And it's not just me and my philosopher buddy Aristotle who believe this; infinite psychologists around the world do too. New York City's Sharon Wolf puts forth that there is a core pain that we all must be ready to feel during really bad times so as to fully recover from them. As Sharon says: "If you want to heal rightly from a crisis, be ready to tolerate more pain than you thought you could ever feel." Thankfully, Sharon simultaneously promises that if you learn to sit with, feel and tolerate this core pain, it will get smaller and smaller until it eventually disappears.
Admittedly, it's human nature to avoid this "core pain" at the onset of a personal tragedy. Indeed, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross famously outlined the five stages of grief as follows:
Stage 1: Denial and Isolation
"This is not happening to me."
Stage 2: Anger
"How dare this happen to me."
Stage 3: Bargaining
"Just let me get X and I won't care about Y," or "If this doesn't happen, I promise to..."
Stage 4: Depression
"I can't bear to face going through this."
Stage 5: Acceptance
"I'm ready. I don't want to struggle anymore."
The fabulous author Joan Didion, in her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, confesses to all the many and varied ways she chose to avoid feeling the initial "core pain" of her husband's sudden death. Joan shares that at first she took on a business-like focus, directing her mind to only think about who she needed to call, what she needed to do, what the hospital needed from her (getting copies of medical summaries, patiently standing in line to ﬁll out forms, etc.). What appeared to those around her to be a preternatural calm ("She's a pretty cool customer," Joan overheard a hospital social worker say) was in fact a state of total numbness and denial. Unable to face the reality of her husband's death, Joan found herself engaging in what she calls magical thinking, a conjuring of a world in which her husband might reappear. Joan even admits that in her determined attempt to avoid pain, she never read her husband's obituary—telling herself that reading it would be a form of betrayal. Joan also describes how at first she kept her husband's shoes, telling herself he would need them when he came back.
Eventually, however, Joan discovered what we all need to discover: When it comes to emotional pain, you can run—but you can't hide! During dark times, we all need to face and feel the harsh light of glaring truth. Or, as I said earlier in this article, as well to my coaching clients on many occasions and, heck, even to myself: "Feeling means you're dealing and healing!"
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