If pain is the illness, love is the cure

I love this quote because it so perfectly illustrates the relationship between the personal and greater societal issues. And because it highlights the importance of something we – me most definitely included, particularly on my darker days – sneer at: love.

So many biological, political, social, cultural, economic, and psychological factors fuel the various social issues we hear about every day – gun violence, mental illness, war, poverty, abuse, you name it. When you really think about it though, at core, each of these problems all actually come down to one simple thing: a lack of love somewhere down the line. Some call it hate, but I personally feel it’s more accurate to call it pain.

Either way, if those are the root issues, then love’s also the cure.

Viewed from this perspective, working on being a truly loving human – through your actions and healing the wounds that keep your heart closed – thus becomes a revolutionary act. That love spreads and plants seeds in others that grow just as easily as hate and pain. And they can help heal this world at a much deeper, longer-lasting root level than any clever strategy, medicine, or weapon the mind can create.

It sounds so simplistic, but I’ve been reminding myself of that a lot recently. The news – and the issues plaguing our own personal lives – can feel overwhelming and make anybody feel powerless, but remembering all of this makes me feel a sense of control. No, we can’t eradicate suicide, mass murder, war, poverty, abuse, and whatnot overnight. But there’s still a way to reduce how many happen and be a part of the cure by chipping away at the cancerous tumor that fuels them: through love, the light that can heal a dark world blinded by pain.

Learning from Loss

I’ve been revisiting the abandonment work of psychotherapist Susan Anderson to help process emotions around a recent loss. What she writes about the amygdala has particularly helped me.

The amygdala stores memories of how you responded to previous fearful events and threats you experienced as a child/teenager, such as abandonment or betrayal. The whole point of the brain, and thus the amygdala, is to protect you. It cannot differentiate between past and present; it’s not aware, for example, you’re an adult now who can take care of yourself now and survive being left by somebody, never mind that that somebody who just left you is not actually your parent.

Thus when faced with the feelings of abandonment as an adult, you automatically respond in the same way as you did when you were a child. Your body goes into fight or flight mode, literally trying to fight for your survival.

That’s why those first emotions we face when abandoned – the shattering, as Anderson calls it – are so intense, and sometimes completely out of proportion to what actually happened. This is particularly true for those who have experienced intense childhood trauma. If your memories of abandonment were particularly painful and terrifying, your old, “primitive” self will respond accordingly.

Your biochemistry is taking over, and thus you are literally out of control.

The way forward is to use your cerebral cortex – or the rational, adult mind – to regulate these intense emotions.

My first experience of loss was the death of my Dad at age seven, an incident that threw my family into financial insecurity and caused unimaginable hardship for awhile that threatened my survival.

Loss really was a threat to my life, and that’s what my amygdala remembers.

It was an amazing thing to read and realize, and I was flooded with self-compassion as well awe at how the mind works. At the end of the day, our brains are just trying to protect us. Emotions we perceive as irrational are actually the most rational things in the world.

I keep reminding myself of this information now when the unsettled feeling comes back. This is just an old response; feelings are not facts; the trauma isn’t actually happening. There’s no need to react. I take deep breaths, and thank my brain for protecting me. After pausing, I continue with the day. All is well. All is safe. I’ve got a safe refuge in myself to rely on and take care of me now.

I am going to start sharing more interesting things I learn as I continue to read Anderson’s stuff mostly for my own documentation, and hopefully to help others.

I am a bigot.

A professor once told me the first, and the most important, step in eradicating racism, sexism, gender role oppression etc…is to first acknowledge it in yourself and constantly work on it. Whether it’s you acting or thinking in a discriminatory manner towards others, or yourself, we all have prejudices somewhere within us. How can we not? Our histories and lives are filled with all types of prejudice; even saints or respected figures had them ie Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK, Nelson Mandela etc…Mandela himself owned up to that.

So I’m always uncomfortable around self-righteous types who point the finger a lot but never look at themselves. When people judge too much, I wonder what they are repressing and thus projecting. I don’t trust them. I think most don’t, hence we roll our eyes at “do-gooders” sometimes. Many don’t feel they’re coming from an authentic place because they are not – they are annoyingly, hypocritically “holier than thou” acting out roles rather than being themselves, and coming from an honest, inspired, heart-filled place. The ones who are legit, however, like Mandela – we feel inspired by.

I get it because I was once like that myself – not just with societal issues but personally – until I realized I was so motivated by fear and sometimes societal definitions of “good”, “acceptable” “perfect”, I wasn’t really growing or self-actualizing as a person. I felt so trapped. And like a disgusting hypocrite, I was afraid others would find out the darker side of me, the side that believed more in certain prejudices or was weaker than I would outwardly convey.

Honestly, because I was like that, I thought everybody was too – politically correct, perfect beings on the outside, but not so much on the inside. I felt pretty bitter, guilty, and inferior – a huge fraud. But to admit this would make me look bad, so I tried to pretend these things weren’t there. I was so ashamed, but I had no way to communicate or deal with it, so I projected it outwards and got even angrier and judgmental of others. And I most likely alienated and turned off more people.

Now I’m more self-aware and comfortable in my own skin, I’m not like that anymore, or at least am not most of the time. And I’ve noticed now in my own life – and others experiences – that people tend to listen to and respect those who have the courage to own up to their intolerance than those who are always angry and fail to look in a mirror. Judgment, labels, self-righteousness, the words “You are so this and this”, “People, or this group, are sheep, lazy, complacent, dumb, ignorant, self-absorbed” doesn’t really do a whole lot when trying to resolve issues. It just creates shame and guilt, and as anybody with an understanding of psychology knows, those are the exact emotions people do anything to avoid – and thus will avoid anything that triggers it off, whether through avoidance or anger.

A lot of people are generally loving and caring, willing to listen, learn, grow, and change when you communicate to them from a down to earth, humble, understanding, problem-solving way/approach. Or at least that is my experience and observations. It’s just all about honest communication and self-awareness.