Keeping up the illusion that something doesn’t hurt is so very energy-consuming — you really have no idea until you stop doing it and experience the energy which is freed up for use on other things, or simply for enjoyment of life.
In my therapy practice certain themes seem to emerge in waves, coming to my attention through several people at once. I’ve remarked on this before in my blog posts. I am not sure what law of nature is responsible but it most definitely happens. Of course it is all inseparable from my perception as well, for example the way that when I was pregnant I noticed how many other women in the street were too, while most of the time it seems to me that nobody is. At the moment, the theme which is striking me is the power of admitting what really hurts, and just how genuinely difficult it is to do so.
The word ‘admit’ seems to rest on the assumption that we know what’s hurting really, but we don’t want to say it because we judge or fear it to be a bad thing. That’s not entirely accurate, because sometimes we really don’t know. Often when we don’t know, it isn’t because it’s too complicated, but because it’s too simple. Sometimes we have a flicker of knowing that we instantly squash under layers of sophisticated psychological or ideological theory.
What really hurts, down at the root of it, is almost always something around rejection, isolation, lack of proper responsive loving connection, abuse of love, and/or violence experienced at an early age. It is hard to admit that this happened the way it did, this hurt, because we often have so much invested in the illusion that it didn’t happen, or was not as bad as we think it was, or that those who should have cared for us were not at fault. What we have invested is often the hope that we can somehow, magically, still or in retrospect, get what we need from those who have hurt us. That hope can keep us going for years and we don’t want to give it up.
Admitting what really hurts means ripping away this illusion and standing alone, and it’s a very hard choice to make. There’s often a long backwards and forwards argument or battle about it with yourself or the person who is helping you to see it. But once you make the choice, you’re already listening to yourself at your most vulnerable and fragile, hence showing yourself that proper responsive care and love, which has been so painfully lacking. That is so deeply healing it is difficult to convey in words. It’s such a relief. Because keeping up the illusion that it doesn’t hurt is so very energy-consuming — you really have no idea until you stop doing it and experience the energy which is freed up for use on other things, or simply for enjoyment of life. Suddenly it becomes possible to properly concentrate on work, maybe for the first time, to really be present and notice the people around you as they are (not as players in the illusion you’re keeping up), or just — just! — to relax.
Asking yourself what really hurts when you feel irrationally upset by something can be a difficult but ultimately freeing question. It can also be quite moving to do so if you realise that no-one ever really asked you that question before. It can also be asked when you get caught up in a story about other people, or about your own life, or about the world in general, and you feel yourself getting very wound up, carried away with anger or some other emotion, obsessed by something, particularly convinced that you are right and needing to prove it many times over. There’s usually something underneath that, something which is hurting you. Ask yourself what it is. It may seem easier and more pleasant to carry on being right. But the rewards from taking the time and gentle attention required to get an honest answer can be so rich, they take you by surprise.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by