My father just left on a train. He’s been visiting me, and now he’s going back to where he lives in England.
And all of a sudden, it reminds me of the time when I was a child. When he left, moved away, and never came back.
It still hurts, all these years later. I hide my tears behind my sunglasses.
My father is the one who taught me to feel deeply. He was a therapist and encouraged feelings. He taught me to show my pain when I was hurt.
Then I was sent out into the world – “the world” at the age of five, being Lowfield Primary School. And there I discovered, much to my shock, that showing I was hurt didn’t work the same way.
When I showed I was hurt at school, people withdrew from me. Or even worse, they teased me. I learned a new lesson.
Don’t show that you’re hurt. Don’t show that you’re in pain.
It makes people uncomfortable.
People don’t know what to do around people in pain. It confronts them with the reminder that in fact pain does exist, and they in fact carry it, but don’t want to feel it.
If you show me your pain, then there it is. It’s between us in the space, in us. And we can no longer deny the existence of it.
That’s how we work. If we’re in connection with someone, we feel what they feel. This isn’t just therapeutic theory, it’s neurological fact.
And so when you feel pain, I feel pain too. And if I’m someone that tries to avoid pain as much as possible, then I’m not going to be particularly appreciative of what you’ve just done.
“Thanks so much. You’ve just made me feel the pain I don’t want.”
Dealing with the feeling of pain
From this point I have a variety of options.
I can freeze up, and numb myself. I don’t know what else to do, it’s all too much, and so as the overwhelm takes over I find myself finally relaxing.
The pain dissipates, along with my awareness of you, and my body, and what’s happening around me.
I go into a kind of peaceful daze. This is the body’s fall back option when pain is too high. It’s the same system that kicks in when an antelope gets scragged by a lion and goes limp.
Or I can run.
I don’t like what you’ve made me feel. It’s way too uncomfortable. You’re weird, or dangerous. So I’ll disconnect.
The running away may not be as dramatic as it sounds. It may be a subtle severing of the connection we had, and a polite announcement that I must be “moving along now”.
Or I can attack you.
I can take my pain, the pain you’ve made me feel, and I can throw it back at you.
“Oh are you going to cry about it? What a pussy.”
It makes me feel in control again, and I become focussed on your pain, and making sure you won’t hurt me like that ever again!
Or I can take a breath.
And do something we’re not really wired to do. I can face the pain.
Pain is a doorway
Who wants to feel pain? Who wants to voluntarily open up their body-mind and welcome in the feeling of being hurt?
Why would anyone prefer that?
“Ok, I can either hit you with this giant fucking hammer. Or I can not. What would you prefer?”
Why would you choose the hammer? Why would you choose the pain?
Because to choose its opposite – to choose the suppression of your felt experience – is to choose to supress the moment itself.
To choose to feel pain is to choose your human experience. For in the pain is the very reason that you resist life. In the pain is the secret design specifications for your greatest gifts.
What hurts you is a doorway, if you dare to open it, that leads you down into your deeper nature.
To be worthy of wielding your greatest gift is the result of facing your deepest pain.
And who knows when that pain will visit on you. And when that opportunity will be gifted to you. When that doorway opens for a moment.
In a chance conversation with a stranger.
In the innocent reading of a passage in a book.
In the vulnerable confession to a client.
On a train platform. Watching my father ride away once more.