2 Kinds of Pain We Struggle With

2 kinds of pain we struggle with are a) physical pain and b) emotional pain.

Most of us seek to avoid experiences that cause pain. We gravitate toward experiences that bring us pleasure. This is totally normal. The human brain is hardwired for safety and security. Pain-avoidance is a biological impulse.

But is it possible to live in a human body and navigate life by avoiding pain?! Absolutely not. This is why pain management is a necessary life skill. Not only through pharmaceuticals, but healthy responses to life.

Pain arrives in many forms. There is the physical pain you experience when you stub your toe or strain your back. There is emotional pain when your loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or your marriage falls apart. Mental pain is very real when we experience anguish generated by the thoughts we’re thinking. Spiritual pain is a reality when we experience a sense of disconnection from the Divine. Many of my grieving clients speak about their “rage” against a God who couldn’t keep their loved one safe and part of the survivor statistic.

The experience of pain has two elements. Let’s say you have the flu and are confined to your bed for a couple of days. There are the actual physical sensations you experience: sniffles, sore throat, a heavy head, body pain, and tiredness. This is called primary suffering. The second element is the suffering we create for ourselves. We have all kinds of thoughts about our experience: I hate that I’m sick; I just want to be at work; The flu sucks; I wish I didn’t feel so terrible. This is called secondary suffering.

How does this work when we’re grieving the death of a dear one? The physical sensations of grief show up as insomnia, lack of appetite, a foggy brain, fatigue, a weight crushing your chest, and endless tears. The thoughts we think about the loss–We were cheated of retired life together; I just want my old life back; I hate being part of the widows club; Why me?; Life isn’t fair–create the endless cycle of secondary suffering.

Says Vidyamala Burch in her book Living Well With Pain & Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself From Suffering “If pain is an unavoidable fact of your life due to your circumstances and health, and you try to overcome or banish it, you’re setting yourself up to fail.”

Pain is an essential aspect of life. It’s an experience that can’t be avoided on this earthly plane. Suffering is very real. But what’s important is your experience of pain. Your relationship with pain determines how you experience it.

It is possible to interrupt your thoughts of tension, worry, anxiety, reactivity and suffering and replace it with kindness, gentleness, and compassion. The Buddha suggests that rather than being driven solely by the desire to eliminate or avoid suffering, the wise person learns to change his or her relationship with it.

Grief and sorrow are appropriate responses to pain but even these healthy responses can become problematic if they dominate your life experience.

Here are two questions I invite you to reflect upon:

  1. What thoughts are you thinking that cause you to resist your pain?
  2. How can you be more gentle with your pain?

Schedule a Single Session if you’re ready for guidance around being in right relationship with your pain.


  1. Judy A. on February 1, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    There are times when pain hits me in public or when I’m with someone. I tend to resist the emotion to cry because of what others will say or think. Especially when I am around my kids. They don’t like to see a sad mommy. What I try to do is hold my tears at the moment, but be sure to let them out whenever I get a chance alone. I allow myself to have one big cry, I mean sobbing and crying like a baby moment all to myself whenever I get the opportunity to be alone. This release of pain has helped me tremendously and I feel soo much better after that.

    • Uma Girish on February 1, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      Yes, it can be hard when pain hits you in a public space. If the feeling is overwhelming and you can find a restroom, that may be an option. When you’re with your kids, and they see you cry, it’s perfectly okay. Let them know that sometimes mommy feels sad too. And show them how to release the sadness and then move onto a space of feeling calmer. This gives your kids permission to “feel” their feelings. It makes them emotionally healthy. Its good that you know the importance of release and practice it. So many people stuff their sadness and walk around feeling disconnected, not knowing why.

  2. Our Top 2 Responses to Pain - Uma Girish on February 5, 2018 at 9:34 pm

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