Worshiping Pain

By Greg Baer M.D.

June 29, 2016

Katie was ready to divorce her husband, Roger. Neither of them had been unconditionally loved from childhood to the present, so they were both reacting badly to their pain—and consistently reacting in ways that wounded the other.

They came to see me, and Katie was becoming more emotionally inflamed by the minute. I finally interrupted and said, “Your head is about to pop off your shoulders, and then you’re going to explode. You know that, right?”

“Yes!” she said.

“You’re frustrated that nobody understands you and loves you.”

“Right!” she said, her voice now just short of a scream.

“Listen to me slowly. You don’t only WANT understanding. You DEMAND it. But the problem is that even you don’t understand what you’re demanding. You demand that everybody understand completely and WORSHIP your PAIN. You want all the world—especially Roger—to build an altar, a large altar, to your sacred pain and to bow down before it every day, acknowledging and worshiping your pain.”

“No, I—”

“I’m not guessing here, my dear. When you look in the mirror all you see is your pain. You have so much of it—you’ve been wounded so many times—that your pain has taken over. You have BECOME your pain, so when people look at you, you expect them to see your pain, understand it, and validate it with every breath they take.”

I took out a piece of paper and drew a line down the middle. In the left column, I wrote down some of the traumas that she experienced. It became quite a list. In the right column, I wrote down some of her true qualities, her real gifts—tenderness, a desire to connect with people, and more.

“We’ve all been traumatized,” I said, “some of us more than others, but all of us more than we ever deserved. After we’ve been traumatized sufficiently, though, we see only our pain, and who we really are—the right column—vanishes.

“You don't trust anyone until they know about your pain, until they sympathize piece by piece with every ounce of your pain. This is impossible, of course, but you still demand it, and when you’re in pain your demand seems reasonable to you.”

“Okay, so I’m beginning to see your point,” she said. “What’s the solution?”

“You have to stop worshiping your pain, and requiring everybody else to do the same. Take down the shrine. No matter how much attention and analysis and sympathy you give it, your pain will never go away. The more focus you give it, the bigger it will get. But if you focus on feeling loved, and on loving others, your wounds will actually heal. And when they do, there is no more pain.”

“But how can people understand me unless I describe my pain?”

“Your pain IS NOT YOU. Your pain and fear are responses to what OTHER PEOPLE did TO YOU. So all this time that you thought you were describing yourself, you’ve been describing the behavior of others. What a waste.”

We are not our wounds. Wounds cause pain and fear, but then we choose whether to feed the pain or heal the wounds.


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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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