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Many times when we feel hurt or carry a deep pain in our hearts we choose to run away from the pain. It may seem a lot easier to ignore the pain and to tell ourselves that "time heals all."
But as time passes and the pain remains, it begins to affect our lives in ways that we may not even realize. It is as if for every hurt that we ignore we add an emotional twig or small branch to a pile of hurt. With time the twigs will add up to a pile of wood that stands high in the air and is ready to be ignited into a big flame. When these piles of figurative wood are ignited by a tense situation or hurtful word it creates an intense fire that burns and hurts us and others around us.
There are five ways that we can deal with hurt and pain in our lives. The first is denial. When we act in denial we choose to ignore the pain and tell ourselves it is not there. Someone once told me that denial stands for "don't even know I am lying."
Philosopher Denis Diderot said, "We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth that we find bitter."
The second way we can choose to deal with pain is to blame others for our pain. When we do this we build resentments (add more twigs to the pile) and build a wall between us and others.
The third way people can deal with pain is to become consumed with their pain. This is what we would call depression. The person thinks so much about their pain that they are swallowed up with the pain. There may also be some self-hatred and self-blame involved.
The fourth avenue some take to deal with pain is to escape. This can be done by running to alcohol, drugs, sex, eating, gambling, playing video games, etc. This numbs the pain temporarily but the pain grows in time.
All of these ways to deal with pain lead to the twigs piling up and pain controlling the person's life. The fifth way we can deal with pain is to confront the pain gradually by being honest that it is there and dealing with what is alive in us (our hurt feelings and unmet needs).
Proverbs 10:9 tells us that "The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out."(NIV)
When we confront our pain we face the demons in our life. We bring what we are tempted to ignore and hide into the open, into the light. When we don't do this the pain continues to fester and infect our life. It may manifest itself in hatred, resentments, discrimination, revenge, selfishness, rudeness, anger, etc. It becomes evident to all that we have a problem.
Henry Nouwen writes in his book The Inner Voice of Love, "There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal."
Hopefully we will not take the crooked paths to dealing with pain but rather the highway to healing our pain. The road which entails being honest with our present feelings about something someone said or did and realizing what we need. When we realize what we need we can seek ways to get that need met today. For instance, if we were hurt in a relationship we may discover that we needed more respect, consideration, inclusion or participation. Knowing this we can seek out new ways to get these needs met in our next relationship.
We also can then do the work of speaking truth to ourselves. At times it may be helpful to have another person do this because they may be able to see the truth we cannot see. By confronting our pain we will be doing the work of walking through our pain instead of avoiding it. It is by doing this work that we can escape the dungeons of darkness that pain traps us in and see the light to freedom.