Pain + Resistance = Suffering. I found myself reflecting on this throughout the week, personally and professionally. On a personal note, it was a week of daily migraine following 7 months of blissful absence. I had forgotten how all consuming they can be and I worked hard to be present to them instead of getting caught up in the story. I’ll admit it was a challenge which reminded me of one of my favorite mantras: 'suffering is optional'. There is no doubt that the pain of my migraines can be hard to cope with and can cause significant interruption in the quality of my life. However, what I choose do with them is up to me and in making a conscious choice to surrender, suffering did not occur.
Professionally, I had similar discussions about suffering several times during the week with clients who are emotionally stuck, desperately seeking relief of their suffering caused by their struggle to avoid the intensity of their feelings. Their resistance was palpable, intolerable yet they felt helpless to escape this cycle. It can be difficult to grasp that a surrender to pain, will lessen it. It seems incongruent to remain stuck in a painful dynamic once aware of it, yet as counselors, we must honor the fears that fuel such resistance. Fear can be a powerful emotion - the pain that is known is often preferred to the pain that remains unknown.
In my practice, most of my clients have experienced trauma and struggle with persistent hypervigilance, dissociation, depression, and anxiety with a strong need for control. In these emotional states, resistance may be a useful coping strategy; it is protective from emotional flooding. Yet, it perpetuates an inability to tolerate one's pain. This is when the mindfulness equation of pain + resistance = suffering can foster awareness of a path out of the stuckness. It is only with mindful, non-judging awareness that change and movement can occur.
One of my final clients on Friday afternoon has been challenged by emotional eating most of her life, stared at me in disbelief when I suggested this equation to her and asked "How do I do this - do I just continue to eat?!" My response: take a moment to pause, breathe slowly, allow the intensity to dissipate, stay in the moment as best you can, allow the impulse to eat as a means to avoid your feelings to pass. It will if you allow it. This is such a powerful reframe of a lifetime of suppression and avoidance. Perhaps it is the key to unlock the stuck place inside her.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com