Reacting vs Responding to Emotional Pain

By Greg Baer M.D.

April 11, 2018

In the twenty years I was an eye surgeon, I saw a great many objects embedded in the cornea of the eye, which is the clear layer through which you can see the world, and through which others can see your iris, or the colored part of the eye—the part prompting us to call people blue-eyed or brown-eyed.

In all those years, almost never did I see something stuck in the cornea—metal, glass, splinters of rock, wood—that wasn’t embedded there solely because the patient rubbed his eyelid and pushed the object into his cornea.

When the object was sufficiently embedded in the cornea, I removed it with a special blade or drill bit—and no, with proper anesthetic drops, the discomfort of removal wasn’t bad at all.

But surgical removal still left exposed nerves, causing moderate pain for a day or so.

On rare occasions, I saw a patient who remembered what their mother had told them, “Don’t rub your eye,” and almost without exception I could remove the unwanted object from their eye with just a Q-tip.

Because they hadn’t rubbed their eye—which is a natural, reflexive response—the foreign body was just lying on the surface, making removal much less effortful and healing much less painful.

In all the years I’ve worked outside in the yard, uncounted objects have flown into my eye: dirt, sand, tiny pieces of rock, pieces of leaves and sticks, and metal fragments—from grinding an edge on a machete or axe. Not once did I require a physician to dig anything out of my cornea. Why? I didn’t rub my eye, so the object lay on the surface, and I was able to remove it with rinsing, flipping my eyelid to see the back of it, using a Q-tip, or simply allowing natural tearing to wash it away.

Reacting to Emotional Pain

If the effects of rubbing their eyes is so uniformly negative, why then do people do it? Because when we’re in pain, we tend simply to REACT. We don’t think. We don’t make conscious choices.

No, pain reduces us to the level of animals, where we just react to minimize the pain, whether that particular action has proven successful or not. By rubbing, we feel like we’re DOING something about the pain. We unconsciously believe that if brushing an insect off our arm is effective, then why wouldn’t rubbing our eyes have a similar effect on a foreign object?

Emotional pain also reduces us to the level of animals. We cannot tolerate pain, especially when it triggers a pattern of similar pain that we have marginally endured for a lifetime.

So we instantly, mindlessly, and instinctively react to our emotional pain by lying, attacking, acting like victims, running, drinking, using drugs, and more.

Briefly, we might actually diminish our pain—much as many people reported to me that rubbing their eye felt better for an instant—but we never get to the root of the pain with those temporary measures.

How to Heal Emotional Pain

So, emotionally we also need to make a conscious choice not to “rub our eye.”

We need to choose not to use those behaviors that never work long-term. But without a knowledge of what we’re doing, and without the power to do it—which can only come from feeling unconditionally loved—we can only react. We can’t choose.

We must do whatever it takes to learn about Real Love—which increases our choices—and to find and maintain love in our lives, which gives us the power to make those better choices.

Bottom line: It’s easier to use a Q-tip than a corneal drill.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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