That Familiar Pain

After many years of carrying the emotional burden of narcissistic abuse, it’s no wonder I am often debilitated with frequent neck and shoulder aches and migraines. I know where they come from. I know why I get them. I’ve lived with them most of my life. My vision blurs. Sometimes, like right now, every sound stabs my ears. Sometimes, I even get “abdominal migraines” when the stabs move to my gut. It’s a not a normal pain, but it is a familiar pain.

There are, of course, many things I do to try to prevent, manage, and heal the pain. A strict diet, therapy, kind self-talk, stretching, caffeine, whimpering into my pillow, etc. When the pain reaches a certain level, there is no pill or bargain for my eternal soul that will make it go away. I just have to wait it out. The headache I have today is actually a result of something moving in therapy- one of those great worse-before-it-gets-better deals.

This familiar pain is in so many ways a metaphor for the kind of healing work to be done as an abuse survivor. The only way out is through. The only way to heal it is to face it in all of its ugly painful glory. No amount of ignoring, minimizing, wishing will make it go away. Instead, I’ve learned to sit with it and have a conversation. “Oh, hi. I see you want some attention.” “Yes, that does hurt.” “Mmmhmm, I’m sick of it, too…” I’ve learned to befriend my pain and let it have the ugly cry it wants to have. If I gave my pain a motivational poster, it would be Winston Churchill’s quote, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Okay, maybe it’s weird, but also maybe my pain just needs to be seen and heard before it feels better. Rather than cry it out alone, maybe it needs to wrapped up in something cozy and held for a while. Maybe it needs me to take all those abusive messages it heard before and be indoctrinated with their opposite: “Your needs matter.” “You are loved without condition.” “I’m here, no matter how you feel.

Of course, choosing to be kind to my pain and befriend it means I am choosing to be kind to myself.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the most insightful book I’ve read on the effects of emotional trauma residing in the physical body is The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk. It’s #1 on Amazon for books on PTSD and Psychotherapy for a reason. Just read it. Even if you aren’t a trauma survivor, read it to understand those around you. It explains the neuroscience of trauma in an accessible way. But if you find yourself, like me, living with familiar pain, see if you can shift how you relate to it.  Numbing my pain might help me forget my troubles short term, but it won’t heal me. As much as I’d rather have the opportunity to travel to Europe or win the lottery, I am learning to appreciate my familiar pain as an opportunity to better love and care for myself.


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