Welcome to this week's episode of Charlie's Toolbox. This week, we're talking about real life—the gritty and the shitty—and learning how to cope after years of neglecting your feelings. Before we get started, let's make sure to like, subscribe, and follow. It's a free way to support me, and it helps my content rise to the top. Now, let's dive into this topic: turning pain into something useful.
When I was in my early 20s, I used to suffer a lot. The biggest reason was that I didn't know how to cope with the ups and downs of life. I was never taught those coping mechanisms, so I would stuff those feelings down and ignore them until I would randomly break down in the quietness of my room or burst out in a fit of rage. Or sometimes, I would just distract myself so I would never have to think about it. After years of doing this, I realized that it was neither healthy nor productive. So, I read books on feelings, worked with a therapist to help me identify my emotions, and started putting theory into practice.
But when you are first getting to know yourself after years of neglecting your feelings, you may find yourself becoming a bit extreme in your life. I compare it to someone who first becomes a Christian or the person who is baptized after years of doing their own thing. They become overzealous because they feel like they've found the answer and expect their world to change and align with their beliefs.
This process often happens when you start to learn about your emotions, process pain, and use those moments for personal growth. You try to control everything in your world. You become quick to cut off people when a conversation would suffice. You see a red flag in everyone when it's simply a difference of opinion. You think you're making healthy choices for yourself, but in reality, you're slowly isolating yourself and not allowing the complexities of humanity to exist. Unfortunately, that's not coping; it's just another form of control, and it doesn't work.
Trying to control your world doesn't work because when you experience pain or disturbance in your life, and that moment reminds you that you can't control everything, you will crumble instead of processing the pain and moving forward. Your ego will be bruised, and once again, you will feel helpless.
What you should always internalize as the truth is the following: if you are breathing, you will experience inconvenience and unpleasant moments. Most of the time, there will be nothing you can do about it, but you can cope effectively, not internalize it, and move forward. So many of us get stuck in this stage, and all we end up doing is isolating ourselves. So instead of hiding from inconvenience, pain, anger, or irritation, do something better—process it. If there is a lesson, take it and move forward with hope and joy. If there is none, feel that hurt, and when you feel relieved, remind yourself that you still have hope in your heart.
This is no easy task, and trust me, I am still working on not personalizing pain. But so far, here are some lessons and strategies I've learned to cope effectively:
Understand that pain will happen.
Pain is a part of life, and when you are raised by a narcissist, you may internalize the message that pain is specific to you. You may think you are so special and that life goes out of its way to harm you, but that's not the case. Everyone experiences highs and lows, and the only difference between you and a happy person is how they cope with it, learn from it, and move on.
Coping is a muscle.
Most, if not all of us, were not taught proper ways to cope. That's why we have so many interpersonal problems. We don't know how to deal with our emotions, so we project them onto others. We are all learning how to build a muscle that was not exercised in us. So, when you are learning the art of coping, understand that it is a muscle that will grow over time. You will not be perfect at it, so don't expect yourself to be.
Emotions tell you something about your needs and not who you are.
For example, if someone hurt your feelings, it doesn't mean you are sensitive. It means something they said touched on something you consider delicate. You can absolutely be hurt by it, but the only thing you should take from that moment is that this is a delicate subject. You can now set boundaries around that. Take yourself to therapy and investigate why. Or ignore the comment and understand that sometimes people who are hurting do things to try and hurt others. The point is, being hurt does not reflect anything negative about you. It's simply information that you collect to better understand yourself and know what you need to cope efficiently.
You can feel your emotions for however long you want, but always make sure there is an end goal.
Some people can cope and move on within a minute. Some people take it very hard and need some time to let go of the feeling. Both are valid ways of coping. So, don't shame yourself or rush yourself if you belong to the latter category. Feelings need to be felt, and it doesn't matter how long it takes, as long as there is an end goal in mind.
There are two types of coping: active coping and avoidant coping.
Active coping is being aware of the stressor and finding ways to minimize the negative outcome.
Avoidant coping is characterized by ignoring the problem and using denial tools such as drinking, drugs, sleeping, or isolation. You have to decide which one is most beneficial for you in the long term.
According to the Semel Institute of Neuroscience at UCLA, there are different styles of coping, and you can use whatever you feel is appropriate for a particular moment. Some styles are as follows:
Instrumental coping focuses on problem-solving and how to tackle the issue to reduce stress.
Emotion-focused coping gathers tools to nurture one's emotional health during a stressful event.
Social support involves seeking both emotional and concrete aid from others, as described by the Encyclopedia of the human brain.
Meaning-making tries to find positive and meaningful aspects of a situation.
Religious coping transforms meaning in the face of adversity and is associated with positive outcomes. So, think about these coping styles and figure out which ones you tend to gravitate towards. That can help you create an emotional toolkit, which I outlined how to create in episode 63. Remember, the key is to gather evidence so you know as much information about yourself as possible.
If you feel like you are isolating yourself to the point where you're not seeking opportunities to connect with people, this may be a sign that you aren't coping effectively. Instead, you are trying to control your world.
Sometimes those feelings will come back, and it does not mean you are not healed.
For the longest time, I did not understand this. I thought that every time I felt uneasy when reflecting on my past, it meant I was not over it. And that is just untrue. These are moments that impacted your life, shaped who you are, and influenced how you see the world. You may forever feel uneasy about them because they were so painful. But that does not mean you have not coped properly or that you are not over them. It simply means you are a human with emotions, and that's it.
I hope these strategies help and give you some peace of mind. When I learned them, I took so much weight off my shoulders and found the peace I desired. And on that note, take care, everyone!