On Emotional Needs, Pain, and Suffering

I was reading The Miracle Equation by Hal Elrod and was struck by this paragraph:

“By accepting all the things you can’t change…you give yourself the gift of being at peace with life as it is, rather than creating pain because you want the unchangeable aspects of life, be it your past, present, or future, to be different. Remember, you don’t have to be happy about the things you can’t change. However, you can accept them, be at peace with them, and eliminate a lifetime of unnecessary emotional suffering.”

The key point: we can’t change anything about the past. It is over and done with. So why suffer about it?

If you can’t change the past, what are your options? Your only real options are to try to apologize, make amends, or ask for an apology, if owed one. It is worth spending some time to get clear on things that happened in the past. You need to find forgiveness in your heart for anything you are still resentful or angry about.

This isn’t an easy process, but the steps are fairly simple and are outlined in the 9 Step-Formula for Forgiveness.

As for the past, remember you (others) were doing the best that you (they) could do (even if it wasn’t “good enough”). All the choices you made seemed the best at the time, and you had good reasons to make those choices. You were probably driven, at least in part, by your unconscious emotional needs.  Emotional needs may even drive important decisions like who we choose to become life partners with.

We usually choose to marry a particular person for two main reasons:
  1. This person satisfies our emotional needs, so we feel loved and connected; and
  2. The time is right—you are ready to “settle down.”

To ensure the best chance for a happy life and relationship, it would be sensible to find out what your top four emotional needs are.

How can you ask for what you need if you don’t know what you actually need?

Amazingly enough, few people can articulate their top four emotional needs. Yet we expect others to fulfill all of our emotional needs.

Can you clearly describe your top four personal and emotional needs?

If not, take the free Emotional Index Quiz to learn what your needs are.

Once you know what you need, you can start satisfying those emotional needs in healthy ways. Unhealthy emotional needs satisfaction usually occurs unconsciously. It results in engaging in activities or entering relationships that are likely to end in pain and suffering.

The one thing I would clarify in Hal’s quote above is that pain is inevitable in life.

Things break and fall apart, relationships end, people we love die. We can’t avoid this pain. Grieving is a normal, healthy part of life. When faced with the loss of a relationship or someone you love, it is important to mourn. However, we can choose whether or not to add emotional suffering.

In the Victorian era, one year for full mourning, wearing black, was allocated to mourning. This was followed by six months of half-mourning. During this period, one could wear colors as bright as mauve or grey to signal coming out of mourning. In many respects, this was a good thing. Mourners were reminded that it was okay to be feel melancholic. Others were on notice that one might need extra support. These days, we get about two weeks to grieve and that clearly isn’t enough time.

Can we dramatically reduce the amount of emotional suffering in our lives?

Elrod says that we waste too much time suffering about a past event that we can’t change. Elrod was in a serious car accident. The doctors told him he would likely spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. His instant reaction was: this can’t be happening to me. It isn’t fair. My life is ruined. But, instead of dwelling on the loss, he took five minutes to get over the fact that his life was irrevocably changed. Then he focused on physical therapy and recovering his mobility. It only took him five minutes to change and accept his new reality. That is remarkably quick!

Elrod’s Five-Minute Rule:

“It’s not the experience, circumstance, or event that causes our emotional pain, but rather our unwillingness to accept life as it is and move forward that’s the cause. It’s when we dig in our heels and say, “This can’t be happening!” that we are flooded with painful and unproductive emotions. This is true of any time frame, whether something took place five minutes, five months, or five decades ago. For as long as you resist and wish it were different, you will continue to create and perpetuate emotional pain. The moment you accept it, you will be free.”

This is a bit of a paradox. While it is good to move on from a past that we cannot change, I believe we need time to grieve our losses–perhaps a lot more time than  society currently gives us.

In Elrod’s case, I’d agree. There is not much point in grieving lost limbs or a lost job you’ll never get back so the Five-Minute Rule applies (or take five days if you want, but set a time limit). But when dealing with the death of a loved one, I’d argue that you need to give yourself more time to recover. As a signal of your loss, considering wearing a black armband for six months to a year.

When I worked in the bank, we advised customers not to make a major financial decision until at least six months after the loss of a loved one. We did this because people would often make emotionally charged decisions that they later regretted. This seems to indicate that at the very least, we should do something like wear a black armband for at least six months so others can support, and hopefully prevent, us from making poor decisions.

What do you think?

I’m all for reducing emotional suffering in life. That is one reason why I created the free Emotional Index Quiz.

It is easier to satisfy a need once you know what your needs are. By satisfying your deepest emotional needs, you will become more emotionally resilient. You’ll be better able to bounce back from emotional loss because you’ll know exactly what to do to make yourself feel better. That includes knowing what things you can ask others to do for you.

Most of our friends and family want to help after a setback or loss. The problem is that they don’t know what to do. It’s better to learn what you need (from yourself and others) ahead of time rather than wait until faced with an emotionally challenging situation.

In the Raise Your Emotional IQ Course you’ll learn the specific steps and actions to meet the top 21 most common emotional needs. This isn’t something most of us are taught, but it is essential if we are to become emotionally resilient.

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