“Conscious Suffering”

A friend sent me an article the other day which impacted me very much. It was one of those restorative moments when the perfect thing comes your way. The author of the article is Kelly Brogan, a psychiatrist who specialises in women’s health. She speaks of how difficult it is to sit with emotional pain, to just be with it, and let it pass through. To sit with it, instead of reacting to it with distraction, trying to fix it or numb it with alcohol, drugs, food, exercise, work or whatever else we do, to not feel it’s intensity.

I thought of it as like an electrical storm within the soul that we can all experience: the rolling thunder, the flashes of lightning, the torrential rain, the fierce winds. My emotional pain can feel like that! I want to distract from it, make it better, talk about it, run, walk, discharge it in some way.

Kelly advocates for me “to sit with the pain and let it be my teacher”. To be still and allow it to pass.

She makes the valid point that we don’t even know it’s an option to “consciously suffer”.

In our western culture, we are continually invited to go for goals of happiness and success in all kinds of ways. No wonder we feel so isolated and alone when we are beset by the emotional storms within. It is not easy to find a safe place or safe people to talk with, about what we struggle with. This surely keeps me in a job as a psychotherapist, but what a sad reflection this is on our society.

Kelly says, “When I sit with pain, I know that it is transforming me inside. It is refining and reconfiguring and upgrading all that needs to be. What emerges will be closer to the truth, more resilient, and more real. Even if I don’t like it at first, this pain doesn’t need to be understood or narrated. It just needs to do its work with consciousness holding space for it”.

I am going to try to practice this more often in my own life. How about you?

Ref: kellybroganmd.com in honour of fear and pain


Clinician, Lecturer, Group Facilitator, Educator and Supervisor in Education, Social Services and Mental Health.

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  • Amanda BURCHELL
    August 23, 2016 at 2:38 am

    I shouldn’t write stuff at 2:30 in the morning. Grammar goes to pot and sentences don’t make sense because words are left out as thinking is faster than typing, I suppose!
    I meant to say:
    ‘ I don’t think it would be humanly possible NOT to relieve pain in some way .. (at least for me)
    Thanks Ros, sorry if you’re struggling to make sense of my nocturnal writing.

  • Amanda BURCHELL
    August 23, 2016 at 2:33 am

    .. Sitting with emotional pain: I can do this with a relatively mild disappointment – such as not getting the job you interviewed with, not getting your story published or a date not calling back after what seemed a really nice evening (out for dinner and drinks). But for any strong pain – I don’t know if it would be humanly possible to try and relieve it in some way!
    .. I am aware of a period of reflection after the worst is over and even some years later – revisiting old wounds and seeing how they may have been defining, but I don’t think I could ever sit consciously with the pain, I don’t think I am made that way.
    … I would like to say here – that I am enjoying the topics in this blog, Ros – it’s not often one gets the chance to consider these topics with an opportunity to discourse… ? .. on them.

    • rosmlewis
      Rosalind Lewis
      August 23, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Amanda , thanks so much for your reflections . Yes , it is very hard to sit with strong emotional pain! I guess for me, learning to live more gently with my emotional angst, rather than fighting it or trying to make it go away has been helpful. Of course, we are surrounded by many people who try and avoid feeling deep emotional pain, in a harmful way that ends up being counterproductive to their well being . This is what I work with so much in my profession as a psychotherapist . Trying to assist people to come to terms with their disappointments in life and be with the accompanying emotions in a constructive, rather than destructive way. Even the culture of ” let’s just be positive” can be a way of avoiding very real and valid emotional pain.



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About me

Rosalind Lewis

Rosalind Lewis

Professionally I have 33 years experience as a Clinician, Lecturer, Group Facilitator, Educator and Supervisor in Education, Social Services and Mental Health. I currently live in Melbourne, Australia and work in Mental Health. I have a particular interest in supporting and empowering women and men to be all they can be, by assisting the discovery of tools that help them find strength to transform difficulties into opportunities, enriching their lives both personally and professionally. I am a New Zealand Registered Psychotherapist with PBANZ, member of the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists and have a Masters of Health Science (Psychotherapy) First Class Honours. My research thesis was about the long term consequences of intimate partner violence for women. I am influenced and informed by both my professional experiences and my own personal journey, which has involved many challenges and celebrations along the way.