What causes emotional pain?

A belief system is a system of thoughts that we have decided are true.  For the most part, our beliefs are hidden from us.  When we are introduced to a concept or idea, we compare that concept or idea to embedded and accepted thoughts (beliefs) in our subconscious.  If they match, we feel comfortable.

If the conscious thoughts, (concepts and ideas) that we are thinking do not match the beliefs that are in our subconscious, then we feel uncomfortable.

The comfort and discomfort that we experience is a result of the way that the cells in our bodies react to our thoughts.  This dance between our thoughts and our physical bodies can be thought of as emotions.  And emotions can be thought of as natural feedback designed to enable the body’s intrinsic wisdom to alert us when our thinking is out of alignment with truth, reality.

Deepach Chopra addressed these ideas in the following article.

Healing the Source of Emotional Pain

The human mind, inherently impatient, triggers emotional reactions when our ideas about how things should be collide with how things are. We sometimes torment ourselves about choices we’ve made, words we’ve spoken, and the path not taken. Or we dwell on the future, postponing our happiness with thoughts about what is missing or wrong in the present moment.

These thoughts and judgments are the source of our emotional pain.

The mind has a lifetime of conditioned beliefs and expectations through which it filters all perceptions. While the body spontaneously lets go of pain the moment the underlying cause is healed, the mind has a mysterious instinct for holding on. Through the mind, we create a prison of suffering and then forget that we are the architect and that we ourselves hold the key that will set us free.

Even after years of emotional healing work, we all sometimes make the mistake of believing that something “out there” makes us angry, depressed, anxious, or afraid. In reality, outside events are only triggers. The cause of every emotion is within.

By uncovering the false perceptions that cause us to cling to pain, we can open to a deep experience of peace.

Practices  for Emotional Release

When you find yourself flooded with a negative emotion, the following practices can help you find your way back to your core of balance, peace, and wellbeing.

    • Resist the impulse to ignore your feelings, push them away, or judge them as bad. Instead ask them what they are trying to tell you. All emotions – including the most difficult ones – exist for a reason: to help you. They will help you tune in to the message your body wants you to hear.
    • Be objective.If you identify personally with negativity and think, I am angry, depressed, miserable, stressed out, etc., it will be extremely difficult to detach and let go. Learn to see all emotions as only energy, like electricity that flows through you but isn’t about you.
    • Practice self-compassion. If you feel overwhelmed, tell yourself, “Whatever fear says, nothing can destroy me. I’m having a strong reaction right now, but it isn’t the real me. This too shall pass.
    • Take responsibility. If you find yourself reacting to certain situations in the same way, ask yourself what you need to learn to change your automatic response.
    • Meditate.  Meditation is one of the best ways to loosen the grip of sticky emotions and connect to our true self.  In meditation we disrupt the unconscious progression of thoughts and emotions by focusing on a new object of attention. For example, in the practice of Primordial Sound Meditation, the object of attention is a mantra that we repeat silently to ourselves. A mantra is pure sound, with no meaning or emotional charge to trigger associations. It allows the mind to detach from its usual preoccupations and experience the spaciousness and calm within. In the silence of awareness, the mind lets go of old patterns of thinking and feeling and learns to heal itself. In addition to these excellent practices from Deepach to heal “negative” emotion, I offer the following thoughts and suggestions.

In his article, Deepach states, “By uncovering the false perceptions that cause us to cling to pain, we can open to a deep experience of peace.”  Notice his use of the words; uncovering, open, and peace.  When we begin to feel emotional pain, many of us react automatically by resisting the pain, hiding so that others cannot see our struggle, denying the pain, closing off our awareness and guarding against vulnerability.  This is the opposite of uncovering and open.  We do this because when we experience strong, painful and negative emotion, we feel weak and vulnerable.  Our survival instinct kicks in because the brain interprets these emotions as indicators of danger.  We react as automatically as a deer in the woods whose ears, head and tail are raised to perceive, and then to respond to a potential predator.  Once out of apparent danger, the deer returns to peace.

But as Deepach points out, false perceptions are the cause of the emotional pain, not actual danger.  When it comes to false perceptions, a return to peace is not possible by running away or hiding.  Although our false perceptions convince us that our survival strategies have enabled us to survive the falsely perceived danger, we will soon be triggered again.  These beliefs rarely allow us to experience anything like real peace.

Our beliefs; the thoughts that we have decided are true, form the lens through which we perceive what we experience.  For example, if I believe that I am right and you are wrong, I will perceive you through that lens.   If I believe that everything is hard, I will perceive everything through that lens.   Because I perceive through the lens of my beliefs, my view of reality is filtered.   I react to my belief-filtered view.  I don’t even see reality.

If I believe you are wrong, anything you do or say proves to me that you are wrong.  If you happen to get something right, I will view it as an anomaly and cling to my belief.   If I believe everything is hard, everything that happens proves that everything is hard.  If something is easy, I am suspicious.

When belief-filtered perception crashes with reality, it causes considerable emotional pain.  If these false perception crashes are painful enough and frequent enough, an awakening can occur.   With the awareness of the lost connection to our “core of balance, peace, and wellbeing”, combined with an acknowledgement that our false perceptions are the source of that disconnection, we are ready to transform.

To engage that transformation, as Deepach states, the false perceptions must be uncovered.  But how are they to be uncovered and what is to be done with them once they are exposed?

Consider the following framework as a logical order of cause and effect.

  • Circumstances are perceived through the lens of our beliefs.
  • These beliefs are hidden from us because they are stored in our unconscious minds. But our thoughts are the clues to what we believe.  We automatically have thoughts that support what we have previously decided is true.   Beliefs attract only thoughts that provide evidence that the belief is accurate, the truth.
  • Our bodies give us feedback in the form of emotions that show us whether or not our thoughts and beliefs align with actual truth, reality.
  • These emotions empower or disempower us and influence what we do. Our actions are fueled or blocked by our emotions.
  • What we do or don’t do determines what we manifest in our lives. We get what we get because we do what we do.

Restated in a condensed form, we get what we get because we do what we do because we feel what we feel because we think what we think.

Notice that the source of the entire process is thought.   Thought comes from belief and belief forms our perception.  By changing our beliefs, we change our perception and we change our emotions.  Our beliefs change when we expose them to the truth, reality.

Try this exercise.

To change perception, start with thoughts.   When triggered into negative emotion, make a list of all your thoughts, perceptions, interpretations, judgments and fears.  When making this list, harvest at least 10 of the thoughts that you have about the circumstance you are reacting to.  Give yourself permission to be petty, unkind, judgmental, harsh, immature and unfiltered.  By doing so, you will uncover thoughts that you are otherwise careful to hide from yourself and from the world.

Next, go back to each thought and answer these questions on a separate piece of paper to expose the hidden beliefs under the thought.

  • What am I afraid would happen if I am wrong about this?
  • What must I believe to be true in order to think this thought?
  • If I’m right about this______ will (would) happen. Keep repeating this until there is nothing left to add.
  • Read the thought and then add, “and that means_______”. Repeat, using this method or one of the other questions until you have followed the thought back to its source (the belief) or until there is nothing left to add.
  • Read any “I should” or “they should” thoughts and add, “Because if (I had) or (they had), then_____ would have happened”
  • For “I am afraid that ___” thoughts, read the thought and then add, “because if that happens, then______”.


This second list represents what you have decided is true at some point in your life.  Beliefs start out as guesses.  In order to survive, our brains anticipate what will happen next and form theories to explain both what has happened in the past and what is happening now.   If we explain, theorize and anticipate well enough, we get to survive by avoiding danger before it happens.  We were never the biggest, strongest or fastest in the animal kingdom.  Just the smartest.

Look at your second list.   Picking one belief at a time use Byron Katie’s 4 questions to shed the light of truth on the belief.  Here is an example.

Belief:  “I won’t have enough money”

Question #1.   Is it true?  (yes or no)

Question #2.  Can you absolutely know it’s true?  (yes or no)

Question #3.  How do you react when you belief that thought?  (Consider what you do, how you act, how you feel, and how your reactions impact others and the circumstance)

Question #4.  Who would you be if you could not belief that thought? (Your answers to question #3 describe who you become when you believe the thought.  Now consider who you would be in the same situation if you couldn’t believe the thought.)

Finally, turn the thought around.  For example:

“I won’t have enough money” turned around to its opposite is, “I will have enough money”.   Could the turnaround be just as true or truer than the original thought?

Now try other variations, sticking as closely as possible to the wording of the original thought.  Other turnarounds for “I won’t have enough money” are,

“I have enough money” and “I’ve always had enough money”

Looking at the belief in this way begins to expose the unreality of the belief and can free you from the limitations imposed by attachment to false perception.   Free of these limitations, notice the shift in your emotional state.

Taking on one belief every day, repeat this process for each belief on your second list.  Over time, you will experience more freedom, be less limited and experience a profound shift in your emotional life.

For help with this work, go to www.TheWork.com, Byron Katie’s website where you can watch videos and download free resources.


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