Have you ever suffered extreme levels of emotional pain? Have you ever sat in your room, staring at the wall, wondering how to endure the next hours or days in the state of mind that you are in?

I am not speaking of ordinary frustration or sadness. What I am talking about is mental pain that is so severe that it feels like there is a knife sticking in your stomach, or like your head is under pressure, about to explode. The pain is so excruciating that it seems impossible to live with it for the next hours/days/weeks, yet it is impossible to run from it, because it is in your head. It fills you with hopelessness and desperation, because whatever you do, you cannot escape it. It is like being trapped, alone on an infinite plane: you can run indefinitely into one direction, without ever being able to meet someone or to leave the plane. You may encounter this pain if you get severely depressed, if someone important in your life (girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, parents, close friends) betrays you, if someone abuses you physically or verbally, if you encounter childhood trauma, or if your worldview and life philosophy collapse under a traumatic experience.

The problem is that those who suffer such extreme levels of emotional pain often find themselves alone. Others may tell them to “pull themselves together” or that “it’s not so bad” or they may deny their experiences, labelling them as neurotic or overly sensitive or crazy or hysterical and self-centered. Essentially, they make the sufferer responsible for his suffering. In addition to his suffering, the sufferer now also has to defend himself, he may struggle with self-doubt and he may blame himself. The fact is that often, people who experience such pain are in touch with something that others prefer to repress. Empathizing with someone who is suffering means that one must be willing to suffer with them, one must be willing to be with their pain. Many turn away because the suffering of the sufferer overwhelms them: they avoid eye contact and evade. 

Psychology teaches that in order to help someone who is suffering, you have to be a “container” for his pain. When someone is overwhelmed by pain, it means that the pain is so severe that he cannot hold it, look at it, and work it through. In order to make it possible to deal with the pain, a psychotherapist provides a safe environment in which the pain can be held and examined. Essentially, the patient explains his feelings to the psychotherapist, who can hold the pain in a safe environment, “contain” it, such that they both can safely examine it, without being overwhelmed by it. In this way, the patient can handle the pain and work it through. The precondition is that the person who helps the sufferer must be able to endure the pain – the helper must be a larger “container” than the sufferer, otherwise the helper will also be overwhelmed.

I often find that those who have worked through emotional pain of this sort have acquired wisdom. They are softer, calmer, and more sensitive. They have become larger containers themselves, which allows them to recognize suffering and provide help.

If you are suffering, and you are alone and nobody listens to you or if people deny your experience, remember that there are many millions of people in the world who share your fate. Try to find people who can help you – do not be afraid to talk to a mental health professional. There is much unnecessary suffering because people hesitate to seek help. Remember that there will be happier times, and that you can grow from the experience.

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