The title of this post is, Healing Pain with Love. It seems odd that a psychotherapist would suggest that love is an intervention for addressing grief and loss, anger, incarceration, violence, trauma, disease and illness and other forms of pain that brings thousands of people to counselling every day. Researchers have spent centuries searching for answers to address these experiences that pull a strain on our mental and emotional wellness, and create a plethora of unpleasant and unhelpful pain. So brace yourself for the hardest simplicity approach to healing.
This year, started out difficult. A family member passed away earlier in the year, and due to distance the experience of gathering and fellowship with family was not possible. A few days, another family member was murdered. I have walked with many community members who lost family members to gun violence, and their pain, my pain, and my family’s pain became intensified. Then COVID-19 ravished through the United States and Canada as quickly as the beginning of March leading to a full physical distancing measures by March 26, 2020. I had the privilege of guiding and supporting nurses, and family members who lost someone to the disease. In the process, another family member began to struggle with the disease that progressed very quickly. As I supported the community, I also felt grief, loss, trauma, sadness, fear, and so much more.
And that was not even it! So many families became disrupted because of pending divorce and separation plans, family violence, youths’ behaviors increased with the home such as child exploitation, AWOL, family arguments and fighting, conflict with custody arrangements, workplace stress and harassment, and so much more. Given the perplexities inherent in our lives and in 2020, how can we expect that we can heal our pain with LOVE. What does love got to do with any of it?
Why Love? I think the first explanation is obvious. My family came together over the grief of the loss and began to truly communicate with each other in an authentic way. This is how angels get the chance to do their magic, I believe. We bonded as we rallied together for justice, but also reached out to those on the outskirts to share our love and compassion for each other. I noticed that my many friends on Facebook (R) have done the same as their friends rallied to support them as they announced deaths’, illnesses, job losses, anxiety and trauma, and other difficult life experiences. This support is also seen in the larger world stage where artists perform free online concerts and establish funding campaigns to support essential workers, children and families living in poverty, shelters, and other people impacted by COVID-19. Giving love to others brings the feeling of love back into our hearts and can motivate us to make any changes which we to see in ourselves.
In the spirit of love, I am wondering and hoping that we can further begin to listen to each other. We all have had our own experiences with grief, with pain, and with navigating COVID-19, but do we really have an opportunity to share our experiences with others. Many times, our stories become lost because there are many people who share similar stories. Other times, in our desire to connect with others we connect our own stories, sometimes not pausing enough to hear our teller’s stories. Or, we are uncomfortable. We are uncomfortable with the feeling that comes with listening to another persons’ pain, and we try to fix the pain by creating a solution. But, I don’t think we have solutions. Unless, there is a cure for COVID-19 and other diseases which threaten our lives. There is no solution for murder. I don’t think my life will ever be the same. There is no solution for death, and not being able to share with family members in the memorial. Most times, listening can ease the sufferer’s pain, as so eloquently put by Thich Nnat Hanh. You may not be able to “correct” or change how they feel, but listening can help them feel better. For many people who experience difficulties regulating their emotions, they report higher outcomes of success if they are in an environment were people validate their experiences. Validation reminds us that we are okay, our feelings are okay, and others can support you through your feelings. By disregarding, minimizing, and invalidating another’s experience you also dis-empower them and reinforce to them that they can not manage their emotions.
I use this video to guide couples on their journey to enhance their communication, their listening, and support for each other in their relationship. It is the same principle that is grounded in how we can show love to others.
Compassion, is part of healing pain with love. After listening to essential workers describe their experience with COVID-19, I heard their pain and suffering through their words and tears. I had to generate a way to help them move forward from their pain, and find ways to experience greater joy and peace. I chose compassion. Compassion is not just how we feel for others, but it is also about how we feel about ourselves. For nurses, and personal support workers they show compassion by holding the hands of the unwell person or following their families’ wishes for them. They treat the unwell person with kindness and compassion. We also need to commit the same care towards ourselves. Self-compassion is difficult, and takes a while before we can truly intentionally demonstrate love towards ourselves. Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion Site provides a wealth of examples. I am including some of my favorite ways to develop self-compassion.
Be your best friend. Be careful of your thoughts as they direct your feelings and your behavior. Create space for thoughts that exemplify your goodness as a human, your worthiness on this planet, and your greater purpose in this life. Know that you define excellence, and your excellence is defined by your definition. Your beauty is within your physical and inner features, and that when you look upon yourself, you radiate love and compassion.
Embrace. Aspects of your life may not demonstrate the perfection that you desire, but be okay to embrace the perfection in other areas of your life Nurture and develop your strengths, your creativity and unique sense of self. If you feel disconnected, try new things. Embrace new possibilities of love, joy and compassion within your heart.
Practice Mindfulness, learn to find moments where you can find stillness, where you can listen to your thoughts, and you can allow your body to feel. Become attuned to your breath, the emotions generate your body, and your state of mind. End your mindfulness practice with gratitude. Demonstrate gratitude for pain, as well as joy. In the correct balance of life, pain is as helpful to your strength and peace of mind as joy. Let that sit with you for a minute.
Empathy fuels connection. Brene Brown is a researcher and social worker, who has written self-help books on shame and empathy. According to Brown, empathy is the ability to: to be able to see the world as others see it… to be nonjudgmental… to connect with another person’s feelings” (Brown, 2013). In sessions, I am filled with emotion as I imagine myself walking alongside that person through their pain and suffering. I recall a time that I felt those feelings clients have felt: shame, sadness, frustrations, anger, love, joy, and so many more. In my process of connecting, I imagine what I would need if I had to go through those emotions again. I would want someone to understand, to not pass judgement, to give me my space to feel, and to remind me that I am “worthy”. I think that we can do the same for ourselves. By showing ourselves empathy, we acknowledge that we also escape judgement, but rather receive our own understanding and support. Empathy is an important skill for emotional intelligence. In emotional intelligence, we learn further on how to distinguish when someone else is projecting their own inner pain on us and we further learn how to demonstrate forgiveness towards others in a more helpful way.
According to Brown, empathy is the ability to: to be able to see the world as others see it… to be nonjudgmental… to connect with another person’s feelings”
Brene Brown, 2013
When it comes with other people, such as family members sometimes forgiveness is harder to do, in order to move forward. When you carry pain that others have projected upon you, how do you set aside that pain? You may not be able to come to terms with the person directly, but showing yourself self-compassion that this painful healing will take time.
And it will. For my clients and family members who have lost someone due to murder or negligence, allow your love in your family to heal the loss you feel. For my clients and family members who have lost someone due to COVID-19, or any other disease connect with each other virtually to support and guide each other towards healing. Demonstrate the “gifts of love” through holding another through their pain. For my clients and family members dealing with children or adults in their lives struggling with their behavior, their emotions, their choices, addictions, incarceration, and so much more, guide their healing through unconditional support and love. When we act out of our pain, we create hurt for other people. It is not intentional, but it is how we perceive we are doing the best to help us survive. Empathy teaches us that we also have felt this way in our own lives, and we can understand that one may choose multiple options to escape from that pain. Similarly, compassion allows us to accept that we are all human on this planet, and we don’t have the rule book to successfully living. Just suggestions that worked for some people.
Here are my suggestions:
In some African communities, when a member of the community is in trouble, they gather their family members together and they hold an intervention. Not an American style intervention. An African style. They tell their family member how much they love them, how much potential they feel that they could achieve, how special they are, and how they are there to help them. They agree to provide them support to help them onto their journey. I remember sitting at a legal meeting with an Indigenous elder who shared a similar approach in helping a community member. The elder looked beyond her behavior, and focused on the pain that she was holding. The pain that led her to hurt others, trying to support her. Address hurt with empathy. Use love and connection to guide others to reflect and change their behavior. Create a circle of love around the harmed family member. Establish clear, loving boundaries to protect yourself and your own healing through this process.
Connect as a family to talk, debrief, rally around and support family members who are struggle. Arrange “Skype” or “Zoom” calls once per week to connect. Use humor and social engagement, to help ease the impact of the hurt within the family. Again, love. Reach out to family members who are “quieter”, and who may not seek out for support. Send messages of love, humor, prayer or whatever messages you require to support each other. Keep vigilant. Supervise and observe those who are vulnerable to their hurt feelings. Continue to demonstrate your support. Support does not necessarily mean that you don’t instill healthy boundaries. Invest in your own self-care strategies, self-compassion, and protection so that you can continue to be present for others. This is very important for nurses, personal support workers and millions of essential workers throughout the world. Make sure that you re-set your cup each and every time you experience drain from supporting other. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak with the community, and to share in your pain. While our offices remain closed until at least June 30, 2020, we continue to provide individual, couple and family counselling and no-cost virtual support groups. Contact us today!