I was watching an early episode of The Walking Dead yesterday, which for you non-television folks, is a series on AMC about a handful of characters struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested Georgia. Sounds charming, right? Most of these episodes are a nail-biting, non-stop exercise in anxiety management for me but they also offer a rather raw account of how we struggle as human beings to survive day to day in light of the pain and loss we experience. In yesterday’s episode, one character was contemplating whether or not she wanted to live in a world with such mounting danger at every turn. She was struggling to move past the loss of her family members and the horror of how her world had changed overnight and whether she could cope with this ongoing painful reality. In response to her questions, another character listened empathically and commented that the pain she was experiencing wouldn’t necessarily go away, but rather they would all have to learn how to make room for it.
I think we can all agree we don’t have to deal with the everyday terror of flesh eating zombies chasing after us, but I can draw some similarities between the issue of emotional pain and loss that everyone on some level can identify with. Whether it’s rejection, death, or disconnection that has led to pain in our lives, most of us understand how impossible that pain can feel and how ill equipped we believe we are to handle it.
To make matters worse, we usually begin to listen to those intrusive, negative thoughts associated with pain that begin to convince us we are unworthy of love, connection, and belonging. We re-play experiences in our minds again and again and tell ourselves we should have (and could have) done something different to avoid the mess we are in now.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approaches in general give us an alternative to how we approach the painful parts of our lives. Through learning to take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, REBT teaches us how we have a choice in how we respond to the pain we face in life. It’s not as easy as it sounds because most of us have some very deeply ingrained thought patterns in our lives that may need to change and let’s face it, change is hard. Especially when we have to do the changing.
Managing pain and loss in our lives begins with acknowledging we are capable of stretching our minds and hearts to handle the pain. Once we accept this reality, along with the reality that no one is exempt from pain and loss, we can begin changing other parts of our distorted thinking that has left us feeling powerless.