Thank God for Emotional Pain

by Ryan Berg, MA

Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

“Thank God for emotional pain”… was a thought that I had as I entered the park on an afternoon walk a few weeks ago. “Wait, what?”, I said to myself internally. “Did I really just utter that?” Something within me stood resolute and firm. Was their truth to this utterance?  I sat down on the bench in the park as a deeply intense sadness pulsed through my body, and a warmth took over my skull.  Do you know the kind?
“What is this”, I thought?  “Doesn’t matter, it’s time to feel, not think”, I replied.  I sat on that bench for about ten minutes until I felt the waves of emotion reduce to low-tide.  I stood up and tried to take in the air I needed, as if I’d just popped my head up from being submerged under water.
I later decided that, yes, it’s true, I’m so incredibly grateful for emotional pain.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sadistic, or happy that bad things happen.  Just glad I’m connected to myself.
I’m thankful for being capable of growing and maturing as a human being.  I’m thankful for being able to allow feelings to manifest in my body and reach surface awareness, so that I can come to fully experience my own vulnerability and humanity – a process that actually makes me stronger and capable of living by my highest values.  Through my feelings, I am led to spiritual, intellectual, and emotional maturity. I’m thankful that I feel closer to myself when I allow myself to feel – a kind of intimacy with myself that, while sometimes feels heart-breakingly lonesome, also inevitably leads to a richer connection to myself and the world.
In other words, internal pain is valuable. Spiritual gold if we recognize it as such.
It’s obvious that we humans would rather avoid internal pain.  We do it all the time.  Who wants to hurt?  While each of us reading this knows that emotional pain is, at times, excruciating – if we were to think of it as just another necessary process of life, like breathing, perhaps we could use it to guide us in the direction of re-kindling with who we really are, and a happiness that we all want.
I love how lucid and to the point the following excerpt from this article describes why humans often neglect this aspect of themselves:
In the world of feeling you experience the good and the bad, the happy and the unhappy, pleasure and pain. Contrary to just registering such impressions mentally, emotional experience really touches you. Since your struggle is primarily for happiness, and since immature emotions lead to unhappiness, your secondary aim becomes the avoidance of unhappiness. This creates the early, mostly unconscious conclusion:  “If I do not feel, then I will not be unhappy.”  In other words, instead of taking the courageous and appropriate step to live through negative, immature emotions in order to afford them the opportunity to grow and thus become mature and constructive, the childish emotions are suppressed, put out of awareness and buried, so that they remain inadequate and destructive, even though the person is unaware of their existence.

“If I do not feel then I will not be unhappy.”  Wow.  We often avoid feeling because we think that will lead to unhappiness. What a heartbreaking conclusion. When you’re alone, do you ever wish you could be happier?  Does it ever feel like you’re chasing happiness, without ever finding true fulfillment?  I think that’s because we often place so little value on our “emotionality”.  When we begin to recognize the truth of and absorb the following statement, I think we will begin to place more value on this aspect of ourselves (taken from same article as above):

The capacity to experience feeling is synonymous with the capacity to give and receive happiness. To the degree you shy away from any kind of emotional experience, to that extent you also close the door to the experience of happiness.

So, yes, thank God for emotional pain. Without that pain, I wouldn’t have a heart. Without a heart, I wouldn’t be alive. I am learning that I need to feel that pain in order to have direction and joy in my life.