People often come to see me because they feel their relationships are not satisfying.
I remember one man in particular. He was able to identify that he felt betrayed in every significant relationship he had ever had, starting in his childhood. He felt that his mother and father had betrayed him as well, shaming him because of his poor academic performance, disproving of his failures in athletics, and eventually turning their backs on him completely when he came out of the closet in his late teens.
One session, he detailed the subsequent betrayals and hurts. He was opining that he did not believe he would ever be able to love again because of all the pain, when I stopped him: “I hear that these experiences were painful for you. But what if you could open your heart up even when it hurts?”
The expression on his face told me that he had never asked this question before. And I believe that this is a question that we as a culture do not entertain. If you are in pain, you should take a pill. If you are hurting, find a solution. If a relationship does not work, leave and get another one. We look for the fix to our problems, often describing the thing that we feel will take the hurt away as a “need.” “I need a better relationship,” or “I need to make more money.” What if, instead of looking for the way out, we looked for an inner strength to sustain?
I am not referring to staying in unnecessarily bad or abusive situations here, but rather recognizing that some pain and discomfort are necessarily a part of our lives. What if we each knew with an instinctive and unflappable certainty that we will endure, that we have the fortitude to struggle through our pain?
With the client I mentioned above, we began to look at how he closed himself down. We studied his body movements and the physical sensations he had when he felt wronged, and we worked to lessen these reactions. We worked with physical cues to remain open-hearted, even when he felt hurt or betrayed.
Open your eyes and pull your shoulders back. Breathe from your stomach and relax. Sit or stand up straight, and soften your belly and chest. Be present with the feelings. See what it feels like to be unafraid, to be in control even when you are in pain.