Healing Emotional Pain: How to Stop Feeling Emotional Pain

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Do you keep feeling emotional pain like sadness, regret, anger, grief, and guilt? Do you want to learn how to stop feeling emotional pain, and to heel all that pain inside you?

It’s not easy, but it’s worth the struggle. From The Power of Now, we’ll cover the root of emotional pain and how to stop feeling emotional pain, so you can breathe freely and live your best life.

The Source of Your Emotional Pain

Previously, we learned about the ego and how it causes negative emotional pain and prevents you from finding your true self. The ego’s power is not confined to our minds. The thoughts and fears the ego produces lead to outward reactions. 

The ego creates thoughts and thought patterns. Those repeated thoughts produce emotions. Emotions are your body’s physical reactions to your thoughts

For example:

  • Your spouse or roommate didn’t wash the dishes, even though she said she would. You can’t help but notice that they are piling up in the sink and you’re out of clean forks.
  • You think about how you’re about to make dinner, and how that will add even more dishes to the mound.
  • You think about the unwashed dishes and her unkept promise, and you begin to get angry, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up.
  • Your anger then brings up thoughts about other chores she has neglected, and how it feels like you are always stuck doing dishes. This makes you even angrier, creating a vicious cycle.

Sound familiar? This leads to emotional pain.

Research shows that strong emotions can affect your body’s biochemistry. Shortform note: Scientific research shows that every cell in the body has receptors (or keyholes) for the neuropeptides (or keys), like endorphins, that the brain sends out. Emotions are the biochemical interactions of different keys fitting into the keyholes.

Like thoughts, emotions are a product of the ego that distract you from the present, keep you disconnected from your true Being, and pull you further from inner peace and happiness. 

All Emotions Are Tied to Pain 

Every emotion you experience is part of an alternating cycle of positive and negative emotions. Positive emotions can’t last forever and inevitably fade, as do negative emotional pain. This is because emotions result from thoughts, which are constantly changing and influenced by external circumstances.

As long as you identify with your mind and ride the wave of your thoughts and emotions, you are subject to the highs and lows of these emotional cycles. You will not be able to heal emotional pain.

Pleasure is a temporary feeling of happiness that comes from something outside yourself (e.g. a great meal, a fun vacation, romantic love). When that external source is absent, pleasure turns into pain, creating a positive-negative emotional cycle. 

Love, Peace, and Joy Aren’t Emotions

You might think, “but aren’t we pursuing love, peace, and joy through presence? How can those be negative?”

True love, peace, and joy are states of being, although we often confuse them with fleeting emotions like pleasure and euphoria. You can only feel love, joy, and peace by being present in the Now; they will always be determined by your internal state. In contrast, emotions respond to external factors. 

Love can be confused with euphoria, which inevitably fades, creating a love-hate cycle. Real love — from presence and an internal state of peace and love — can never turn into hate or cause suffering.

Think of your past romantic relationships. There was probably euphoria in the beginning. That feeling ebbs and over time things come up that cause arguments or even a breakup, and what you thought was love turns into bitterness or hate. This completes the love-hate cycle and leads to a pattern of emotional pain.

(Hate may be a strong word, but regardless of what you call it, you’ve likely experienced the emotional lows that feel like the polar opposite of the bliss you once had in the relationship.)

True love, joy, and peace always live within you, and can only be temporarily eclipsed by the ego’s endless chatter and distractions. Even when the clouds cover the sun, it is still there. Accepting this is the first step for how to stop feeling emotional pain.

The Only Way to Heal Emotional Pain

All emotions are rooted in pain, which manifests in different forms as various emotions. Even positive emotions are tied to emotional pain because of the inevitable positive-negative cycles.

You may have tried to stop feeling emotional pain by thinking hard about it. By thinking about the past, admonishing yourself for not getting over things, and using your mind to heal emotional pain.

Your mind may be able to figure out a way to cover up the pain, but only temporarily. The more your mind struggles — and eventually fails — to heal the pain, the more emotional pain it causes. 

Many of us also use food, sex, alcohol, drugs, shopping, work, and other external distractions to cover up the pain. Depending on the severity of the emotional pain, this can lead to dysfunctions and addictions. This is clearly not the way to stop emotional pain.

You will never be able to heal your emotional pain (in whatever form it manifests) through thoughts and ideas, because those are coming from the same source as your pain: the ego.

Ultimately, your ego can’t afford to heal the emotional pain: it thrives on having problems and puzzles to work on (giving you a reason to use it, causing you to identify with it, and preventing you from being present). If your emotional pain is gone, the ego has no work to do. 

Think of the ego like a chief of police who is trying to catch an arsonist — but it turns out the chief of police is the one setting the fires!

The only way to stop your emotional pain is by being entirely and intensely present in the Now

Practice Disconnecting From Your Emotions

Since emotional pain is your body’s physical manifestation of your thoughts, you can use cues from your body as a tool to help notice your emotions.

Paying attention to your emotions can make you aware of your mental state and help you realize when you are not present. 

If you realize your hands are balled up in fists, or your jaw is clenched, stop to notice that the source of that tension may be stress or anger. Then observe the thoughts you are having that are at the root of that emotion.

Sometimes your surface thoughts may not reflect your subconscious mental processes (think of when you’re suppressing an emotion — you think you’re not letting stress get to you, but you woke up with a headache and knew you must have been grinding your teeth as you slept). Your body and emotions will always reflect your mental state more accurately than the thoughts that may try to cover it up.

Just like when you observe your thoughts, as soon as you begin witnessing your emotion instead of taking part in it, you’ve separated yourself from it. This is the key step for how to stop emotional pain.

Practice observing your emotional pain. Regularly ask yourself, “What’s going on inside me at this moment.” Thoughtfully observe your inner state, without analyzing (“I’m feeling this way because …”) or judging (“Why can’t I just let this go? Why can’t I heal my emotional pain?”).

Emotions often result from a strong and repeated thought pattern that has built up a powerful momentum of energy, so it is very easy to get sucked in and overtaken by an emotion when you are trying to observe it. 

Have you ever been so angry or upset that you acted out, and even though a part of you recognized you were being unreasonable or doing things you would later regret, you felt like you couldn’t help yourself?)

Your thoughts and your emotional pain can create a vicious cycle: The repeating thought pattern strengthens the emotion, and the emotion feeds back into the thought pattern. 

For example, you are grieving a breakup and can’t stop reminiscing about good memories, ruminating on your lost love, and lamenting the future you will never have together. These thoughts make you sad, which causes you to indulge deeper into the thoughts of loss and regret.

Healing Emotional Pain: How to Stop Feeling Emotional Pain

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  • Why you feel pain from the past, and how to get rid of it
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  • The 8 key ways to achieve mindfulness

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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