a song of validation as two fulfilled (and sweaty) bodies come together to reaffirm each others’ and their own humanity. We can only play with these ideas because we are human enough and smart enough to believe two contradictory things at the same time. In that moment, we connect.
And it is the CONNECTION AS YOU EXPERIENCE IT (your half of the semiotic connection as you extend yourself outward looking for something), not the validation you hear coming from some other person, that gives you what you need to begin to heal.
You can heal yourself, but you can’t do it alone. Let your pain lead you to the hurt, even if its where you didn’t expect to find it. Examine the hurt to find a balm, even if its the opposite of what you expected. If the hurt comes from a bad connection, keep connecting. When you identify the connection you need to feel better, don’t forget that the healing you experience is the result of your actions, and it is YOUR healing. Own it. Own all of it.