ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Coping with Emotional Pain

Jack Bragen
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 05:02:00 PM

Psychotherapy may or may not help someone with mental illness get some relief from painful emotions. In some instances the therapist believes the solution is to immerse you in your pain, in the theory that if you feel your feelings deeply, you will be cured. However, this theory doesn't work for every person with a severe mental illness, and can actually do damage. Yet there are still a number of therapists out there who practice according to this theory. As a result, persons with mental illness may become even more crippled than they were to begin with.

There are numerous reasons why this theory is flawed. The mentally ill individual likely doesn't have the ability to experience his or her pain in a safe manner. Dredging up deep pain can cause a fragile person to become destabilized. The idea that all repressed emotion should be brought to consciousness is a falsehood. No living human being, with a mental health diagnosis or not, is going to have zero repressed emotions.  

In my early fifties, I am unwilling to have a psychotherapist get under the hood, poke, prod, and try to fix my problems, because I do not have faith that anyone is qualified to do this other than me.  

Excessive therapy is analogous to doing surgery on someone, leaving them with an open wound, and releasing them from the hospital without stitching them up. Then, when the person is distressed, the belief is that they need more therapy.  

I use psychotherapy primarily as a check-in to report how things are going, and to gain encouragement. In the past fifteen years, I have communicated to my therapists that I do not want deep psychoanalysis. Therapy is also good for solving problems that arise, and for resolving conflicts.  

What, then, should we do, if we have a number of disturbing emotions and thoughts, if we have a lot of pain we're carrying around, and if this is to the extent that it interferes with daily functioning? My best answer: In many instances, we must learn to tolerate it.  

Most persons with mental illness probably carry a lot of post-traumatic stress. Rather than trying to become a "cured" person, we might be better off if we just make adjustments to remain comfortable, stabilized, and not re-traumatized.  

Meditation in the classic sense (such as Zen, Yoga, and so on) might be out of reach for some persons with mental illness, while some could benefit from it. The illness and the medication are both factors that may not be compatible with purifying the body and mind.  

I practice a type of meditation that allows me to get some amount of pain relief. However, sometimes things just feel bad and there is nothing I can do about it. This situation is normal for non-afflicted people as well as for mental health consumers. This is also an inherent part of the human condition.  

Due to how the human species has evolved from earlier forms of life, a healthy brain is designed to create some amount of suffering, including during those times when nothing is actually wrong. If we try to do mental gymnastics of some kind, including meditation practices, we may find that at least some amount of emotional discomfort is necessary to be able to survive and have balance.  

If you ask for medication from a doctor, such as an antianxiety medication or an antidepressant, certainly there is a place for this. However, these medications were never intended to make us completely free of suffering. They work by getting us roughly in the ballpark of a normal or perhaps tolerable set of emotions.  

And what about "good" feelings? Happiness and comfort could not exist if we had never felt pain and suffering.  

Learning to find pleasure in the littlest, simplest of things, is to me a part of what living is about. Taking an interest in things, being involved in life, rather than avoiding everything because it might be uncomfortable, is the best way to go.  

We are better off learning to coexist with emotional pain rather than hoping it will go away. Gaining some enjoyment including while not comfortable, is a good goal. Life entails suffering, and that's all there is to it. Doing well in life is contingent upon acknowledgment of this.  

Reminding the readers once again; I have self-published books available on Amazon or directly from LULU. This includes a very popular self-help manual, and a collection of science fiction pieces--the latter in dire need of someone posting a review! And in January, I plan to release a new title…