Why are we afraid to feel pain? Why is it that when your innards are in a knot, your first reaction, externally, is to ignore it and deny that something deep inside you is aching? You put on a smile, keep up the pace, and tell everyone, “I’m just fine.” After a while, part of you believes that, too, but the ache is still there. It grows more distant, but it slows down your thinking, and confuses your communication, and messes with your ability to relate to others. You may have made the ache distant, but the wound grows deeper.
Why do we not want to feel pain?
Joy is a feeling, too. We want joy. We enjoy joy.
Laughter is fun. It happens when we’re feeling happy. We want to share laughter. We want in on the fun when others are laughing.
Love, deep love, is so…peaceful, so…joyful, so…uplifting. We crave love. We want to give love.
We avoid pain. We push pain away. When we have pain, we bury it. When others are in pain, we feel pain, too, but try to avoid that as well.
Our culture teaches us to be tough, especially boys. “Take it like a man. Don’t cry.” Crying is a sign of pain. For girls, crying is more “normal,” and we accept that girls and women are more “in touch” with their emotions (and there is good evidence that is true). Nevertheless, for women, crying, expressing pain, is considered a sign of weakness, especially in the corporate context.
So we push the pain deep down and bury it, incorrectly thinking the pain will go away.
Feeling pain and expressing it also makes other people uncomfortable…and that’s irresponsible! (That was sarcasm.) Expressing pain exposes the truth of our emotional existence and reminds others of their pain. They are put in a position of possibly needing to empathize.
Empathy creates relationship, and we’re not only afraid to feel pain, we’re afraid to relate. (That subject is for another article, though.)
If empathy creates relationship, and relationship requires vulnerability, we’re afraid to feel pain because we’re afraid to be vulnerable. We don’t want others to see the truth of who we really are. While there is so much that is so good to see in each of us, each of us also carries a great deal of pain and loneliness.
Here’s what we have to reconcile: God created us with the ability to feel. While the original design was intended to be pain free, He nevertheless gave us the ability to feel. When we turned our back on Him, the pain started.
So should we hide pain because it wasn’t part of the original plan? No.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their pain. They recognize its meaning, its source, and its effect. Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to manage the pain (not hide it). They are even able to leverage it for personal growth and to help others in their pain.
Emotionally intelligent leaders embrace their emotional side and are more “whole.”
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo “Sorrow” by Erin O’Neal. Available at Flickr.com.