You are cordially invited to my pain party! Anywhere and anytime – just let me know when you are free! Pain parties are fun. We get to discuss all the painful things we have ever experienced.
It seems that as we go through life, we accumulate negative experiences. These negative experiences are carefully placed in a bag. I’ll call this an S bag. We lug this bag around wherever we go. Each time someone, or something, offends us, makes us angry, hurts our feelings, or slights us in any way, we add them to the S in the bag. Some of the S in our bag does not even belong to us. If someone has an interesting bit of S, we just add it to our bag as though it was our own experience.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have to face extraordinarily difficult experiences, and I have had my share. Everybody has a tragic story to tell, some more tragic than others. I get that. And, of course, there are varying degrees of pain. I get that as well. Having your car stolen is not the same as losing a child.
Yet, it seems that we are inclined to open our S bag at every opportunity and compare the S in our bag to that in the bags of our friends, family, colleagues, or whoever will listen! We invite a few friends for lunch; we may meet at our own home or at a lovely restaurant, and all it takes is one person to haul out their S bag, rummage through it and find a really juicy bit of S to share with the group. It could start off with something like, “Did you read the paper this morning? So-and-so stole R2 million out of the treasury! How outrageous! This country is going to the dogs!” Immediately, someone else opens their S bag and contributes their story about crime statistics, our president’s wives, or whatever. Before you know it the pain party is in full swing!
Or, it could start off with someone sharing the horror of how bad her home helper is, and how one just cannot get good help anymore. Or it may be about the latest medical condition that they are grappling with; or how much a husband is disrespecting the wife. And on and on we go: each one of us at this little pain party, trying to out-do the other with our horror stories.
I have been present at a dinner party where one of the guests was lamenting about the corrupt government. This of course sparked off a whole chain of events with everyone contributing their bit of bad news! And the mood just got darker and darker. An hour or so into the dinner, the guest who started off this whole discussion, proudly told the group that a municipal department actually came to fix the tarred road in front of his house. He shared how he approached the team and “asked” them if they could re-tar his driveway. Some money changed hands and, voila, his driveway was freshly tarred! This was the highlight of his week, if not his year! I was astounded! Was I the ONLY person in the room that could see the hypocrisy of it all? I opened my mouth to point this out and, needless to say, I was not invited to dinner again.
We all have an S bag. We drag it around wherever we go. Perhaps it is time to unpack it and analyse all the S in one’s bag. Firstly, determine if the S is really our own, or is it just some cool S that belongs to someone else and is interesting to share. Get rid of the small S. Look at each piece of S and decide if this S serves anyone: most importantly, does it serve you? Is sharing this S making the world a better place or a worse one? Are you sharing because you need empathy, or are you just sharing because it has become a habit? Decide whether you are going to continue to haul this S out at every little pain party that you attend. Who will it serve? That on which we focus our attention, attracts more of the same in our lives. Do you want more S?
Now haul out the big S. This is the hard part. This is the stuff that leaves deep marks in our hearts: the sore stuff, the stuff that really matters. This is the stuff that makes us who we are. And even if there is really big stuff, one is able to deal with it, and, since we all have a choice: we are either a victim of our stuff, or we are not.
It seems that there are three groups of people.
- One group: let’s call them the light beings, have difficult stuff to deal with; they do the work (ask for help if needed) and get on with it.
- The second group: these are the tough ones. They pretend that the difficult experiences do not affect them emotionally and they sweep the pain under the carpet, put a lid on it, and get on with it.
- The third group: called forever-victims and may even become perpetrators of the same pain that was inflicted on them, or they may lead self-destructive lives.
The first group is the authentic group. They deal with their stuff, get help if they need to, and are able to move on and lead pretty well balanced and joyful lives. These are the people who shine from the inside out! They are a joy to know and always seem to be in a good mood. I love them!
The toughies are another matter. I consider myself to be part of this group. We don’t like to look at the hard stuff; we pretend we can cope with everything. Our friends and family are astounded when we do fall apart. We project an aura of invincibility. This is not true! We get hurt – deeply, just like everyone else. Our hard exterior, which we have nurtured for years and years, just does not allow us to show it. We believe this is strength. It is not. This group is often seen as unapproachable and uncaring because of their “get-over-it” attitude. Of course, this is also a misconception.
Recently, I had an enlightening experience. After years of pretending that everything was fine and that my world was intact, I fell apart – completely. I woke up one morning sobbing. I sobbed uncontrollably for days and days. A dear friend, much distressed by my endless sobbing, suggested that I don’t go into denial about my feelings. That I stay with this sadness for as long as it takes. For the first few days, I just lay in a ball and sobbed. After days of mind-numbing sobbing, I had an epiphany! I realised that my heart was showing me all the painful stuff that I had endured over my lifetime.
Some really big stuff, like the loss of my mother at age 12, and the subsequent experience of a dodgy stepmom; severe anger and rage at my father for allowing my step mom to do what she did; the loss of a baby, who was still born. And some of it seemed inconsequential, like moving away from a favourite friend, or not being able to study a course that I felt would greatly serve me. It seemed as if I were given “packages” of emotions to deal with, actually, not to deal with, but to really feel. All sorts of events surfaced. Events that I thought I had dealt with. I did deal with them – I put a lid on them.
Putting a lid on deeply painful feelings serves a purpose. It allows us to carry on and cope with the daily grind. Priorities, such as paying the bills, organising school runs, buying a house, getting a new job, etcetera, take priority, in other words – getting over it! In the interim, the emotions are building up steam. Not feeling the feelings of sadness, guilt, shame, grief, outrage, or loss, does not mean they go away. Understand that acknowledging the feelings, or dealing with the feeling is not the same as feeling the feelings. The feelings stay in the pressure cooker, waiting patiently. Some of us never open the pressure cooker, or even release some of the steam, and we can then take those unfelt feelings with us, and simply carry them over to the next life. But feel them we will, eventually.
The result, for me, is a deeper sense of peace. It seems as if my heart is lighter, having actually felt the feelings rather than denying them. I understand that this is a process and that I may very well have to re-visit some of these feelings. That is okay. I am prepared for that. It feels as if I can look back over some of the experiences of my life with more understanding, clarity and compassion. A lightness of being, if you will. This, I know, will serve me hugely in helping others.
Now we deal with the most difficult ones:The forever-victims. It is true that some of the people in this group have had really terrible experiences. I am not in any way attempting to negate these. Sometimes, it can manifest as low grade martyrdom; that friend who is always complaining about one sickness or another, or the friend who is continually in sub-standard, slightly abusive relationships. They may go to doctor after doctor and every doctor tells them they are fine. Or, they may end an abusive relationship only to engage in another abusive relationship. The result may be that they believe all relationships are bad and abusive, or that the slightest headache means a brain tumor. They may include statements like, “I am really worried about my arm. I haven’t been able to move it for weeks. I just haven’t told anybody, because I don’t want people to worry about me.”
All of the behaviour is centered on not acknowledging feelings of pain. Like the group that puts a lid on their pain, this group will project their pain onto something else. This is not conscious, it is very subtle and subconscious. To avoid looking at deeply painful experiences, they simply ignore that pain and create a new, less traumatic pain, never actually taking responsibility for their feelings, or feeling the real feelings. This has the same numbing effect as denying the pain. They could have unresolved feelings about a traumatic divorce, will vehemently deny that there are still residual feelings, but will re-create feelings of pain in another area of their lives. This serves us to not feel the real feelings.
Sometimes, this group can become involved in self destructive behaviour, like self mutilation, alcohol, drug abuse or other addictive behaviour. They intellectually understand what they are doing – they are numbing the pain. Numbing the pain is the same as not feeling the feelings. They may do this for many years. Perhaps they will even go to re-hab to deal with their addiction, particularly if they understand that their very lives are at stake.
When they come out of re-hab, the feelings emerge, particularly if they have been numbing their feelings with addictive behaviour for years. Feeling real feelings is a huge surprise and can be most overwhelming. Technically all the feelings they have not been feeling for many years is now in their consciousness. All of them – at the same time!
And hence the vicious cycle of addictive behaviour and re-hab ensues. It is easier to re-numb the feelings than to feel them! Couple this with their association, on a social level, with other addicts and you have the ultimate pain party. “No-one understands how difficult it is for addicts.” They could blame their parents, society, work, childhood pain, or whatever, for their addictive behaviour in the first place. At their pain parties, they can share with each other their deep dissatisfaction with the world. How hard it is to function without their addiction; how much fun they used to have; now all they have is pain, remorse, guilt, anger, resentment, or whatever feelings emerge. And the other guests at the pain party will concur and feed their victim mentality over and over again. The fact that they have not taken responsibility for their own actions or feelings and have actually numbed themselves from feeling anything for years, could leave them completely overwhelmed when all these feelings emerge. Hardly surprising that the vicious cycle exists as it is easier to be numb than to feel, to cloud one’s existence with a chemically-induced numbing agent. Once this feeling of being overwhelmed is in place, the need to go back to the safety of the numbing agent is, likewise, overwhelming.
No-one is exempt from feeling! Our very nature is about feeling. Not the intellect, not our bodies but our feelings. Denying our feeling nature is denying our very spirit. Hundreds of books have been written about releasing our feelings. Hundreds of authors have given us affirmations and other tools to assist us with coping with our feelings.
Let’s have an S bag spring clean. Let’s decide what serves us and what does not. I have unpacked and unpacked the S in my bag, and yet there is more. If you unpack your S bag, you get to look at all the events in your life that have caused you pain. You can decide if you want to feel the feelings before you let the S go. If you are not ready to let the S go or to feel the feelings, I suggest you leave the S in the bag. Having said that, please do not open your bag and share your S indiscriminately: it makes the world smell bad. Get help to sort out your S, if you need to. Ask yourself if you are making the world a better or worse place when you share your S. Be aware next time a friend starts a pain party – or rather beware! Ask yourself, “Who does it serve?” and “What would love do?”
I have learned that if I do not feel the feelings, they will just lie in wait for me and emerge at another time. I will continually work on feeling the feelings as they come about. Putting a lid on them, or numbing them with a substance or another lesser pain, will not serve me.