Got pain? How to drop your old ways of coping
When we react in ways that are significantly stronger than the situation warrants, or when we have chronic negative thoughts, feelings or behaviors, spiritual solutions are the answer. You may have heard this a million times: Identify and heal the root of the problem, then practice the solution.
But why is recovery easier said than done?
It’s often because practicing the solution feels so uncomfortable at first. It rubs us the wrong way, and we resist it, no matter how many people tell us that spiritual practice brings far greater gifts than our old strategy of denying or fighting our problems, which only makes them worse.
Go ahead, lose the crutch
In order to heal, we must first be willing to cause no further harm to ourselves or others. We might also refrain from making decisions or taking important actions until we have a state of outer silence, inner calm and clear thinking – because being “under the influence” of pain can cloud our judgment. We may need assistance from others who can provide empathy, stability and insight, and create an emotionally safe climate for us to develop personal clarity.
Finding the root cause of our pain helps us understand what triggers it. Our more obvious problems and difficult emotions, though certainly concerns in their own right, often conceal deeper issues. Many people with addictions, compulsions and other chronic problems have a childhood history of significant trauma or abuse.
Often there are parallels between present adult conflicts and childhood scenarios. All sensory cues, behaviors, feelings and thoughts that resemble past traumas can re-stimulate the original pain.
The answer is in the problem. Spiritual practice heals those deeper issues that trigger symptomatic negative behaviors. If we have lived in chaos and confusion, for example, we can practice serenity with periods of deep breathing, physical relaxation, prayer or meditation. This disrupts negative habits, instills hope for releasing the original stress and helps us develop a habit of self-soothing to relieve the sense of emptiness when chaos diminishes.
Why recovery feels wrong at first
As long as we have a genuine desire for spiritual growth, it doesn’t matter that our early attempts at principled behavior feel fake. They only seem that way because we are used to believing that our false self – the one with defensive mechanisms, fears, addictions and obsessions – is our true identity. Understandably, this false self does not want to be disempowered or dissolved. After all, we created it to the best of our abilities as children to defend us from harm. We gave it the role of protecting us when there was no better way. Unfortunately, this false self never grew up; it is stuck in the past and not based on reality. Resisting that faithful and rather stubborn crutch feels scary and threatening initially, but with persistence and practice we can enlighten and transform the false self.
For a long time, our defense mechanisms such as codependency, jealousy or alcoholism may have provided short-term relief. But they were never meant to be used as lifetime crutches. They reinforce the original problem, create new problems, and prevent healing and growth.
While the false self reacts to superficial things, our true self is aligned with our soul. That is what we empower when we practice spiritual principles. And because truth is more powerful than false beliefs and defenses, it’s okay if we can’t stop every single negative thought, feeling or action, and if our new practices feel unnatural. As long as we are willing, mindful and practicing solutions as best we can, true spiritual transformation will occur.
Convincing ourselves to think and behave in healthier ways can be a tough sell, especially after decades of counterproductive conditioning. Yet the benefits of spirituality are clear. Our false self contains the energy of opposing forces (such as desires vs. deprivations, wishes vs. fears, cravings vs. withdrawals). Spiritual principles, in contrast, are unified, harmonious energies that give freely without expectation, imposition or prejudice. As we get used to positive energy, lightness, and improved feelings about ourselves and life, our practice will deepen and intensify on its own.
Change is not complicated. Once we “get” it, the benefits will snowball. If we have been selfish, we practice generosity, which will show us the wealth within us. If we have exhibited anger and rebelliousness, then demonstrating kindness and helpfulness allows us to experience the very energies inside us, from which we’ve felt so desperately deprived. If we have expressed violence and hate, we take actions that promote peace and reverence for life; this helps cleanse us of the pain and horror of aggression that we received and suffered, and gave to others. Arrogance becomes humility and greed becomes gratitude, with every small spiritual step that we take.
When recovery starts to feel right, we must stop and enjoy it. It is important to recognize and reinforce the moments of solution, and to feel grateful for experiencing them. This is how we attract more positive energy.
In time, we realize that we no longer have to fight or fear ourselves or the outside world because of problems and pain. Instead we learn to recognize them as bells within us, beckoning us to higher levels of maturity and greater gifts.
Mary CooK M.A., R.A.S. is the author of “Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions and Compulsions to Satisfaction and Serenity”, available from Barnes & Noble bookstores, Amazon.com, etc. She has over 34 years of clinical practice and 29 years of university teaching experience. She is a national speaker and has a private practice in San Pedro, CA. Mary is available for telephone and office counseling, guided meditation, speaking engagements and in-service training. Contact her at MaryCookMA@att.net and see her website for further information.
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