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When Love Becomes Pain

Roughly a year ago, I attended an online gathering of all the workers at my preschool and Jewish Community Center, where they had a motivational speaker and personal coach do a little activity with us. People spoke about many emotions, and all sorts of things that have been challenging over these last three years, and through life in general. But one thing stuck with me: The woman who was facilitating - the same motivational speaker - insisted that of all the human emotions, the most difficult one for us to experience is joy.

Why would that be?

I am guessing that many people will agree with me, that joy has been pushed to the sidelines in Western society. It truly has become something that we don’t have time for, we put off till the weekend, we avoid getting carried away with, we rush to criticize as excessive, we equate with negative ideas like “silliness” and even stupidity, and even when we feel it, we try to control ourselves and not show it too much (which I have written about before).

But why is that? Why has joy become a difficult, even painful, emotion?

Or I could ask it another way: When, or how - in our own, personal lives - does joy become something that we actually avoid?

Deep down in the bowels of our minds, there is a very solid explanation. It begins with moments when joy, and most often specifically love, was not there for us when we wanted it. The moments of loneliness, disappointment, frustration, or worse: violation, betrayal, or actual harm from another human being. But the key ingredient is that we felt like we were loving, and receiving pain in return. This is not a complex situation. Even a newborn baby can have this experience in a visceral way, from neglect or abuse or even from parents who are just trying to figure it out. We are all human. It might be tempting to lay blame, but the truth is that we are all doing the best we can, the best we know how to do. And always, there are moments of pain.

The human heart is incredibly resilient. It can forgive, it can be patient, it can be compassionate and understanding. But if we accumulate enough of these experiences, we might reach that moment of dark magic when the turning point occurs: Love becomes associated with pain. Often without even realizing it, because it happens in our subconscious mind, we reach that moment when we feel love coming and we say to ourselves:


“I don’t want this anymore.”

“It’s only going to hurt, all over again.”

Oftentimes, we are actually caught in the grind of day-to-day life, and we plow on. We push joy aside, and do “what we have to do”.

But that’s when the damage is done, whether you like it or not. Though we get a lot of opportunities: Pushing joy aside just once is not going to destroy us. But if it comes back again and again, and we push it away again and again, then eventually it will become a habit. When that happens, we start to do it even more readily and easily, without noticing at all. And then it becomes even harder to set back the clock, and relearn how to feel joy, relearn how to be happy, relearn how to love. Love has then become synonymous with pain.

So let’s look at the turning point - what can we do?

First of all, it is important to remember that the heart can heal from anything. I’m sure that many of us know this. But sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of this truth.

Second, it is important to remember that love is everywhere. Love is forever coming to us - all the time, every day, with every interaction and even if we are alone. As Osho once said (and I only remember the gist of it): The universe is forever raining love upon us. It is we who are holding the umbrella.

Relax your heart.

Do this as often as possible.

Just relax your heart.

When you are in the company of others, feel their presence. Feel their warmth, their energy, their emotions. This can be done in complete silence and simplicity - as a matter of fact, you may find it easier to do if you speak less, if only just for a moment. And (of course) I am not referring to physical warmth or touch. I am talking about feeling the physical and emotional presence of others, like slipping into a hot tub and letting yourself go. Just enjoy being in the company of others.

And do it a lot.

If you do it well, love will seep into your pores and wash into your wounds. And then the other magical moment will happen - the one we are all afraid of: You’ll start to remember the pain.

When that happens, I hate to say it… You have to let it hurt. You can let it show, you can share it with the people around you, or you can take it to a safer place and express it there. You can also go slow: Take just a little bit, rest, and then continue. But you have to undo what you did before: You have to let the pain come, and you have to let the muscles that hold it in your body - relax, so the pain can leave you. Give them time.

It will happen.

Give it time.

Remember the people who love you, whom you can go to even now, with whom you can share these moments. Go to these people, and hold them dear to your heart, because they are your real companions. Even if there have been rough moments with them from time to time, these are the people who are here to see you through. Love them, and let them love you.

“Together” is a powerful word. And in the end, that is what we are made of.

Photo by Hassan Ouajbir,


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