I grew up a very shy kid for the first 13 or so years of my life.
I didn’t want to stand out.
I didn’t want to play sports.
I didn’t want to tell people my grades because I’d get made fun of by the kids whose only way to feel better about their own grades was to tease me about mine.
I was teased and put down a lot up until high school. Who isn’t, right?
When I reached high school, I rebelled.
…That’s putting it lightly.
I chopped all my hair into a short bob, and took out my Jolen cream bleach–made for unwanted female mustaches–and bleached the front strands of my hair to be colored with turquoise, red, purple or whatever I felt like that week.
I pulled out the spike collars, pyramid-studded belts, 3″ platform boots, WIDE-legged jeans (read: 40″ openings… in each leg) and all kinds of other attention-getting clothes.
I rimmed my eyes in black, echoing the darkness I’d felt trapped in up until that point.
I demanded to be seen. I didn’t care what people would say anymore. In fact, I was daring them to say something nasty so that I could let out all my pent-up anger right in their smug, little, popular faces.
I would show them how much they hurt me before. I would show them how a smart girl could be just as nasty as the mean girls. The things I’d say would hurt them just as long or longer than they’d hurt me in the past.
I was so angry. I was ready to make them pay.
Looking back on it now, my coping mechanism consisted of unleashing my anger onto others. I had been hurting for so long, and coupled with the rise in Obsessive Compulsive urges and the deepening of my depression, the only way I knew how to get the pain out was to blame everyone else and make them feel just as horrible as I was feeling.
If I took responsibility for what I was feeling, I would just break.
…Or so I thought.
Years later, after I decided to turn my life around, I started focusing on taking responsibility for my actions and emotions.
When I was angry or hurting, instead of lashing out, I forced myself to deal with it. With methods taught to me by my therapist at the time, I went to the root of the pain and tried to address the core issue, rather than trying to avoid feeling the pain altogether.
Over time, it became second nature. I got better and quicker at the process, and now, it takes me no time at all to go through the steps.
Because of these tools, I now have much healthier coping mechanisms to deal with anger and pain, before they manifest themselves in harmful ways.
As a result, I am overall a happier, more productive person, and I have a lot fewer enemies than I did back then. ;)
Many people write in to me asking what they should do with all their pain, and it’s also a question I constantly repeated in my head in the years leading up to my cry for help.
It’s a hard question to answer because it’s such a personal issue; my tools won’t necessarily work for you.
All I can do is share with you how I deal with pain when I experience it. Hopefully, it will help some more of you out there who don’t know what to do with all of it.
You can do this. With focus, determination and love, you will be free of this struggle.
If you’re wondering what to do with all this pain, try this process a few times and see if it works for you. If it does, awesome. If it doesn’t, don’t worry; there are plenty of other methods of coping out there. This is just one to try.
Please understand that these are just my opinions and experiences. I am not a mental health professional. I highly encourage you to seek the guidance of a licensed counselor if you would like personalized coping advice.
1. Acknowledge what you’re feeling
One of the biggest traps of hurting is telling yourself that you’re not. If you deny those dark feelings for too long, they’ll overwhelm you when they bubble over.
Don’t try to push those feelings away because they’re painful. Acknowledge what you’re feeling so that you can move past it.
The same goes for validating your emotions. Way too often, we justify away our pain, or tell ourselves that we’re weak for feeling it. You know the song, right?
It’s ok to feel it. It doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it takes a very strong person to admit to feeling pain.
2. Take a deep breath and stop what you’re doing
This step serves as a simple grounding mechanism.
I use one deep breath and the thought–”stop“–to stop my thoughts from spiraling out of control.
It keeps me present so that I can deal with it as it is now, instead of trying to deal with the regret or worry of the past or future.
3. Ask yourself: What is the real issue here?
Now that you’re present, ask yourself why you’re feeling this way.
Was there a trigger that set off this emotion?
Get specific about the where, when , what, whom, why and how. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to prevent that same trigger from provoking you the next time around.
Having trouble remembering what set you off? Backtrack through the last few minutes, hours, or days that you’ve been feeling like you are and try to remember when it first started. Another way to do it is trying to remember the last time you didn’t feel this way.
When I first started this process, I would write it all down so that I could remember it later and remind myself of exactly what I was dealing with. It might help you, too.
4. Make an action plan to deal with the core issue
Feeling powerless stops here and now. We are going to take control of our reactions to triggers.
We want to develop coping mechanisms as close to the actual trigger as possible, so that it doesn’t gain momentum and thus, grow stronger. We want to keep those triggers weak.
Looking at the triggers that provoked you to feel this way, write out all possible plans to deal with this trigger the next time around.
Here are a couple examples:
TRIGGER: Someone said something hurtful to or about you.
ACTION PLAN: Their words are reflections of their own insecurities. Often times, people will express judgment because it makes them feel better about their own shortcomings. Remind yourself that their words are an expression of their own pain, and not to take it too personally. What matters is how you feel about yourself.
If you’re not confident in yourself, start forming a plan of action to increase your confidence level: start exercising, start creating art in some form, join a group of like-minded individuals who will encourage and support you, etc. Take action to make your life what you want it to be.
TRIGGER: Something didn’t happen like you expected it to or life threw an unexpected event at you, and now you’re disappointed or you may be having a hard time keeping yourself together entirely.
ACTION PLAN: Like I say in Expect (and Prepare for) The Unexpected, you can never really plan for life. It just happens sometimes, and trying to will your life to happen in a controlled manner will only disappoint you time and again.
Learning to let go sometimes, and go with the flow when things don’t happen the way you expected them to can be the difference between a happy life and one of frustration and self-pity.
I’ve adopted the “everything happens for a reason” mentality and have since noticed a great change in my reactions when the unanticipated comes along. I try to put my faith into the fact that this bump in the road will teach me how to be stronger as I work my way through it. Look for what this experience can teach you and go with it!
The same is true for major life events that threaten to push you down into the darkness. This, too, shall pass.
Life is a beautiful cycle of loss and gain. If you’re experiencing a loss right now, hang in there: your next gain is right around the corner!
Understanding that this too shall pass, makes taking action a lot easier.
If you don’t get all of this anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, or disappointment out of you, it will sit in there and fester only to blow up in your face like mine did… not recommended.
Find a creative outlet to pour your heart and soul into.
Now, many people will say, “But I’m not creative!” Bull, guys. We are all, every single one of us, creative beings. Whether that be in writing, drawing, painting, singing, dancing, photographing, working out, pinterest-ing, or anything else that you can put your own twist onto, you have your own unique way to let those pent-up feelings out. Creating something new or sweating it out are great ways to give you some head space to heal when faced with the unexpected.
Commit to one creative/sweat outlet to make space for happiness in that big ol’ brain of yours. ;)
5. Talk to someone if you’re still confused or if the pain is too intense to deal with on your own.
I owe so much of my progress to a couple of therapists that have helped me exponentially over the years.
If you’re having a hard time taking the first step toward healing, I strongly urge you to reach out to a licensed professional for help.
Counselors get into their profession because they want to help you. They spend years learning how to help you and getting licenses to do so!
It helps so much to be able to sort out your thoughts by talking to someone who, well, knows what you’re talking about. They lack the biases that friends and family might have.
Again, reaching out to someone is nothing to be ashamed about. There’s this stigma around therapy that inspires fear and judgment in many who consider it.
If the stigmas scare you, ask yourself this:
If you could go to someone who could help you sort out all this pain and set you on the right course to recovery, would you do it?
Also keep in mind that no one has to know that you’re going to see someone at all. It’s nobody’s business but your own.
This person could help ease your struggle and show you personalized ways to cope. Don’t be scared to feel better!
Have faith in the fact that eventually you will master this. It can be frustrating and tedious at first because the pain can run really deep. It can seem insurmountable at the beginning, but trust me, you can overcome this, and you will.
No matter how hard it is right now, it will subside. This seering pain will ease up and make way for openness.
You will breathe again.